The Snake, the Worm, and the Virus

[Homily:  ADDU Live-streamed Mass.  31 March, 2020.]

I would like to propose to you three images for your reflection and prayer that come from our readings and our global situation today.

The first comes from our first reading from the Book of Numbers.

seraph snake 1It is the image of a seraph snake mounted on a pole.  The image has the shape of a “T”: the vertical pole, and the image of a snake mounted horizontally on the pole.

In the desert, the Lord had punished the Israelites, whom he had freed from slavery in Egypt, for their complaining, their murmuring, their ingratitude.  As a punishment, the Lord sent seraph snakes to afflict the people.  Many of them died.   Suffering, the Israelites realized their sin;  their sin was of ingratitude, lack of patience and longsuffering, lack of trust, lack of reverence and respect for their God.   To bring them to their senses God used one of his creatures, small, poisonous snakes..  With the infestation came suffering and death, but it forced the people to humble themselves, remember their God, recall their experience of his graciousness in their lives, recall their arrogance and sins, and repent.  They begged Moses to implore the Lord to free them from the snakes, and from the sickness and death they brought.

The Lord’s response to Moses’ plea on behalf of his people was extraordinary because the Israelites were formed not to make graven images.  But the Lord said to Moses, “Make a seraph and mount it on a pole and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.”

So that is what Moses did.  Numbers says, “Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent on a pole, he lived.”

IMG_1472That Old Testament image of a serpent on a pole was a precursor of the central image of the New Testament, Jesus so tortured and wounded he resembles not even a snake but a worm affixed to a cross.  From this cross, he cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Ps. 22:1).  It is not a complaint to the Father for having abandoned him, but Jesus’ free and obedient identification with the Suffering Servant of Psalm 22, who says, “I am a worm, and no man, a reproach of men and despised by the people.  All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot off their mouth, they shake their head, saying, ‘He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him’” (Ps 22:6-8).  In this context, we can consider the words of Jesus in our Gospel passage for today from St. John:  “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I only say what the Father taught me.  The One who sent me is with me” (Jn 8:28).

Again:  “When you lift up the Son of Man” on the Cross, “then you will realize that I AM.”  In saying, I AM, Jesus is identifying himself completely with his Father, who named himself, “I AM … I AM WHO AM” (Ex 3:14).  Jesus says, “I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me.  The One who sent me is with me.”  With me.  Recall in hearing this the words of John’s Prologue, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word with God, and the Word was God.”  On his Cross, Jesus is the sublime image perfectly depicting the compassionate Father whose Word, whose self-expression becomes Flesh, now this torn and tortured flesh, that all those who gaze on him and recognize in him the loving, saving and redeeming Father, might be freed from death and the darkness of sin, and have life.    Lifted up on his Cross, Jesus lifts us all up to himself, that he may lift us up redeemed to the Father.

In gazing on this image of the worm on the Cross, tortured by the pain and poison of our sins, we have life.

Those of you who prayed with Pope Francis on the empty St. Peter’s square wet with the tears of so many today suffering from this global corona-virus pandemic know that Pope Frances led us to pray before the healing image of Jesus on the Cross.

coronavirusThe third image I would like to propose to you for reflection and prayer is the image of the coronavirus as a metaphor of sin:  pride, ingratitude, avarice, cruelty, selfishness, violence.  Sin does not start in Wuhan.  It starts within.  It is an invisible destructive force, not even alive, but an enemy of life;  it invades our interiority, evades or confounds our defenses, works destructively, then multiplies.  It is highly contagious, passed from human being to human being through droplets of toxic human insensitivity, multiplying itself as it undermines our cultures of family, work, worship and socializing, forcing human beings apart from one another.  The scientists map the spread of the virus, contaminating country after country, afflicting curiously the wealthy, the educated, the developed countries worst, whose science and wisdom and industry and wealth and power fail to defeat it.   They called first for “social distancing.”  They erred.  They now call for “physical distancing.”  For humanity needs to recover its social human closeness and solidarity.  Or perish.

