Fr Shay Cullen's
Fr Shay Cullen's work to protect women, children and the poor from exploitation and sex trafficking in the Philippines has earned him three Nobel Peace Prize nominations. But it has also attracted an on-going series of death threats, which, following the recent murder of a fellow missionary, he takes seriously. Here, the turbulent priest speaks his mind to Gay Byrne about the faith that motivates him to keep going in the face of evil.
Fr Shay Cullen is an unconventional priest, declining, for instance, to record this interview with Gay Byrne in a church, in case it made him look like some sort of "Holy Joe". That fits with a man who freely admits he had strong doubts about his vocation, even on the day of his ordination. For him, there had been no blinding Damascene conversion; no voice from the skies. Instead, the Glasthule-born missionary was working in a fish factory in Grimsby, when the Columban Fathers offered him a place in their Navan seminary and he claims he saw it as much as a route to third-level education as a calling.
The Columbans' choice of Olongapo in The Philippines as his mission station was also, he thinks, as much down to expediency as providence. Nonetheless, he found himself there at the height of the Vietnam War, when the community was transformed by huge US military bases into a den of shore-leave sexploitation. Illegal arms trade, human trafficking and crime were rife and the young missionary soon found his sacramental duties were out-of-kilter with the needs of his flock.
The choice he made was to stand up to bullies in all their forms: the Marcos Government, the US military, the criminal gangs, the pimps and drug dealers. His outspokenness and activism earned him threats of death and deportation. However, he also earned the respect of his adopted community and, in time, three Nobel Peace Prize nominations. That, in turn, attracted many international supporters, including former President Mary Robinson and Martin Sheen, who donated his own modest fee for appearing on The Meaning of Life, and much more besides, to Shay Cullen's PREDA Foundation.