FALSE FREEDOM AND INSATIABLE GREED. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 18 June 2014

Just before Philippine Independence Day last week (12 June) a group of newly enrolled children from a shelter excitedly set out on the first day to walk to school at Gala, Sacatihan, Pamatawan, Subic, Zambales. The road up the hill would give them an easy walk to freedom through education – the great liberator. But then, as they crested the hill, to their dismay the quagmire that had the children squelching their way through ankle-deep sticky mud, symbolic of the political corruption, waste and abuse that mires almost one-third of Filipinos in pitiless, grinding poverty from which there is no freedom.

Subic, Zambales, Philippines

Like thousands of others, the road is a fake or ghost project that had never been fully built. Even urgent requests to the governor to throw gravel from the exposed river bed on to the muddy road are so far unheeded. The children suffer and it became so bad in the past week that 26 children transferred to another school.

This mess and the plunder and looting of public funds at the highest level of the Congress as the headlines announce daily is just one, very small indicator of a greater harm done to the people by some depraved and greedy politicians. How many more fake and fraudulent infrastructure projects are there like the one in Gala, Subic? There is no freedom from greed, it seems.

Filipino soldiers near Manila, 1899

Besides these small, allegedly corruption-ridden projects, the extremely wealthy ruling elite in the Philippine Congress have allegedly plundered and looted billions of pesos from the treasury. Three prominent Senators have been charged, arrest warrants are imminent and many Congress people will join them in jail. Their ‘jails’ are posh, luxurious, tiled, well-appointed bungalows built for ranking officers.

They are incomparable to the stinking jail cells where hungry street children are incarcerated, abused, beaten and raped for taking a banana in the market. The indictments by the Aquino administration are a glimmer of hope that change is possible but with billions in bribes at hand, justice is likely to be thwarted and they will never answer for these alleged crimes. These funds came from the taxes imposed on the people especially the 17 to 20 percent VAT that were supposed to be used for rural development to alleviate poverty and build barangay roads to bring the children to school.

Japanese soldier in front of American poster, Philippines 1943

Independence Day was to celebrate the political freedom of a nation from colonial domination and exploitation. It’s a tortured history. First, the impoverished oppressed Filipinos struggled for liberation from the Spanish and almost succeeded. On the eve of independence, the USA declared war on the Spanish, landed troops in Manila in 1898 and took over, then sent home the defeated Spanish. The Filipinos fought back but after a few years of bitter war marked by atrocities, the American forces conquered them. They subdued and
tamed most of the Filipinos. Then the Japanese invaded and ousted the Americans in World War II. The people suffered greatly and the Japanese were eventually defeated and again the Filipinos struggled for independence from the United States of America and in 1946, they got it with strings attached. But was it real freedom?

They got political independence and a lot of unfair and exploitative trading arrangements and unequal treaties that enabled American corporations to exploit the country at will until the present. They were swamped with Americanization. So it was not true independence, a great dependency had been skillfully arranged. The democracy was a sham. In reality, the rich Spanish-Filipino families in close cooperation with the American corporations ruled without much opposition.

Independence from the USA, 4 July 1946

The vast majority of Filipinos remained bitterly poor peasants and isolated tribal people. Philippine natural resources were ruthlessly exploited, enabled by unequal treaties, the riches of the nation flowed across the Pacific to America. The people were exported also. Filipino overseas workers flowed to the pineapple plantations of Hawaii to work in slave-like conditions.

Little has changed. Eleven million Filipinos still go abroad to find economic freedom. The majority live with 25% unemployment and freedom from poverty for the majority of Filipinos is still a dream. The economic news may boast of 7% economic growth but that is only for the oligarchy who have 70 percent of the wealth in their pockets.

To quote from an editorial in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a national broadsheet, on 11 March 2013: ‘The increase in the wealth of the 40 richest families in the Philippines that made it to the 2012 Forbes list of the world’s billionaires accounted for 76 percent of the growth of the gross domestic product (GDP). It’s one of the biggest rich – poor gaps in the free world and’, Habito [former economic planning chief Cielito Habito] observed, ‘the highest in Asia’. That is what they call ‘independence’. [shaycullen@preda.org,

Fr Shay Cullen’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and online.

THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 14 June 2014


By Fr Shay Cullen

Boy working in Gambia

June 12 is one day of the year set aside to remind us of the horribly painful truth that there are millions of children  around the world working in fields, factories, brick kilns, construction sites and sex clubs. The clothes we wear, if made in a poor developing nation, are likely to have been made with some form of child labor. The millions of single men on sex tours abuse working children to satisfy their perverted sexual fantasies; it’s a cruel world of exploitation of those declared to be the most important of all in God’s family and equal to Jesus of Nazareth. 

Preda Fair Trade organization has campaigned for years to free children from the worst forms of child labor like unpaid slaves in sex bars and clubs. They are in the most hazardous situations where they have to dress in bikinis, pole-dance, be groped, laughed at, molested and be exposed to life-threatening diseases and even physical assault. In many bars, they are sold to highest-paying sex tourist. 

Eight-year-old boy working on a train in India

Beth-Ann was given by her father to a distant relative when she was 12 and she was never sent to school. Instead, she was turned over to the mamasan of a sex hotel and
brought up there as a sex object for local and foreign men. When rescued at the age of 15 by Preda social workers, she had the mentality of a 9-year-old, illiterate and unable to relate to adults, having been a sex object for most of her life. There are thousands like her in many countries.

She is slowly recovering and trying to live a normal life outside of the sex bar and bravely learning to read and write and finding a new set of behaviors and values. There are thousands like her who are still slaves, working in sex bars with the connivance and licensing approval of local government officials who benefit from the sex industry themselves and frequently are hotel or bar owners. 

Young girl in Morocco

Child labor is, in most situations, the evidence of extreme poverty and exploitation of the poor and the marginalized people. The children are offered jobs as domestic helpers in the city, a down-payment is made to the parents in a remote village and the children are carried off to the sex bar or brothel. Another destructive form of so called sex-work for young teenagers is making pornography. Their images are sold live on the internet for pedophiles to view them. This is a billion dollar business and the children are the work force.

How is it that until 1989, child labor was generally accepted as necessary, desirable even, and it many years for the Convention on the Rights of the Child to be written and passed. I was a delegate to the drafting conference in Helsinki. Then Convention No 182 on the worst forms of child labor was written and passed by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and passed as international law by the United Nations in 1999.  I marched through Geneva to lobby the ILO to pass Convention 182. It bans the worst forms of child labor. However, it is still being violated around the world. Millions of children are unschooled and work in every kind of labor situation to help their families survive.

Girls making bricks in Nepal

How is it that children have been held in work bondage for thousands of years and forced to work and be sexually abused. What has been forgotten are the extraordinary statements and acts of Jesus of Nazareth in regard to children. When asked who is the most important in the Kingdom of God, Jesus placed a child in front of them and said a child is the most important of all. He gave them the inalienable right and place of greatest importance in God’s family.

The Little Children Being Brought to Jesus, Rembrandt, 1647-49

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam [Web Gallery of Art]

‘The most important in the Kingdom is this child’, he told his followers. ‘To accept one of them is to accept me’, he said. What an extraordinary declaration made at a time when children were considered the property of parents and as non-persons with no rights and only part of the work force. The Church did not oppose it or declare it as intrinsically wrong or have a dogma about it, despite the practice of child labor being a direct contradiction of the Gospel values and of Jesus himself.

Children engaged in diamond mining in Sierra Leone

Children were number one in Christianity at the beginning, until the institutionalization of Christianity that is. It took secular society in 1989 and 1999 to recognize the inalienable rights of the child. Sadly, it was not the Church that advocated and established in international law these rights of the child. Instead, it has a nasty history of child abuse, a contradiction of the teachings of its founder. It is now that Pope Francis and enlightened church leaders and child rights advocates are vigorously undoing that past and trying to make amends for that most unjust and abusive past.

We were all children once and may have memories (or suppressed memories), of childhood hardships, drudgery, hard work and even abuse. We can be happy that we have survived and we can understand more easily the suffering and plight of the millions of children who continue to suffer abuse, illiteracy and life of hard labor. They may not survive.  This we can prevent and undo.

We must draw on the spirit of truth and empowerment and be prophetic, missionary, active in speaking out and defending children and promoting their rights. They are the most important in God’s kingdom, (Matthew 18:1-5Mark 9:33-37Luke 9:46-48) and have a place of honor that must never be taken away from them.

[shaycullen@preda.org, www.preda.org]

Fr Shay Cullen’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and online.

