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Meet the Philippines' own 'Machine Gun Preacher'

Salesian trains fellow clerics in use of weapons

<p>Salesian Father Salvador Pablo displays some of the weapons he owns. (Photo by Vincent Go)</p>

Salesian Father Salvador Pablo displays some of the weapons he owns. (Photo by Vincent Go)

  • George Moya, Laguna
  • Philippines
  • August 12, 2014
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Elbows bent, hands clasped close to the chest as if in prayer, the priest whispers. "Praying position … muscle memory," he says. "Extend your arms and pull the trigger." 

Salesian Father Salvador Pablo is the Philippines' "Machine Gun Preacher". He teaches priests, bishops, soldiers and policemen the proper use of guns.

Unlike Sam Childers in the movie Machine Gun Preacher, Father Pablo is no former member of a biker gang. But like Childers, the priest is a defender of orphans, prostitutes and slum dwellers.

He heads the Salesian mission in the village of Juan in the province of Laguna, several kilometers south of Manila where slum dwellers are relocated by the government.

"The biggest problems here are depression, malaise and virulence," the priest says, defining virulence as "bitter violence”.

With his prescription glasses and clerical collar, the soft-spoken Salesian can be stereotyped as an archetypal provincial priest. But behind his calm demeanor is a real-life machine gun preacher.

He shows off his ability to fire a gun with his back turned against an assailant. He can also fire a machine gun with his left hand and while riding a motorcycle.

Aside from teaching soldiers and policemen, Father Pablo also trains people to become professional security escorts or bodyguards.

In the past three decades, Father Pablo has served as seminary rector, chaplain for the army, marines and police. He says he also has trained bishops and priests on the use of guns.

"Bishops and priests are also being killed," he says. "Priests in areas where crime is prevalent should know how to defend themselves."

He says he discovered guns before realizing a vocation to the priesthood. His father introduced him to guns at the age of seven. "My father had his own armory," the priest recalls.

"My father did not want me to become a priest," he says. "He even hid my application form." But the future Father Pablo persevered, and was ordained a priest. 

While a young missionary priest in the early 1980s, he established a security agency that specialized in providing bodyguards for VIPs.

Father Pablo says he is aware of the biblical passage that says "he who lives by the sword dies by the sword". But he says his knowledge of guns proved to be an evangelical tool while on mission in Papua New Guinea.

"They like hunting there, so I did a lot of hunting," he says, adding that when he shot several pigs and wild bulls, "they treated me like a big man".

"It then became easy for me to invite them to attend Mass, even if they are not Catholics, because I was able to establish a certain ascendancy," Father Pablo says.

Aside from being a gun expert, Father Pablo is also skilled in unarmed combat and is an expert in karate, judo and ninjutsu. His collection of bladed weapons includes a genuine katana -- Samurai sword.

However, he warns that once you get into a fight, "you've already failed." He says having the proper training in handling guns instills discipline and self-control. "Instead of being offensive you become defensive," he says.

With the influx of settlers from the city's urban poor areas, the crime rate in Father Pablo's community has increased by six percent according to local police. 

Some people have labeled Father Pablo as "violent," but the priest says that if one wants to change criminals "one needs to understand the world of criminals and their use of violence".

"I'm the worst kind of priest," he says with a chuckle.

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