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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. LeeCMH

    Typical Christian, prays before stomping and killing. Christianity is used to justify so much hate, bullying and destruction.

    February 18, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  2. Reality

    Statistically, your prayer request might come true but it is simply the result of the variabiliy/randomness of Nature.

    So put down your rosaries and prayer beads and stop worshiping cows and bowing to Mecca five times a day. Instead work hard at your job, take care of aging parents, volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to charities and the poor and continue to follow the Commandments of your religion or any good rules of living as gracious and good human beings.

    February 18, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  3. Travis

    Too bad he uses illegal substances to win fights. He can have faith in God all he wants, but in the end it's the drugs in his veins that lets him win.

    February 18, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  4. David Johnson

    @Justina

    Does God strongly desire that everyone, or almost everyone, believe that he exists?

    Curious in Arizona

    February 18, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  5. God is BS!

    Manny is a great fighter. Once he has passed his prime, another fighter will pummel him, regardless of how much he prays. God has nothing to do with it.

    February 18, 2011 at 5:18 am |
    • Justina

      Results of his faith and his charity will remain forever and never be forgotten.

      February 18, 2011 at 6:55 am |
  6. John S.

    Manny is the man. He walks his talk everyday. I am married to a Filipina and have friends who know Manny and his family personally. He gets his faith in God from his upbringing noth from the life of his past and his family, especially his mother and wife. I am sure he is not askign for a win when he prayers prior to a fight but asks for God's blessing and prays that neither his oponent or himself gets to hurt. I only hope he continues to carry his faith in the honor he has thus far and continues to help his fellow Filipinos. He is the consumate human being and one of the few atheletes that children can look up to as a role model. Keep up your faith Manny and continue your good work outside and inside the ring. Mabuhay!!

    February 18, 2011 at 3:07 am |
  7. ARIEL

    “He was heading to Washington to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid”…

    and B.O. at the White House (you deliberately missed it).

    Good Luck Manny..K.O.Shane!

    February 18, 2011 at 2:14 am |
  8. jun fhogi

    he has a good adviser, i think. in one fight i saw a cnn guy reminded him to kneel down. it may be just a script followed by pacquiaol.

    February 18, 2011 at 1:52 am |
  9. Lil Floyd

    i mean.. "Is Earth really the center of the universe?"

    February 18, 2011 at 1:26 am |
    • Justina

      The center of the universe is Israel, honey, literally.

      February 18, 2011 at 2:13 am |
    • Justina

      Jesus will stand on Mt. Zion when He returns.

      February 18, 2011 at 2:15 am |
    • Justina

      More stunning statements on the fate of universe which Jews and Christians knew all along. Isaiah 66:22, 23

      February 18, 2011 at 2:18 am |
    • David Johnson

      @Justina

      You said: "The center of the universe is Israel, honey, literally."

      No Justina you are wrong again.

      Our planet orbits an ordinary star tucked away in an arm of an ordinary spiral galaxy, of no particular prominence within an enormous universe. – http://www.scienceclarified.com

      The bible NEVER said the earth is the center of the universe. A lot of Fundies think the bible says this. It doesn't.

      Cheers!

      There is not one statement in the bible saying the planet
      earth is the center of the universe.

      February 18, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  10. Lil Floyd

    I'm now wondering that during the times of Jesus (or even King Solomon) on earth, no one ever asked them about scientific stuffs like "Is the world flat?", "What causes things to fall in the ground?", "What are stars made off, and what is the essence of their existence aside from twinkling during the night?", "Is the Sun really the center of the universe?". I wonder what would be their answer.

    One wrong answer (particularly for the first and last questions) and the bible would be....

    February 18, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • Justina

      Lil, answers were in the Book of Job already. Job precedes most of the Old Testament people including Moses. There is not one wrong answer in the Bible. If you categorize descriptions of phenomena by viewer's perspective to be wrong, English words such as "sunset" and "sunrise" must be banned from all literature along with every poetry for you.

      February 18, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • Magic

      Justina,

      This is a classic tactic used by Bible believers. If something in it doesn't measure up to proven fact, it was due to its being a metaphor, or allegory, or poetry. It is quite dishonest, you know.

      February 18, 2011 at 4:02 am |
    • David Johnson

      @Lil Floyd

      One really big error is as follows:
      Remember when Satan took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth?

      Obviously, the biblical authors thought the earth was flat. Otherwise, Jesus would not have been able to see all the kingdoms of the earth, no matter how high the mountain.

      Say what you want, that is an error. The bible is flawed. If Jesus and Satan should have known the earth was not flat.

      Now you would quote Isaiah 40:22. You would be wrong. It is a fundie straw to grasp

      The Geographical Meaning of Earth Seas in Genesis 1:10
      by Paul Seely:
      "There is one verse in the OT, however, which has often been cited at least by laymen as a proof that the earth was understood to be a globe. I refer to Isaiah 40:22 which speaks of God as the One sitting above the circle of the earth. This verse does imply that the earth is circular, but there is nothing either in the underlying Hebrew word (hug) or in the context which necessarily implies anything more than the circularity of the flat earth-disc which the historical context and Genesis 1 have given us as the meaning of. If Isaiah had intended to speak of the earth as a globe, he would probably have used the word he used in 22:18 (dur), meaning 'ball.' "

      For as E. J. Young noted, Isaiah 40:22 describes God as seated on the zenith, the highest point directly overhead. Thus the verse implies that earth's dwellers, all mankind according to Psalm 33:13, 14, are clearly visible from a very high point directly overhead. This imagery fits most naturally the conception of the earth below as a flat disc, not a globe. For if the earth were a globe, part of all mankind namely earth's dwellers in Australia, Argentina, South Africa, etc... could not be seen from a point directly overhead.