Photos taken from Wikipedia entry on Child Labour.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . .’ Sunday Reflections, Trinity Sunday, Year A

The Trinity with the Dead Christ

Lodovico Carracci, c.1590. Pinacoteca, Vatican [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel John 3:16-18  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

The Two Trinities

Murillo 1675-82. National Gallery, London [Web Gallery of Art]


A few years ago we in Worldwide Marriage Encounter here in Bacolod City held a family day. One of the last activities was for the pre-teens where the children were asked to share with everyone what they most loved about their parents. One boy of about ten said, ‘What I most love about my parents is that they are always together’.
In my closing remarks I picked up on this and reminded the couples that this youngster had expressed the heart of marriage: that the primary vocation of a married couple is to be husband and wife, not father and mother. The latter is a consequence of the first. When children know that for their parents nobody is more important than each other they will be drawn into that relationship.
Marriage is a reflection of the Trinity, which we celebrate today. The perfect love that the Father and Son have for one another has generated the Holy Spirit from all eternity and will continue to do so for all eternity. The love of husband and wife have for each other constantly generates love, the source of which is the Most Holy Trinity, and in most cases that love results in new life.
In his Wednesday audience on 2 April this year Pope Francis said: Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us. Indeed, God is communion too: the three Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit live eternally in perfect unity. And this is precisely the mystery of Matrimony: God makes of the two spouses one single life. The Bible uses a powerful expression and says ‘one flesh’, so intimate is the union between man and woman in marriage. And this is precisely the mystery of marriage: the love of God which is reflected in the couple that decides to live together. Therefore a man leaves his home, the home of his parents, and goes to live with his wife and unites himself so strongly to her that the two become — the Bible says — one flesh.
Murillo’s painting, The Two Trinities, captures something of this. The unity between Mary and Joseph as wife and husband reflects the love of the Father and Son for each other. And while Joseph is not the Father of Jesus he is his legal father, according to Jewish law, as he named him: Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:19-21). The love that Joseph and Mary had for each other as husband and wife generated the love that Jesus experienced in his humanity while growing up in Nazareth, just like the youngster at our family day in Bacolod.
More than that, St Joseph was a real father to Jesus, his ‘Dad’, ‘Papa’, ‘Tatay’, as Spouse of Mary, the primary title the Church gives to this great saint on his major feast day, 19 March, and now in all the Eucharistic Prayers.


Carlo Dolci, 1640-45. Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence [Web Gallery of Art]

And we find a wonderful example of a father-figure in Moses in the First Reading when he pleads with God: “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance” (Exodus 34:9).
We know that more than once Moses castigated his people and he acknowledges that they can be hard to deal with: This is a stiff-necked people. But in the same breath he acknowledges himself as one of them: Pardon our iniquity and oursin, and take us for your inheritance. He is a real father, pleading on behalf of his family for God’s mercy while fully aware of their and his own shortcomings.

Carracci’s The Trinity with the Dead Christ shows us the Trinity in the context of the death of Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, who became Man and died for us on the Cross. This is a common theme in many paintings, the Suffering Trinity. Not only Jesus suffered. So did his Father and the Holy Spirit.

Return of the Prodigal Son (Detail)

Rembrandt, c.1669. The Hermitage, St Petersburg [Web Gallery of Art]

I know of no greater expression of the suffering of the Father than the face of the father in Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son. This doesn’t express the joy that we know was there but the suffering behind it. And in that parable Jesus was showing us the compassion, the ‘suffering with’, of the Father for each of us.
Carracci shows us the Father and the Holy Spirit to be as much involved in Calvary as Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, God who became Man, was. They suffered along with him, out of compassion for us.
This reality too is reflected in marriage as a couple gradually prepare their children to become independent while preparing themselves for the pain of letting their children go. To a lesser extent it is reflected in the lives of all who are responsible in some way for the education, formation and mentoring of others. A teacher may feel some sadness as the year ends and students move on but a few months later a new batch will be there. However, parents never cease to be parents and will always continue to share both the joys and sorrows of their adult children, who often enough are the cause of their parents’ inner suffering.

Likewise, the Persons of the Blessed Trinity never cease to be a loving God, a God who calls each of us to share in the intense and eternal Love that they are for all eternity. Every human relationship is meant to reflect that to some extent, most of all the relationship between husband and wife.

—God is my Father! If you meditate on it, you will never let go of this consoling consideration.
 —Jesus is my intimate Friend (another re-discovery) who loves me with all the divine madness of his Heart.
—The Holy Spirit is my Consoler, who guides my every step along the road.
Consider this often: you are God’s . . . and God is yours. (The Forge, No 2, St Josémaría Escrivá).

