By Sarah Mac Donald - 23 August, 2017
Irish missionary Fr Shay Cullen has taken to creative writing in a bid to raise awareness about the human rights violations occurring in the Philippines.
The Columban priest, who founded Preda to help children who have been sexually abused or trafficked into the sex industry, has said his novel is a work of fiction based on real events.
Ricky and Julie – a story of courage and survival in the Philippines is an adventure set mostly in Mindanao, Manila and Olongapo in the Philippines.
It is about the lives of street children – Ricky, Boyet and Julie – who are targeted and hunted by the Davao Death Squad that kills street children.
He said the purpose of the book was to raise awareness of the human rights violations and social conditions that give rise to poverty.
“People can read a story and be inspired more easily in a novel form. They can be involved in the characters, understand the lives of the poor and the street children, and know what good people are doing to help them and to expose the evils of drugs, human trafficking, and the sex trade.”
The story is set during the presidential election campaign when a maverick law and order candidate threatens to kill thousands of suspected drug pushers and users, and he wins the election.
The harsh social injustice and exploitation of children in the sex trade and victims of human trafficking and the suffering and hardship they endure is revealed. The story tells of the resilience and the resistance of the women and children against their oppressors.
The publication of Fr Cullen’s novel comes in the week that the Catholic bishops of the Philippines renewed their appeal for an end to government-sponsored violence.
As many as 73 people were killed in police raids on suspected drug dealers over the weekend, as the war on illegal drugs intensified with the backing of Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte.
In a statement read out in all parishes across Manila on Sunday, Cardinal Luis Tagle expressed concern about the increase in the number of deaths in the drugs war and called for an end to the “waste of human lives”.
“We knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces with bonnets, to stop wasting human lives,” Cardinal Tagle said.
“The illegal drug problem should not be reduced to a political or criminal issue. It is a humanitarian concern that affects all of us.”
The Cardinal has offered to host a dialogue between government and police officials, together with families of victims, non government groups and medical experts.
The Filipino bishops have been highly critical of the anti-drug policies of President Duterte, who has given his tacit consent to vigilante squads that have been responsible for the extrajudicial killing of hundreds of suspected drug dealers.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the former president of the Filipino bishops’ conference, asked Catholic churches to ring their bells every evening to stir consciences about the killings.
The story which Fr Cullen has penned centres on village girl Julie, mother of Ricky. She lives with her parents and siblings in a dirt hovel in a small village on the estate of the Ortega family.
The rich Ortega son wants her as his sex slave but her family resists. She is abducted by the corrupt landowning Ortega family who are involved in crime, and brought to a brothel. She is abused by the son of Dom Ortega. Julie becomes pregnant and is forced to have an abortion but she resists and makes a dramatic escape.
The priest–author has said the story is based on real life events of intrigue and mystery that he is familiar with through his work with Preda, which he set up in 1974.
Preda is active in the rescue and care of abused children from jails, abusers, and brothels and giving victims of abuse a safe home with protection, education, values formation, affirmation, empowerment and healing therapy to restore their self-esteem.
It is engaged in defending human rights and promoting justice for the marginalised, as well as fair trade mango-growing farmers.
Fr Shay, who has received several awards recognising his work, is an internationally known human rights advocate, popular international speaker, media commentator and writer.
In 2006, he published a book – Passion and Power – with an introduction by former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, and with an endorsement by the Hollywood actor and human rights supporter, Martin Sheen.
Earlier this year, Fr Cullen was announced as the 2017 Martin Buber Award winner.
The honour recognises his work, through the Preda Foundation, helping children and women. He will be presented with the award in Kerkrade in November during the annual International Festival of Dialogue – EURIADE.
Rickey and Julie – a story of courage and survival in the Philippines is free to download from http://www.preda.org/. Donations to support the inspiring work of Preda can be made through the website.