Vancouver pastor and Filipino parishioners pull for Pacquiao in title fight

 

 
 
 
 
Father James Hughes of St Patrick’s Catholic Church looks on as Jason Alojado and Manny Yatco check out a poster for the Pacquiao-Mayweather championship boxing match.
 
 

Father James Hughes of St Patrick’s Catholic Church looks on as Jason Alojado and Manny Yatco check out a poster for the Pacquiao-Mayweather championship boxing match.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, Vancouver Sun

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When Father James Hughes took over pastoral duties at Vancouver’s St. Patrick’s Catholic Church a year and a half ago, he had only a vague idea who Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao was.

Not only has he developed an appreciation of the 36-year-old Filipino idol with the boyish smile, the priest now dons a Pacquiao hoodie and opens the church hall to telecast the boxer’s fights for the 500 ardent fans who stream in to pour out their hearts, singing the Philippines national anthem and to beat their chests for the charismatic fighter.

The winds of change have swept over this tidy landmark on Main Street. Once predominantly Irish, the congregation is now 85 per cent Filipino. With about 100,000 Filipinos living in the Lower Mainland, roughly 25,000 working as caregivers and domestic workers, they are now the third largest visible minority in Metro Vancouver after the Chinese and Indo-Canadians.

So for Hughes, opening the church hall for the much-anticipated Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight Saturday was a given, despite the hefty $3,000 price tag to broadcast the fight on three big-screen TVs. With a $10 admission fee, it’s hardly a big fundraiser, although the Knights of Columbus will run a cash bar and there will be food, largely Filipino, for purchase.

Hughes sees this as a way of responding not only to the passions of his congregation, but as a way of reaching out to those who have strayed from the faith or were never with it.

He hasn’t decided yet whether he will say a prayer before the fight. If he does, he won’t ask God to help Pacquiao win.

“That’s just not how prayer works and I wouldn’t use prayer in that way,” said the affable priest, who has a small dog and loves to golf on his Mondays off.

Instead, “we pray for a fair fight.”

Count parishioners Jason Alojado and Manny Yatco among those cheering for the fearless left-handed slugger with blazing speed. They have been deeply touched by Pacquiao’s classic rags-to-riches story of escaping hard-knuckle poverty at the age of 14 by leaving home, sneaking onto a boat headed for Manila and seeking fame and fortune as a boxer.

Never mind that the fighter, who is also a politician and singer, has had a reputation as a high-rolling gambler, a character flaw his followers believe he has largely overcome since embracing his faith as a born-again Christian.

One of Pacquiao’s most endearing traits is “he is human,” said Yatco, who moved to Vancouver from the Philippines around 40 years ago. “He is open, very transparent.”

By overcoming poverty to become one of the richest men in the world, “he has taught youth that nothing is impossible.”

Alojado, who was raised in a Filipino Catholic family in Surrey, mentions Pacquiao almost in the same breath as he mentions St. Pat’s, marriage, communion, the church school and other hallmarks of his faith.

“It’s the flag he bears on his chest,” he explained.

He is also inspired by the way Pacquiao has allotted a good chunk of his wealth to charity in his impoverished homeland.

“He is the most popular Filipino ever, other than Imelda Marcos and her shoes,” said Alojado, referring to the former first lady of the Philippines, best known for her collection of 3,000 pairs of shoes.

Outside the church, Filipinos such as Rey Fortaleza — who boxed in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal — are weighing Pacquiao’s chances.

“His heart is really big,” said the Surrey resident and publisher of several Filipino publications, who is travelling to Las Vegas to see the fight live. “If the fight ends bloody, I think Pacquiao will win. If the fight ends boring, Mayweather will win.”

He said Filipinos love Pacquiao because “he is still humble” and “he loves to fight. Every time, it’s not boring.”

“He makes the country proud,” said Leo Cunanan, who runs the only Filipino directory in B.C.

Cunanan has been a boxing fan since as a kid he watched the famous Thrilla in Manilla in 1975 when Muhammad Ali beat Joe Frazier.

Local Pacquiao fans like Cunanan see Mayweather as a counter-puncher with a more defensive style than the explosive Pacquiao.

Both boxers have a huge claim to fame. The 38-year-old Mayweather (47-0) has never lost a professional match and Pacquiao (57-5-2) is the first and only eight-division world champion.

Father Hughes hasn’t asked for Pope Francis’ approval, but has no doubt the pontiff would grant it.

Given the pope’s warm reception of the Italian soccer team and his desire for the church to reach out beyond the pews to the masses, “to give thanks to God for the gift of talent — he would see this as a positive thing.”

yzacharias@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/yzacharias

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Father James Hughes of St Patrick’s Catholic Church looks on as Jason Alojado and Manny Yatco check out a poster for the Pacquiao-Mayweather championship boxing match.
 

Father James Hughes of St Patrick’s Catholic Church looks on as Jason Alojado and Manny Yatco check out a poster for the Pacquiao-Mayweather championship boxing match.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, Vancouver Sun

 
Father James Hughes of St Patrick’s Catholic Church looks on as Jason Alojado and Manny Yatco check out a poster for the Pacquiao-Mayweather championship boxing match.
Father James Hughes of St Patrick’s Catholic Church looks on as Jason Alojado and Manny Yatco check out a poster for the Pacquiao-Mayweather championship boxing match.
Father James Hughes of St Patrick’s Catholic Church looks on as Jason Alojado and Manny Yatco check out a poster for the Pacquiao-Mayweather championship boxing match.
Father James Hughes of St Patrick’s Catholic Church looks on as Jason Alojado and Manny Yatco check out a poster for the Pacquiao-Mayweather championship boxing match.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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