Firmly I believe and truly

Firmly I believe and truly
God is Three, and God is One;
and I next acknowledge duly
manhood taken by the Son.

And I trust and hope most fully
in that Manhood crucified;
and each thought and deed unruly
do to death, as he has died.

Simply to his grace and wholly
light and life and strength belong,
and I love supremely, solely,
him the holy, him the strong.

And I hold in veneration,
for the love of him alone,
holy Church as his creation,
and her teachings are his own.

And I take with joy whatever

Now besets me, pain or fear,

And with a strong will I sever

All the ties which bind me here.

Adoration aye be given,
with and through the angelic host,
to the God of earth and heaven,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Words by Blessed John Henry Newman. Tune: Shipston, arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The fourth and fifth stanzas above are not sung in the recording. You can read more about this hymn, which may be sung to a number of different tunes, here.


Antiphon ad introitum.  Entrance Antiphon

Benedictus sit Deus Pater, Blest be God the Father,

Unigenitusque Dei Filius,and the Only Begotten Son of God,

Sanctus quoque Spiritus, and also the Holy Spirit,

quia fecit nobiscum misericordiam suam. for he has shown us is merciful love.

Obituary of Serafina R. Vuda, Columban Lay Missionary

Serafina Ranadi Vuda
(24 August 1962 – 31 May 2014)

Born to Esira Vuda and Makarita Dicakau, Serafina was baptized by Columban Fr Arthur Tierney, in Navala, Ba. After elementary school, she attended Xavier College in Ba and St John’s College in Levuka, Ovalau. In 1984 she graduated from Corpus Christi Primary Teachers’ College in Suva and taught in Navala, St Theresa, Ba and Stella Maris, Suva, during the following 12 years.

Navala [Wikipedia]

During these years Serafina was an avid netball player, and traveled to Europe as a member of the Fiji National Netball Team.

In 1996 Serafina joined Columban Lay Mission and did her orientation program in Suva. After studying Spanish in Bolivia, her first mission assignment was to Chile (1997 – 2000). There she lived and worked among the indigenous Mapuche people, promoting the formation of lay leaders. After a vacation back home she was assigned to Peru where she spent the following nine years (2001 – 2010). There she was engaged in parish ministry, the formation of lay leaders, and the accompaniment of others in their discernment regarding a lay mission vocation. From 2008 to 2011 she served as the Coordinator of the Central Leadership Team of Columban Lay Mission, while from 2011 to 2014 she continued as a member of that Leadership Team.

During those years that she was in leadership positions, Serafina lived in Dublin, Suva and Los Angeles. While living in Dublin she joined outreach endeavors to migrants and homeless people. After arriving in Los Angeles 20 months ago, she began to learn to drive, and succeeded in obtaining her license a year ago. She had also initiated outreach to parishes in that city as well as to the South Pacifican community across California, particularly in the San Francisco area.

Two weeks ago Serafina was unexpectedly hospitalized in LA and found to be suffering from a number of serious ailments. Since then it seemed that she had only fleeting moments of consciousness. Columban priests in LA, fellow Fijian lay missionaries, Monika Lewatikana and Sainiana Tamatawale, as well as several friends visited her daily. Then, on Saturday evening, 31 May, just after having been commended by them to God, she returned to her Creator,and joined her parents and brothers, Villame and Petero, who had gone ahead of her.

At Holy Family Home for Girls, Bacolod City, Philippines, 2009


As she had lived in several countries and visited several others as a Columban lay missionary leader, Serafina’s passing is grieved by Columban Missionaries and the various peoples to whom she ministered.

Serafina’s death is also a cause of great sadness to her sister, Udite, her brother Paulo Ramasima, another brother, Sipriano Ranuko, and his wife Sisilia, her sister-in-law, Mere, as well as nephews, nieces and extended family.

Before Requiem Mass for Serafina, St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Ireland

Messages of sympathy may be sent to: Mr Sipriano Ranuko, PO Box 1141, Ba, Fiji. Tel: + 679-667.8026

Please remember to pray for the eternal repose of Serafina, as well as consolation for her grieving family and friends.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace, Amen.

The above was issued by the US Region of the Columbans on 4 June. You may read more about Serafina and how she saw herself as a lay missionary here.


SHOUTING INTO THE SILENCE. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 4 June 2014


by Fr Shay Cullen


Street children, New York City, 1890 [Wikipedia]

One of most important things for a happy meaningful life is to have a goal, a positive purpose that does good for others and for ourselves. It can be helping in the community, volunteering in a Fair Trade shop, supporting a shelter for the homeless, or raising funds for a worthy cause.

