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The prayerful pugilist
Manny Pacquiao delivers a blow to an opponent.
February 17th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

The prayerful pugilist

By Eric Marrapodi, Co-Editor CNN Belief Blog

Manny Pacquiao punches people in the face for a living.

He is pound for pound the greatest boxer in the world. An eight-time world champion, the 147-pound Filipino fighter has obliterated his way through weight classes on his way to becoming a national hero in the Philippines and an international superstar.

The southpaw has crushing punching power, and his team has worked hard to develop a right as devastating as his left. But Pacquiao is packing a secret weapon when he walks into the ring - a deep abiding faith.

"The most important thing is to believe in God," Pacquiao said during a recent train trip to Washington, D.C. With his wife by his side and his team taking up the entire private train car, Pacquiao spoke to CNN about his faith, politics and his upcoming fight.

He was heading to Washington to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Last fall, Reid was down in the polls in a tough re-election fight, so he called in Pacquiao for a last-minute rally. On Tuesday in Washington, Reid said it was Pacquiao who helped put his campaign over the top.  (Watch CNN's Carol Costello's report on the trip here.)

Pacquiao is cagey but diplomatic when talking politics but lights up when asked about his faith. It is a big part of his life as a boxer.

When the 32-year-old Catholic bounded into the ring before his latest pay-per-view match, a silver rosary bounced on his chest as he hopped in place getting ready for the fight. He looked skyward and crossed himself.

It's a familiar scene to those closest to him. "He crosses himself before each round," longtime Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said. "After every workout we end it with a prayer. He's very dedicated to his faith."

Pacquiao, left, receives communion during a Thanksgiving Mass at the Quiapo Church in Manila, Philippines, on November 20, 2010.

His publicist Fred Sternburg said while they are on the road Pacquiao always tries to duck quietly into Catholic churches for Mass. Sternburg said the quiet part doesn't always happen. One Sunday afternoon during a trip to San Francisco in 2009, Pacquiao tried to sneak into Mass on the way to the airport. He told the driver to pull over. Sternburg said he waited in the car and when he looked up a crowd of fans was chasing Pacquiao out of the church seeking autographs.

Pacquiao prays during a church service in Manila.

"Pacquiao lived on the streets in Manila in a paper shack and fought his way up on the streets. His story is a Cinderella story," said Bob Arum, his promoter at Top Rank.

And his story in the ring is one for the history books. His trainer thinks he may not just be the best pound-for-pound fighter today but the best pound-for-pound fighter ever.

"Eight world titles will never be duplicated. That makes him the best," Roach said. "That achievement will never be touched again, the caliber of fighters he's fighting, and his competition is great. And he's defeated all of them."

Pacquiao celebrates after defending his title.

Pacquiao is much shyer about his talents than his trainer. "I don't want to say I'm the best boxer in the world. I would say I'm a boxer who can fight a good fight against any fighter in the world. All my talent it all comes from God," he said.

Those talents have propelled him to be the face of boxing, not only in the U.S. but also around the world, according to Arum.

"His story has resonated because he's been able to fight his way out and become the person he is, and instead of turning his back on all that growing up, he embraces that," Arum said.

Pacquiao has taken home millions upon millions for his bouts. By some estimates, he has amassed more than $70 million from his boxing alone. That amount does not include his other business ventures or endorsements.

"(Pacquiao) gives so much money to charity and is such a caring person. And he does so many good works, most of which is not publicized so you don't even know about it," Arum said.

For Arum, that charity is a tangible example of Pacquiao's faith. "He's constantly calling me on the advances, on the upfront of his purse and so forth, because he spending the money on good things."

For Pacquaio it is clear he believes his success comes from God. "Everything that I have done, that is possible in my mind, He has made possible."

Arum and Roach both say Pacquiao's faith in God is as helpful to him in the ring as his lighting-fast fists and quick feet. Arum said Pacquiao sees himself as part of God's plan, laid out in front of him so nearly nothing bothers him.