Confronting the third image, Pope Francis today leads us to Jesus gazing into our hearts from the Cross.

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Academic Freedom and Responsibility During a Disruptive COVID 19 National Emergency

Students of top schools in the Philippines have protested online education and have called on CHED to ban this nationwide.[i]

During the disruptive COVID 19 national emergency, colleges and universities have no choice but to operate online.  The Department of Health, thankfully, has mandated physical distancing, and national agencies and local governments are supporting this, CHED included.

For higher educational institutions the only way of operating today is online.

Therefore to suggest that the CHED prohibit online education today is to suggest that CHED prohibit higher education today.  This contradicts the reason for CHED’s existence, especially if one considers that the COVID emergency will not go away in the near future.

Looking at the situation of the pandemic in the world today, where 592,000 are infected and 27,000 have been killed by the pandemic, the emergency situation will not change in the near future – unless we want to invite the fate of Italy and Spain into our country.

The nature of universities is that students and teachers come together in academic freedom in search of truth.  The eros for truth comes from the students and teachers, and the academic freedom is part of that eros.    If some students don’t want to be part of this, then they can in freedom prioritize housework to homework.   But if students want to be part of it, and the only way higher education can go today is online, then I suggest that they enter into dialogue with the administrators and teachers of their school to understand whether or not they can buy into the manner their school can offer online education.  If they can’t, they either stop studying or enroll to a school that can.

But to suggest that if four HEIs in Manila are not prepared for online education, all HEIs in the Philippines are not prepared may not be fair.  And to suggest further that CHED stop online higher education nationwide at this point is not only unfair to those HEIs who are prepared, but a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and powers of CHED.

In the Philippines, academic freedom rests in the higher education institutions.  It does not come from CHED.  It comes from the Constitution (Art XIV, Sec. 5 (2).

The shift to the new mode of educational delivery will have disruptive consequences, just as when the mode of production shifts in industry.  If our mode of educational delivery is still chalk and blackboard or lectures and PowerPoint when the world is shifting anyway to blended and online learning, our teachers will have to adapt and our students will have to adapt.  Today, this is much clearer than before COVID 19.  If teachers don’t, they risk becoming irrelevant to the new system, meaning, they risk retrenchment.  If students don’t, they risk not being able to get the professional training they desire, meaning, they risk losing out on higher education in a fast-changing world.

Unfair?  The corona virus is unfair.

Personally, I feel that online delivery certainly shifts responsibility for learning onto the higher education student.  Being able to carry this responsibility is in fact expected of higher education students after the K-12 reform.  But I also feel that intense personal interaction with teachers online is necessary for quality online instruction.  Teachers will no longer spoonfeed;  they will coach, they will guide, they will inspire, they will assess learning.

I am happy that at the Ateneo de Davao University the student government is in intense dialogue with their administrators and teachers – using Zoom! – to help ensure that online instruction is efficient and successful.   This is a welcome manifestation of academic freedom and responsibility.

 


[i] Cf:  https://www.rappler.com/nation/255852-students-top-schools-philippines-call-ched-suspend-online-classes-coronavirus-outbreak

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The Dubious Partnership in Basic Education Bill

Basic Ed Bill Feb 2020

Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J.

People who are in private education should be elated at the proposed – yet unnumbered – bill recently introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresspersons Yedda Marie Romualdez and Ferdinand Martin Romualdez entitled,  An Act to Strengthen the Role of Private Basic Education in the Philippines by Creating for this purpose the Partnership in Private Education Board and the Partnership Fund for Private Education, Appropriating Funds Thereof, and For Other Purposes.

For short, the proposed law is to be known as the Partnership in Private Basic Education Act. 

The bill has two major components:  the provision for the Partnership in Private Education Board and the creation of the Partnership Fund for Private Education.