Some people feel called to be involved with a campaign for peace and human rights and to make this a happier, more peaceful and forgiving world. Some set out to save the environment from destruction and degradation and to protect the planet and the people. Others are dedicated to protecting human rights and ending violence by non-violent means. That means doing all we can to bring about justice in the community.

That’s no easy task; there is so much injustice, inequality and unfairness that a situation can overwhelm us. That’s when we trust in the spirit of truth. When the powerful dominate the poor, it can be heartbreaking and depressing. In the Philippines, a mere 40 families account for 76 percent of the growth of the gross domestic product (GDP). Two such families had a combined wealth of $13.6 billion, equivalent to six percent of the Philippine economy. One percent of the population own or control 70 percent of the national wealth.

When we look at government figures, it shows that 25 million people struggle to survive in dire poverty and barely survive on about one US dollar ($1) a day. That is six percent of the Philippine population. Those in the next bracket are not much better off. This huge disparity in wealth is at the core of Philippine poverty and hardship. The ruling elite have arranged it all in their favor. So economic growth figures do not reflect any improvement in the lives of most Filipinos.

But with a strong belief that good can overcome evil, that truth can vanquish lies and deceit, that right can overcome wrong and that life can overcome death, many things are possible. That is the spirit of Pentecost, the power of the inner spirit of hope, compassion and integrity to change the world. This is the spirit that gives us the power to be prophetic. That means to have courage to speak out and denounce evil, wrongdoing, sexual exploitation of children and corruption. That spirit also gives hope and a belief that positive action can eventually bring about a more just society where people have enough for a life of dignity.

A modern prophetic voice that has inspired me over the years is that of Danny Smith who, with Lord David Alton, founded the Jubilee Campaign, a registered charity in the UK. Danny has been tirelessly working for human rights around the world since 1981 and almost single-handily campaigned with powerful effective results against many injustices.

His most successful campaigns saved children from the cruel abuse of sexual exploitation in the Philippines; he exposed and saved children left to die in cruel orphanages in China; he worked to release hundreds of children in prison in Brazil and Manila. In a powerful campaign in the UK, he exposed child sacrifices in Uganda (video below) and in the UK itself and got strong political action to stop it. He inspired and supported many more great causes. These great stories and many more are told in a inspiring new book Shouting into the Silence, published by Lion.

We need to read about people like Danny Smith and his wonderful wife Joan and their family and their life’s work. They are committed to uplifting the dignity of all people. The book also has an intriguing life history of Danny that is truly fascinating, a family journey spanning continents. He may be contacted at danny@jubileecampaign.co.uk

Of the many prophetic and spiritual figures with whom I have worked over the years, Danny has been one of the most dedicated and consistently effective in bringing about more justice and social change by political lobbying, media advocacy and public speaking and financially supporting the poor and needy people in the developing world. We need many more like Danny in this world; his book and story is inspiring.

However, the prophetic mission is fraught with difficulties and challenges. Enemies rise up filled with envy and jealousy and crush the good and the just. The book’s title Shouting into the Silence refers to the closed hearts and minds and ears of many people in power who do not want to listen to the message, or hear the cry of the people for justice. They are closed to the suffering of the oppressed who are being driven off their land by rich land grabbers.

Fr Rufus Halley and Fr Fausto Tentorio

There is a great silence that the prophetic voice tries to penetrate. Then there is the harsh opposition, the death threats, physical assaults and the assassination of the modern prophets. In the Philippines, the most recent has been Romeo Capalla, an advocate of justice for the farmers of Panay Island and a promoter of Fair Trade. Fr Fausto ‘Pops’ Tentorio PIME, an Italian missionary, was also gunned down for taking a stand for the rights of the indigenous people in Mindanao. Fr Rufus Halley, my classmate, an Irish missionary of the Columbans, brutally murdered for standing with the oppressed Muslim people in Mindanao and many more social workers and human rights advocates.

The mission for justice is the greatest challenge, the most prophetic and the most dangerous. We all need the spirit of truth to dwell within us to enable us to endure to the end and break through the great silence that ignores injustice and abuse and keeps the poor in bondage. This is what we can overcome with the spirit of hope and power to love others more than ourselves.

Fr Shay Cullen’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and online.

[shaycullen@preda.org, www.preda.org]