"When he lost to (Erik) Morales he said he knew it was God's decision," Roach said. "He accepts it well." That was the last fight Pacquiao lost, in 2005. He went on to beat him two more times after that.

And that ability to move on quickly has paid big dividends.

As he looks ahead to his May 7 fight in Las Vegas against Sugar Shane Mosley, the expected boxing bravado and trash talk is noticeably absent from Pacquiao.

"I'm not going to say I'm going to win yet because the fight isn't done yet. I just need to train hard and believe in God," he said.

CNN's Carol Costello and Jeremy Harlan contributed to this report

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Celebrity • Charity • Christianity • Mass • Sports

soundoff (506 Responses)
  1. ijreilly

    Jeffrey Dahmer also prayed before he ate his victims. Saying that you pray and have faith doesn't actually mean anything.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Wacky Jabber

      Dahmer was an atheist when he committed those crimes. He became a Christian while in jail.

      Dahmer: "...if a person doesn't think that there is a God to be accountable to, then–then what's–what's the point of–of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges? That's how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we–when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing..."

      Stop making up stories. Then, again, there is no basis for morality if you believe you came from slime.

      February 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Sociopaths need religion to be good. The rest of us do not need the threat of eternal dam.nation to be good to others. Do you?

      February 17, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Wacky Jabber

      What makes you say that there is no basis for morality...? In other words, you are saying, basically, unless you have religion or belief if god, then a person can't be moral...?

      That is sheer and utter nonsense !

      Peace...

      February 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Peace2All, God's teaches all truths. Without learning His truth, comprehending it and applying it to your life, man/woman if left to their own device will or will not make it to the finish line..

      It then becomes a crap shoot.

      February 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  2. kung fu

    Manny is awesome!

    February 17, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  3. exudus19

    Lets pray for all these people whose FAITH IN GOD ALMIGHTY are shaky. Yes, pacquaio is right that everything is laid upon or planned by God since he is a merciful and loving father that cares for us more than MAN will ever know or understand. Even problems in life are God given because he knows that its crucial for that child of his and with that, PEOPLE should understand that not all blessings comes in SUCCESS form like what others are questioning prior this heartfelt comment. May you understand and still have blessings from thy bounty because AGAIN, He is an INFINITE MERCIFUL & LOVING FATHER to us all whatever religion,race or even FAITH we have in this TEMPORARY world we live. GOD BLESS US ALL, AMEN

    February 17, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Godless

      Unless you don't believe in him. Then you're screwed, right?

      February 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Yes, like that little adopted girl found in a bag in the truck of her "father". Very instructional lesson from god. I'm sure it will help someone else, she is past needing help anyway, so what the heck.

      February 17, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Tom C

      "Yes, like that little adopted girl found in a bag in the truck of her "father". Very instructional lesson from god. I'm sure it will help someone else, she is past needing help anyway, so what the heck."

      Interesting how God gets all the blame, but none of the glory, say, in Gabrielle Giffords case.

      February 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Bob

      If God is responsible for evil, he's certainly responsible for good.

      But that would mean that God isn't good all the time. 🙂

      February 17, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • derp

      "Interesting how God gets all the blame, but none of the glory, say, in Gabrielle Giffords case"

      OK, lets give god his props for the Giffords incident.

      Thank for arming and sending that psychopath to kill all those people and permanently disabling Rep. Giffords. Nice work god, you doosh

      February 18, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  4. Brandon

    Strange that in such an article that mentions trips to Washington DC and Harry Reid and whatnot... there is absolutely no mention that Pacquiao is an elected congressman in the Philipines.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • rickmeister

      Senator Reid introduced him as Hon. congressman Manny Pacquiao in the Senate.

      February 19, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  5. jake

    Congrats to Watson and his triumph for computer science. Cognitive science was a fascinating topic and studying with a professor passionate in automata theory / human brain modeling was the basis for my pursuit in this research. To think that only athiest/agnostic people are the only ones in existence contributing to scientific research is absolutely silly. To think that all religious people have the capability to understand or accept complex scientific theories and research is just as silly. The truth is that the world is somewhere in the middle. It is these people who accept the reality of the world, not those who decide which group is dumber, who actually keep the world turning.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  6. Bangsamoro

    How great Pacman is! I mean look at the comments above..the Pacman really transcends the sport!

