Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
Profiles in Catholicism
The author of this book is an Irish Columban Missionary who went to Olongapo City in the Philippines in 1969 and discovered horrific sexual exploitation and abuse of thousands of women and children enslaved in horrible conditions. Some were as young as 9 years old in a sex industry that catered to US Military and international sex tourists. Swarms of hungry and abandoned street children roamed the streets, many on drugs, some sold as sex slaves, and others only six years old were behind bars. Thousands of child workers suffered abuse, disease and neglect. Father Shay Cullen set out to free the children and women from these dehumanizing and slave-like conditions and founded the People’s Recovery Empowerment Development Assistance (PREDA) Foundation to save them. PREDA is an internationally known organization and the author has received three nominations for the Noble Peace Prize in recent years. Father Cullen works to protect youth and child victims by providing them with protection and therapy and by bringing their abusers to justice. With his Filipino team, Fr. Shay rescued thousands of children from drugs, brothels and prisons. He led a campaign to successfully close the US bases and championed child protection laws and pioneered poverty alleviation through Fair Trade. Filipino culture, the living heart of a nation, the quality of life-style, the sum of its inherent values, and the gifted genius of its people has been seriously corroded and corrupted by shameful exploitation, an unredeemable political process, and manmade poverty. Like our own Coronavirus these influences have been allowed to spread aided and abetted by the ruling elite, supposedly the guardians of cultural values and public morality. They have imported a lifestyle profoundly lacking in compassion and culture. As in our own regime, power is driven by greed and avarice to exploit the poor and perpetuate their fiefdoms with unprecedented violence and cruelty. This book tells how the shrewd and the wicked, the pimp and the pedophiles, the exploiter and abuser, the patriarch, the patron and the powerful have been able to manipulate and mangle the good and trusting nature of these impoverished people. It tells of the brave and courageous who have resisted and taken a stand to oppose it. Although it takes place in the Philippines it is illustrious of many. Father Shay started PREDA with Merly and Alex on a shoestring budget. The PREDA team did not expect a smooth trouble free run if the set out to imitate Christ in some small way like we were taught from childhood. In human rights work there is always rejection and opposition, but there is resilience and empowerment too. Thousands of missionaries and dedicated church workers and human right advocates give their lives for others, many are harassed, jailed and even killed. They are the unseen selfless friends of the enslaved, where they are, God is too. Thousands of brave social workers and people’s organizers have been tortured and assassinated by death squads on the orders of land grabbers, corrupt politicians and despots. There is no other way to be a Christian but to remain authentic to the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth. Real Christianity may be difficult to find in the crypts and cathedrals yet it is far from dead in the Philippines or in the hearts and minds of the millions of Filipinos who work abroad. They carry their faith within and most share all they can earn with their impoverished families in the Philippines. The churches are filled with vibrant communities that believe in taking a stand for justice and truth. The workers find the meaning of life in the wretched and the poor by lifting them up, restoring life, healing the wounded and the sick releasing the captives, giving life to the hungry, light to the blind, empowering the downtrodden and above all restoring truth and justice in word and deed. This is a compelling story that needs to be read in its entirety to understand the good that Father Cullen did for others.