The bill, as presently formulated, provides good news.  But also bad.  The good news is encouraging.  But the bad news distressing.

The good news

The good news is that the bill takes the State policies on education mandated by the Constitution seriously.  The State is to promote quality education accessible to all Filipino citizens.  The State recognizes the complementary roles of public and private educational institutions in the Philippine educational system.  The State recognizes the invaluable contribution of private education to the education of Filipinos.

In this context, the bill undertakes to provide “mechanisms to improve quality in private education in the Philippines.”

One of these mechanisms is the Partnership Fund for Private Education.  This fund, conceived as “a special trust fund for the purpose of financing assistance and partnership programs with private basic education institutions” to be funded annually through the General Appropriations Act, is certainly part of the good news. It will allow more government funds to support private basic education.  Through the GAA it will be a strong, recurring fund, increasing according to demonstrable need.

The foreseen uses of the fund are also good news.  Well, at least at first blush.  Among these are educational service contracting, salary subsidy, and even subsidies for loans to finance capital investments in education.

The bad news

The bad news is that the bill, apparently intending to strengthen the role of private basic education in the Philippines, actually weakens it.  If weakening this role is intended, the bill is sinister.  But if strengthening the role of private basic education is intended, the bill needs reworking, especially in the provisions for its first major component, the Partnership in Private Education Board.

I presume that the partnership over which the Partnership in Private Education Board is to preside is the partnership between government and the private education sector.  Through this partnership, the role of private education in the educational system where public and private schools are to function complementarily is to be strengthened.

Government has already weakened the role of private schools

Since the K-12 reform Government has willy nilly weakened the role of private education in the Philippine educational system.  It has weakened the complementarity between public and private basic education. Historically the role of private education has been strong.  Private education pre-dated public education in the Philippines, and even with the operation of an extensive public education system, the contribution of private education remained strong.  Private schools have been numbered among the best in the Philippines; their output has been quality assured by reputable external quality assurance agencies.  Private schools have also made basic and even higher education available to communities in remote areas of the Philippines unreached by the public school system.

Private schools have not only delivered quality education.  Many have also delivered religious instruction and formation that public schools cannot lawfully deliver.  Being able to deliver quality education from a vision and mission of religious education and formation is one of the major ways private schools complement public schools in the Philippines.  So are they necessary in the Philippine school system.

Private schools have sustained themselves over the years through tuition and fees.  These tuition and fees pay teacher salaries and keep school operations alive.  But how much can be demanded for tuition or fees depends on what the market can afford.

Public schools operate through public budgetary allocations appropriated by Congress regardless of the market.

With the K-12 reform, public budgetary allocations for the salaries of teachers in public schools doubled if not trebled what most private schools were paying.   Because private schools, especially those serving the poor, were limited by the market in what they could charge for tuition, they could not keep up with the legislated salary increases in public schools.  With this systemic salary distortion, many private school teachers migrated to public schools.

The teacher salary subsidies that Congress approved through the GASTPE law lessened the discrepancy between salaries in public and private schools, but were not sufficient to stop the migration of teachers from private schools to public schools.

This is the context, I believe, within which the Romualdez bill wishes to strengthen the role of the private school.  Government has de facto weakened the private schools through its one-sided salary policy, and therefore the role that private schools play in the Philippine educational system.  If this course is not corrected, Government threatens the very existence of private schools.   The Romualdez bill provides a Partnership Fund for Private Education which can correct the one-sidedness of the salary policy, among many other things.  Through the Partnership Fund, equity might be achieved where legislation has disturbed equity.

The Bill Weakens the Partnership in Private Education

The irony of the Bill that intends to strengthen the role of private basic education in the Philippine education system is that it weakens this role.  It creates for this purpose the Partnership in Basic Education Board.  But the Board is structured so that there is no partnership between Government and private sector education.