    February 17, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  7. runinguy

    SO WHAT HAPPENS IF HIS OPPONENTS PRAY FOR A WIN TOO?

    February 17, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • jake

      God picks the one he bets money on.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  8. Chinada

    Pray he passes any drug testing before he fights Mayweather.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Wacky Jabber

      IF Mayweather finally grows a pair and faces Pacquiao in the ring, it would be Mayweather who needs prayers. That fight will never happen though because Mayweather is afraid and is content of making up excuses and fooling his gullible fans.

      February 17, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  9. Lindsay

    Many, many professional athletes are of the Christian faith (one demonination or another), why should a boxer be any different? Good for Manny! May he keep this faith, and may God bless his endeavors.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  10. simeon

    The world is in a sad place if these are the views of its ppl !!! no wonder the same bible that is supposed to be fictional says most ppl are gonna burn in hell !!!

    February 17, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Well, that's fiction for you.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  11. simeon

    Pac Man

    February 17, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  12. WISEMAN

    I guess if it was for other performances without punching other, I will buy it. BUT knocking down others is not the right way to pray and thank our maker for giving us a strong body. You can use this strength by other means. It really hurt by just watching this folks knocked down. Sincerely

    February 17, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Lindsay

      Do you feel the same about NFL players? It's the same thing...

      February 17, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  13. Orville

    The bottom line is, that when the bell rings, all the God stuff and race attributes and history go out the window. He has to take the challenger out using his skills. Mosley doesn't have a chance. It's a technical issue.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  14. cb3620

    he's praying noone does a surpise drug test

    February 17, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  15. JC

    I pray God will extend mercy to your stupidity. Since when is believing in God only limited to white collar jobs or jobs outside the ring. Many of you here will stand before God one day, maybe some sooners then others, days or months before you pass to the next life. Awake from your ignorance before its too late. Your hears are so full of evil that you cannot see good on anything. Your eye is evil so its your soul. Ask from God today refine God that your lampstands may have some light the day of your judgement!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 17, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Godless

      Prove it.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • MarkinFL

      My lampstand? I get to bring that with me?

      February 17, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  16. Yuman is an idiot

    wow, jinky has some serious pair of racks.... makes me want to munch them...

    are those products of Manny's hardwork? "bare hands" or "gloved hands"?

    February 17, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  17. zukala

    He pray for the guy he fight not to die during the fight.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Godless

      Please god, let me pummel this guy's head in just beyond the point of unconsciousness, but no further...

      February 17, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Magic

      Ah, and if the other guy dies, well then, "It was 'God's' will". How convenient.

      February 17, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Jonathan

      @magic @godless

      his last fight versus margarito he wanted to end because he didnt want to hurt him any more. he kept looking at the ref and stepping backwards. Linda Cohn of ESPN even mentioned how boxing has reached so low that they continued the fight, with hopes of a knockout. he just wants to do his job and "give a good fight for the people".

      February 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  18. Joe

    Really.... try going a round with him. You'll be praying pretty quick.
    Fact: Religion is an indvidual choice.
    Fact: Most Catholics are in fact non-practicing. When they become adults, most people decide to believe or not. He has made that conscious choice.
    Fact: I can get you to pray by taking you sky-diving with me.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  19. Child of God

    David and Bob, who are you before God's power. just face reality. He loves you. And don't waste your time trying FIGHT GOD'S EXISTANCE...NO MATTER WHAT YOU SAY HE DOES EXIST...GOD BLESS YOU AND GOD BLESS AMERICA...

    February 17, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Godless

      First you say: just face reality.

      Then you say: And don't waste your time trying FIGHT GOD'S EXISTANCE...NO MATTER WHAT YOU SAY HE DOES EXIST...