      One could force the issue by appealing to God's omniscience, but Isaiah 40:22 (as well as the other verses which mention God looking down) is focused on God's height above the earth; and his seeing all mankind is derived from that height. That phrase "the circle of the earth" in no way implies sphericity is confirmed by the fact that in Egypt this phrase was used to refer to the earth as a flat circular disc. So when interpreted within its historical and biblical context Isaiah 40:22 implies indeed that the earth is circular in shape but also that it is flat.

      Whoever wrote the bible, thought the Earth was flat. They were wrong. The bible cannot be the inspired word of god. It is the work of men. It reflects their knowledge and beliefs of the times.

      @Justina

      Magic is right.
      Fundies engage in theological gymnastics to try to explain-away contradictions and errors in the bible.

      Evangelical Rule of Thumb: If a bible verse furthers the cause, it is to be taken literally. If a bible verse is detrimental to the cause, it is either: taken out of context; is allegorical; refers to another verse somewhere else; is a translation error; means something other than what it actually says; Is a mystery of god or not discernable by humans; or is just magic.

      The bible is not the work of any god. It is the work of Bronze Age men and reflects their beliefs and morals of the time.

      Cheers!

      February 18, 2011 at 7:44 am |
  11. exudus19

    Keep it up to all FAITHFUL DEVOTED CHRISTIANS for you have FIGHT for GOD even by this simple professing acts on comments. I believed that YOU CAN NOT PLEASE EVERYBODY OR MAKE THEM ACCEPT YOUR FAITH so we will just let GOD do the rest for these children of HIS. Stories in the BIBLE about Moses, Noah and others is a TESTAMENT of this and we know all too well THE REST Is HISTORY. Let us keep HOPING for thy brothers and sisters that they would see the LIGHT FROM THY BOUNTY before the chance of saving their SOULS comes too late. Now we know that GOD uses very unconventional ways sometimes to SEND a message to his people & HOPEFULLY make NON BELIEVERS A BELIEVER even through a sports of BOXING.GOD bless us all specially for those who GLORIFY thy name.

    February 18, 2011 at 1:18 am |
  12. Priyath

    For a man who has everything, money and fame, to still say that he got them because of God, makes him one of the most humble "celebrities" I have ever seen

    February 18, 2011 at 1:16 am |
  13. Chat

    I am not for boxing but he completely changed the game and made it a gentleman's sport for me. When Pacquio told her mom (in a Bio interview) not to be worried if he gives endlessly to those in need because he said that everything he has is just loaned by God and should be shared I felt really proud that he is a Filipino no wonder God is blessing him tremendously

    February 18, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  14. Brown

    James MacWhorter,your comment here is very funny! :-))) Keep it up!

    February 17, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  15. James MacWhorter

    Jesus told me to turn the other cheek, but that didn't work out too well for boxing. So instead of acting like Christ, I act like Christians and beat the crap out of my opponents then tell myself how special and saved and peaceful and Christian I am.

    Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the canvas as I do a victory dance above their unconscious bodies after I unlease my Christian love on them.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Adam

      perpetual stupidity...

      February 17, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Justina

      James, boxing is a sport, as barbaric as it is, not a fight. The athletes don't hate each other in combat but it's a strength match against another human being and against one's own limit. You won't understand it if you never engaged. Stop mocking Christians when you have no clue on faith, peace or love. Christian athletes also pray FOR their opponents' well-being. What Christians seek is God's glory, His will and a good sportmanship. You secular Westerners are really lost, hopelessly.

      February 18, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • cloverant

      Bro, God has a purpose for each and everyone of us. God can use a boxer like Pacquiao not really to brutalize his fellow boxers but to inspire a whole nation. As you can see, Pacquiao gives the glory back to God...I think that matters to our Maker.

      February 18, 2011 at 12:42 am |
    • derp

      Now that's funny!

      February 18, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  16. ron brooks

    A true gentleman and a humble but successful boxer. Good man.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  17. maty

    Pacquiao seems like a sweet guy for a tenacious fighter....

    February 17, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  18. BETO

    Has anyone noticed that *most* believers here use insulting words? I guess that's the only option you have when REASON is not on your side.

    February 17, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • gerald

      No actually I haven't. Most? really? Your mistaken.

      February 17, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • civiloutside

      I think it's mostly that the angriest are among the most prolific. Watch the logins; I think you'll see that it's only a small number making the really nasty posts.

      February 17, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  19. Jameuel uy

    well said... awesome idol...

    February 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  20. stillin

    Movie in the making..somebody with some backing needs to do this on film...and I need a percentage for the idea, please.

    February 17, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Bisdak62

      Eric Marrapodi, congrats for a very interesting article – you made it! Good Job! See how people react to a very interesting write up.

      February 17, 2011 at 9:01 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.