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PRIX CARITAS AWARD

July 10, 2003 · 

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An international award of achievement was presented to Irish Columban Father Shay Cullen this July 10th at the Lucern Culture and Congress Center by the Catholic development organization Caritas Switzerland. The newly established prize recognizes outstanding achievements in the international field for the protection of human rights under adverse circumstances. Fr. Cullen, 60, from Glasthule-Sandycove, Dublin went to the Philippines as a missionary of the Society of St. Columban based in Navan, Co. Meath in 1969 and witnessed the adverse social and human problems created by the immense United States Naval Base in Olongapo City where he was assigned to the Parish of St. Joseph’s. The most affected were the youth who were increasingly alienated by the massive sex industry that exploited women and children and spread dangerous drugs among the Filipinos and damaged family life.

In 1974, he established the People’s Recovery, Empowerment, Development Assistance Foundation, known as PREDA. It was first a recovery center for teenagers addicted to prohibited drugs and it became a sanctuary too for young people harassed by the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos. The work expanded to an integrated programme for street children, children in prison and sexually exploited and abused children.

One of the most remarkable successes was the PREDA campaign to close the United States military bases in the Philippines because of the widespread prostitution of women and children and the other social evils they brought about. The huge bases closed in 1992 and were converted to economic estates. The implementation of the PREDA visionary conversion plan for the military facilities provides work with dignity for thousands of Filipinos.

There are 35 professional trained staffers at the PREDA Center that is overlooking Subic Bay, caring for the abused children, providing legal assistance, jailing their abusers and giving them a new lease on life. They work daily to release children from sub-human condition in Philippine jails and work to change the judicial system to protect children and youth in conflict with the law.

The Caritas Swiss International Award is a recognition of this work. Fr. Cullen says, “above all it is a recognition that sexually exploited and abused children are getting the attention and justice they deserve. They are the real heroes, these are the children and youth who have struggled so hard to overcome the hardship of poverty, oppression and abuse. These are the youth who have the courage to speak out the truth and testify against their abusers”.

Fr. Cullen and his Filipino team have brought child traffickers, brothel operators, pimps and sex tour operators to trial and won several cases against them, whereby they were given long prison sentences in the Philippines. He was instrumental in closing sex bars and rescuing children from a life of degradation and abuse.

In his closing speech, Fr. Cullen called on politicians to change the unjust and corrupt systems and practices that allow abuse and injustice to continue. Development aid must be withheld until there is progress in protecting human rights of children and he challenges the public to be less selfish and urges them to live not for themselves alone but for others.

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