      That's pretty funny right there.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Brian

      No more funny than saying the universe(s) created itself out of nothing or that matter created itself. If it's absurd to think God existing, I wonder how absurd it is to believe that the universe created itself out of nothing and that's how we 'got here.'

      I'll take that being more absurd any day of the week over belief in God.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • jake

      I believe in God. Trollolololol abound! JC, to impose you idiotic thoughts on others makes you look like an idiotic. It makes me look like an idiots. Thanks buddy.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Bob.

      > No more funny than saying the universe(s) created itself out of nothing or that matter created itself.

      Umm, hate to rain on your ignorance parade, but the Big Bang doesn't say there was nothing before it. Maybe reading into the subject will assist you.

      February 17, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Brian

      You said: "No more funny than saying the universe(s) created itself out of nothing or that matter created itself. If it's absurd to think God existing, I wonder how absurd it is to believe that the universe created itself out of nothing and that's how we 'got here."

      Ummm... Who created your god?

      If you say your god is uncaused, then I claim this for my universe also!

      Which god are we talking about? The Christian god, Allah? Zeus, Ra, Isis, The elephant god?

      Do you realize that most religions have their own creation story?

      What proof do you have for any one of them? They can't all be true.

      You are explaining one mystery, with an even bigger mystery. Have you thought how extremely complex a god would have to be?

      From a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, science can explain the formation of the universe. There are many theories about how the singularity came to be. Give science a few decades, and they well might be able to explain everything. New discoveries are being made every day. So far, science does not see any need for a god.

      If we go about saying "God did it", we learn nothing. We stagnate.

      Cheers!

      February 17, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  20. Beto

    Fact: he prays because he's from the Philippines. Fact: The Philippines was "colonized" by Spain. Conclusion: he prays because he is, along with most people in his country, the product of colonization. There's nothing strange about that. Now, does he have a winning streak because he's praying? I hardly doubt it.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Lindsay

      That was a completely ignorant statement on your part. So the man cannot have his own beliefs, his own mind? What the heck is wrong w/ you?

      February 17, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Chuck

      your facts maybe. FACT: He prays because he is a CATHOLIC. He prays because he has faith in his God. Where he is from, or if Panama was colonized has nothing to do with his decision to have faith in God.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • lea

      atheist much????

      February 17, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Eric

      Looks like you're not a catholic Beto... Do you believe in GOD?

      February 17, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Anazo

      Sounds like you are an atheist. Should I not pray because I am an American or living in a prosperouse country? Please do not be ignorant! May God forgive you!

      February 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Pete

      So what you're saying is that people native to a country do not pray in one way or another? I don't see how that is possible. Faith and prayer are a choice that people make. Even if they are subjected to faith and prayer at an early age, they still have the choice to not practice at some point in their lives. If peoples thoughts and beliefs are what keep them going, then I say why not.

      February 17, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Godless

      " Even if they are subjected to faith and prayer at an early age, they still have the choice to not practice at some point in their lives. If peoples thoughts and beliefs are what keep them going, then I say why not."

      @Pete: If people are subjected to faith and prayer at an early age, they are most likely brainwashed into doing that their whole lives.

      Beliefs are what keep people praying; thoughts are what cause people to stop praying.

      February 17, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Magic

      Lindsay,

      "So the man cannot have his own beliefs, his own mind?"

      Sure. But if he believed that wearing the same pair of 'lucky' socks for each and every fight caused him to win more often than not, I'll bet you would call him out on it.

      February 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • civiloutside

      Actually, Chuck, the fact that the Phillipines were colonized has quite a lot to do with why he prays. If it hadn't been colonized, he'd most likely be an adherent of native Filipino religion, and possibly may never even have heard of the Christian god.

      February 17, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Magic

      civiloutside,

      "If it hadn't been colonized, he'd most likely be an adherent of native Filipino religion..."

      Correct.

      And if the Muslims had gotten there first, that's what they would be, like Indonesia. If the Hindus or the Buddhists were more into colonization, they would be those. Generalizations are tricky and are frowned upon; but the trend of their culture seems to be one of much superst!tious belief.

      February 17, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.