Thursday, 28 September 2017

‘Love Conquers Hate in Marawi’

Perhaps in an effort to re-establish credibility, as their strongholds in the middle east crumble, ISIS-inspired groups sprung up in the Southern Philippines. The ‘Maute group’ backed by foreign fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia started an insurrection in the Islamic city of Marawi in Mindanao. Hundreds of people killed, hundreds of thousands internally displaced and as the siege enters its last days, as the Philippine army clears out the few remaining terrorists, the city is now in ruins.

Mindanao has been a tinder box for a long time with deep mistrust between Muslim & Christian communities and frequent clashes between armed rebels & government forces. But in the midst of the immense suffering caused by the Marawi Crisis, a new hope has been ignited.

In the wake of the siege, with internally displaced Muslim families on the move to find shelter with relatives and in improvised camps in the north of the island, help came not only from government but in large measure from the Church. Caritas Philippines (using their nationwide network and the previous experience gained through the many natural disasters that the country has faced over the years) were early responders. The way they did so is of particular note.

As well as the nation’s Catholics coming together to give generously to their suffering brothers & sisters, they did so with great sensitivity to the religious and cultural background of the Maranao tribe. They employed what they called a Survivor Led Response whereby the religious and tribal leaders designed the relief plan with Caritas. Young Muslim volunteers led with the distribution of relief goods by taking it to the displaced families in their temporary homes instead of making people stand in endless queue’s at the back of trucks which we often see in such disaster scenes. Also care was taken in what kind of aid they provided for the Muslim evacuees eg:- prayer mats, halal foods etc as well as other items and services that were supplied to the children to help them cope-up like toys and group activities.

Groups from different dioceses/islands near to Mindanao prepared their own aid convoys and brought them over and helped with distribution too and the youngsters of both Muslim and Christian communities worked together. (see attached pics from Archdiocese of Capiz)

The Maranao people are a proud and self-sufficient tribe and unused to receiving help, much less from the Christian community, so it was a great witness really. Love is felt. And relations between the two groups, particularly with the youth, has been greatly enhanced as a consequence of this kind of response which acknowledges the evil of ISIS inspired groups without tarring the whole community with the same brush.

The same people are now working on rebuilding the community, as well as the city itself, and hopefully what rises from the ashes will be more unified with greater mutual understanding as the Muslim community has experienced firsthand the love of the Christian community for them and perhaps a glimpse of their Saviour.

ISIS brought the people death & destruction, the Catholic community brought them breakfast, friendship and a new hope.

NB :- the Residents of the Islamic City of Marawi are primarily the Maranao Tribe

Saturday, 2 September 2017


Last year I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with whale sharks, in what was once a small fishing village now catapulted into the spotlight with the sudden arrival of these enormous beasts. Two tons and twenty feet long with a gaping mouth the size of an open car boot, that could easily have accommodated Jonah, and yet it glides through the waters with the grace and charm of a ballerina. Mesmerising. A few days later I swam with sardines; equally captivating. The shoal moves as one; close-packed as if already aware of their destiny. The shoal twists and turns with the movement of the sea or in response to the arrival of predators, its appearance is reminiscent of the DNA double helix. It was a glimpse at the wonder of God’s creation and its harmony, a real privilege. 

Back on land, things were less orderly. Gold fever gripped the town as visitors flooded in. The prices were elevated and quality of services plummeted. The fisherman after building new homes and getting new vehicles already, were loaded with wads of cash that would pique a senator’s interest. After the morning’s work taking the visitors out in their boats, the afternoons were spent in drinking sessions, high stakes gambling and any other pursuit money can buy. 

Systems were quickly put in place to harvest cash from visitors who were herded into queues to pay the fees for boats, snorkels etc. Foreigners were charged double price (except residents), and on discovering that I was a resident and therefore was to pay the normal fee, the cashier slammed the register impatiently with a look that told me that this incredible blessing this town had received with the arrival of the Whale Sharks must surely come to an end as mysteriously as it began. Not because of Karma, nor divine wrath at what they were becoming, no, it must come to an end out of love for them. 

Many times. the blessings God gives His children, become His worst enemy if they are not received with humility and gratitude and so some misfortune must come to correct their behaviour again. 

There was an odd feeling to the place that I couldn’t quite put my finger on for ages until I remembered a story about Auschwitz. So much evil was committed in that concentration camp that even to this day the birds who live in the area don’t sing. They must be feeling it. And then it clicked, this was the only town I ever saw in the Philippines where Filipinos don’t smile! Greed robs people of Joy.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Crossing the Rubicon

Julius Caesar paused before he crossed the Rubicon, a step that would eventually change the world. He knew there would be a high price to pay for his action; that he would have to conquer or die. He had the advantage of a few thousand loyal soldiers at his back of course and ultimately rid Rome of his rivals. 

 At one time or another on our journey through life we will all have such a step to make, especially as Christians in a hostile world where we will often have to stand outnumbered or entirely alone for what we believe in or hold dear.

Sad to say it may not only be in the clearly defined and obvious conflicts with an increasingly godless society; but also within our own Christian organisations. Those who still believe that whilst we can work our side of the street while the devil works his are underestimating his malice and influence. Slithering under the doors of committees, councils and board meetings; he has a man in room, (and perhaps a few ladies). 

Their role is simple and subtle and they play a long game to gradually erode and dismantle and thus render impotent whatever generations of the faithful before them had put in place. This is done through, de-Christianisation of policy, centralised control, modernity and impenetrable bureaucratic structures.

 A recent example I saw close-up showed this precise pattern and, sadly, not for the first time in the organisation’s history, a marvellous piece of work is being corrupted due to a lack of vigilance. A division of the organisation that existed to serve the poor in Christian charity ‘transformed’ over time, systematically and methodically into a business which will feed off the poor and will pad a few retirement plans. 

It is not easy to stand against tyranny, nor great odds, to challenge what you can’t quite put your finger on due to its ‘cloak & dagger’ cleverness and deceit, but we must defend our own Christian organisations from any enemies within, with prayer, courage and collective determination.