(Fr. Shay's columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)
Before I became a missionary priest I thought about my life during a spiritual retreat and asked how could I best live usefully and worthwhile since human life is so short. Would I reach eternal life? No one can know the answer, we have to die first. So I realized that since I was not a brilliant student I would not be rich in this world but I could be spiritually rich by helping others in this world and thatís when I became a missionary priest.
I was by God's will sent to the Philippines on mission to spread the message of the gospel to the Filipino People. The Philippines was already a catholic country converted by the Spanish who occupied the Islands for many hundreds of years. So why was it necessary for missionaries to go there and what more needed to be done? Well, as I discovered there was the established Catholic Church and people went to church on Sunday for Mass and participated in the rituals, devotions, pilgrimages and processions but this did not mean that the gospel was being lived out as Jesus Christ preached it. If He came to visit the people there he would not be happy, he would cry out and weep over the cities and he would say again, as he did to his apostles and followers "I have been with you a long time and still you do not understand my message".
And he would tell again the story that we read and heard in the gospel today. How the rich man named, Mr. Richman had good food every day, he dressed in expensive clothes and completely ignored the suffering and starving man, called Lazarus who was begging for the scraps of food that fell to the floor. But even the crumbs, the rich man would not share. The malnutrition cause sickness and sores and there was no one to help, no one had pity, or compassion, but it was only the dogs that came to heal him and have pity.
That was the situation that I found in the Philippines, a vastly rich and wealthy elite, about 200 powerful families owned the land, the food, the factories and all industry. The millions of Filipino people, were mired in poverty, hunger, sickness and were begging for the scraps that fell form the tables of rich who lived in palaces and made billions of money from corruption. They even owned the government. The congress was stacked by the relatives and friends of the rich and government served them and not the poor. But these rich people were very religious, went to Mass, thanked God for their wealth and gave money to the church.
I wanted to put into action what Jesus preached and did; he said the poor were the salt for the earth, the most important of all, that innocent children were the models of sanctity that we should imitate so we will be worthy to enter the Kingdom of God.
It was a big challenge and much progress together with many other development agencies implementing the social teaching of the church society began to change. I started a charity called PREDA, an organization that works for justice in all aspects of life. It rescues the children form the jails, save children from the human traffickers and sex slavery in brothels. Today there is training to the youth so they could get jobs and we would try to protect children in every possible way from abusers and traffickers. The goal of the charity is to make justice real, and to work to stop the corruption and wrongdoing and bring freedom to many people.
The charity called PREDA brings Economic freedom and human dignity, self-reliance, to thousands of people through the practice of FAIR TRADE. This aspect of our work at Preda Fair Trade is to help the poor by establishing livelihood opportunities so the poor can learn and to use their skills in the home and farm and produce quality products for the market. Preda fair trade gives interest free loans to the producers. Fair Trade finds buyers that pay a good fair price for the products. There is no cheating or price fixing or corruption and the producers share in the profits.
Fair trade is another word for economic justice and improving the lives of hundreds of thousands by getting buyers for their produce at fair prices, it means that they can live in dignity and economic freedom. Fair Trade is working to give life to the hungry like Lazarus at the gate of the rich man. To save the children from the international criminals that abduct and sell children into slavery. We rescue them and give them a new life. We rescue and save the child workers in brothels and when they are pregnant save them from forced abortions. We tale legal action to bring the abusers to justice and jail where they cannot harm and abuse children. All this important work is supported by the earnings that comes from the selling of fair trade products like dried tropical fruit, juice concentrates, and other handicraft products.
Buying fairly traded products is a way to fight for justice and reduce hunger and poverty. Fair trade helps them to help themselves and to stand on their own and survive and prosper in dignity. END
Contact Fr. Shay Cullen at the Preda Center, Upper Kalaklan, Olongapo City, Philippines.
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