Manny Pacquiao spreads word about Christian-based project

MACAU – This is a rare occurrence. Manny Pacquiao is doing an interview and he's engaged, involved, eager to speak. This is not his usual stance.

Manny Pacquiao trains during a workout session at The Venetian on Thursday. (Getty)
Manny Pacquiao trains during a workout session at The Venetian on Thursday. (Getty)

Pacquiao does dozens, if not more, interviews a day during fight week, usually answering questions in an emotionless, monosyllabic style as often as possible.

This time, though, is different. Even when the time allotted for the interview has passed, Pacquiao is eager to keep speaking.

"It's important for me – for all of us – to spread the message," Pacquiao said.

On Saturday (Sunday in China), the WBO welterweight champion will put his title at stake when he faces Chris Algieri at the Cotai Arena in the main event of an HBO Pay-Per-View show. But the message that Pacquiao is eager to spread is not about his fight but about the church, school and community center he's building on 5.7 acres in General Santos City, Philippines.

Boxing is his job; evangelizing is his life's work.

"What we're doing by building this church is obeying what the Bible says," Pacquiao says while seated in a lavish suite atop the Venetian Macao. "We're going to feed the poor, help the widows and teach and inspire the children about the greatness of the Lord. That's what we're told to do and that's what I am doing.

"People need to understand His word. Imagine if God is with you, you lack nothing. If God is with you, you lack nothing, you need nothing. So if we're going to build a house to praise the Lord, why build a small one? We want to build a big one so that we can help as many people as we can."

Pacquiao purchased prime commercial real estate at a cost of $1 million U.S. in General Santos City in order to build the Christian-based facilities.

Michael Koncz, Pacquiao's adviser, said construction costs, which are fully funded by the fighter, are budgeted to be $3 million U.S. but could go as high as $5 million.

Pacquiao is intimately involved in details. He is doing more architectural work than the project's architect, Koncz joked.

Pacquiao told Yahoo Sports that his involvement in the most minute details is a result of listening to the Holy Spirit.

"The Holy Spirit tells me what He wants and I tell them [the architects] what to do," Pacquiao said.

Every day, Pacquiao gives money away to strangers. Some are people truly in need who haven't eaten for days, but others are hustlers whom Koncz suspects are just trying to take advantage of the boxer's kindness.

"I can't criticize Manny in regard to spending money on his religious pursuits because it's something he believes deeply in," Koncz said. "And I prefer this to him just giving out cash to people, because there's nothing to show for that. Giving out cash, in a lot of ways, is more detrimental than helpful, but Manny has such a big heart that he can't help himself.

"But this church is something that, 10 years from now, we'll be able to look at it and see the good works and know we did something that impacted a lot of people. When Manny's gone, this church will still be around and it will be like his legacy. It's something he's doing now and that can last and have impact for years and years."

Pacquiao was born a Roman Catholic, raised in the faith by his mother, Dionesia. From the first time he met him, Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said Pacquiao was a deeply spiritual, religious man. But Pacquiao had a conversion not long after his third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez in 2011.

Much like what happened to former heavyweight champion George Foreman after a 1977 bout with Jimmy Young, Pacquiao said God spoke directly to him after the Marquez fight.

And he became an evangelical Christian as opposed to a Roman Catholic.

"I grew up a very spiritual person," said Arum, who is Jewish. "And I've known deeply spiritual people all my life. A lot of times, these people believe things that are not easily explainable rationally. But they believe it deeply, within their soul. And that's how Manny is with his faith."

Pacquiao told Yahoo Sports that he knows there are many who snicker behind his back when he says God spoke to him directly. He gets that not everyone is going to believe him or be willing to be open to his message. But he believes it's his duty to spread God's word to all he comes in contact with. As he was preparing to leave his suite to attend the final post-fight news conference, Pacquiao draped his arm over publicist Fred Sternburg's shoulder and told Sternburg he wanted to speak with him about his salvation.

It's the way Pacquiao lives his life. He was gambling and womanizing previously, but said after God spoke directly to him, he changed his ways.

"In my life, I've been graced to hear the word of God," Pacquiao said. "If they believe me or not, it's up to them. I heard the voice of God. I felt like I was melting. I felt like I'd died. I felt I was melting when I heard the voice of God. It was the turning point in my life. God spoke to me and he told me what He wanted me to do and I had to follow. I've tried to live my life that way. This is my life's work, to spread the Word. This church is a part of that."