Filipino Catholic priest breeds rabbits to feed poor parishioners

Our Lady of Grace The old facade of the diocesan shrine and parish of Our Lady of Grace of the Diocese of Kalookan. | Ramon FVelasquez via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

An Oblates missionary priest in the Philippines has been breeding rabbits for a year now to feed the poor in his parish in the outskirts of Manila.

“Rabbit meat is the perfect answer to the problem of hunger,” said Father Eduardo “Ponpon” Vasquez of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to the Asian Catholic news site LiCAS.

The priest of the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace parish in the Diocese of Kalookan said the idea of breeding rabbits came to him while he was working with homeless people in the parish.

“We have to teach them how to produce their own food,” the priest said, according to a report first published in LiCAS.

Father Vasquez said a friend gifted him a pair of rabbits last year. He noticed that the small mammals breed easily. 

“In just one year, one rabbit can multiply to more than a hundred,” said the priest. “It’s the perfect response to the problem of hunger,” he said.

On Tuesday, Oct. 26, the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace Parish launched its “Rabbit Dispersal Project,” which was supported by the city mayor, the congressman of the district, and the government’s Department of Agriculture. The parish aims to distribute rabbits to 100,000 poor families in the next 12 months.

The recipients will, however, have to undergo a training workshop on how to properly raise and breed the rabbits.

Those who will finish the seminar workshop will receive a rabbit cage, a two-month-old “upgraded breed rabbit,” an “automatic drinker,” two kilograms of pellets, a nest box, and a rabbit raising manual.

According to a 2021 World Bank Group report “Undernutrition in the Philippines,” urban residents of the country on average pay more for nutritious diets than rural residents. “At the extreme, Metro Manila residents pay a 69 percent premium” for nutritious food, the report noted. The shrine is located on the northern outskirts of Manila.

Rabbit meat is lean and low in cholesterol and is reportedly rich in proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and minerals like calcium and potassium.

“It’s also consistent with my urban gardening advocacy,” said Father Vasquez, adding that rabbit manure has four times more nutrients compared to chicken or cow manure.

The priest has been growing vegetables around the parish church for more than a year already “to prove that it is possible to plant vegetables in an urban community.”

The urban gardening project, which he called “Project Grace,” started after the Philippine government imposed a lockdown in the national capital last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the lockdown, many poor families I visited complained that they have not enough food to eat or no money because they have lost their livelihood,” said Father Vasquez in an earlier interview.

The priest said he realized that during the pandemic and with the looming economic crisis in the country “people need to go back to the basics and rely on what nature offers to survive.”

With the help of his fellow Oblates priests, Father Vasquez developed a program aimed at helping poor families secure their own food.

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The priests uprooted all the “decorative plants” around the parish church compound and replaced it with “plants that can be harvested and eaten.”

In a few months’ time, Father Vasquez was able to transform his parish into an urban gardening hub that people visit to learn how to grow food in their own homes.

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