The Board, attached to the Department of Education, “will have a lead mandate to establish policies, priorities, and objectives as well as direct and implement relevant programs and projects in line with the government’s comprehensive effort to establish, maintain and strengthen its partnership with private educational institution…” (Sec 3),  but the composition of the Board ensures that the representatives of the private sector are overpowered.  Instead of a partnership, the bill creates a master and lackey situation.

One has to understand that from the beginning Government is stronger than private entities.  Government has the strength to kill private entities.  Government does not have to listen to nor to cooperate with private entities.  So when it legislates a partnership it does so consciously intending to control its formidable powers in subsidiarity so that the private sector can make the contributions to an enterprise only it can contribute, including challenging the government partner to optimized and meaningful service.  In legislating a partnership between government and the private sector in this context, structuring the partnership would need to ensure genuine dialogue (vs. monologue), insure insightful collaboration (vs. coerced compliance), insure subsidiarity, entrepreneurship and innovativeness (vs. a strong, cumbersome and bureaucratic State).

In the Partnership in Private Education Board,  the representatives of the State or of Government with all of their powers are exceedingly strong, while the representatives of the private sector are exceedingly weak.  The Board is chaired by the Secretary of Education, who belongs to the Government.  Members of the Board include, the Secretary of Sciences and Technology, the Secretary of Budget and Management, the Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority, the Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education.  That makes six powerful representatives of powerful agencies of government.

Representing the private sector in this Board are three:  a representative of a nationwide association of administrators of private basic educational institutions, a representative of a nationwide association of teachers employed by private basic educational institutions, and a representative of a nationwide association of students enrolled in private basic education institutions.

One must note that while the government representatives are ex officio, the private sector representatives are “appointed by the Council” – even though “the Council” is undefined, presumably the Board less the private sector representatives – upon recommendation of their respective sectors.  There is no necessity that a recommendee be appointed, even though a recommendee may be a major officer of the sector.  Worse, once appointed, the duration of the appointment is only for one year, subject to re-appointment three possible times.  But this ensures that private sector representatives who may be uncomfortable with the government representatives can be replaced within a year.

Ignorance or Bad Faith

This lopsidedness in the proposed Partnership in Private Education Board kills the possibility of productive government-private sector partnership.

In fact, the Board is defined as “the lead government agency in determining and ensuring effective coordination, collaboration and engagement with private educational institutions” (Sec. 5 [j]).  But it totally coopts and controls the private-sector representation.

Does it really want to bypass the known, productive and efficient private sector organizations in Philippine education today?

It is baffling to me why the crafters of this bill did not name the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), the recognized voice of private education in the Philippines, as part of the Partnership in Private Education Board.

It is even more baffling to me why the crafters of this bill did not involve the Private Educational Assistance (PEAC) on the same Board.  The PEAC, which is a private organization, is arguably the most important partner of government in the service of private education today.

Omitting these two organizations in such a bill betrays either ignorance of how education in the Philippines operates today or bad faith.  I pray it is only ignorance.

The COCOPEA and the PEAC have shaped the de facto partnership between the private sector and government today through such as the educational service contracting, teacher salary subsidies, the voucher system of senior high school, the mechanisms for the implementation of the universal access to quality tertiary education law.  Does Government through this dubious Partnership for Basic Education Act now wish to kill its private education partner?

 

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I believe; help my unbelief.

prayer3

Praying at sunrise

[Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J., Assumption Chapel.  Mk. 9:14-22. Feb 24, 2019]

In our Gospel for today, a father brings his son to Jesus.  The boy appears to have something like epilepsy.  During a seizure he falls to the ground, foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid.  But the Gospel says this is more than a natural ailment.   The boy is possessed by a demon.

When Jesus arrives on the scene a great crowd is already gathered. People there, young and old, simple and learned, including scribes, were arguing among themselves.  The disciples had tried to extirpate the demon from the boy.  But they failed.  Their failure was a disappointment to the father, who truly loved his son and wanted him cured; it was a curiosity to most of the onlookers, but to the scribes, it was something of a triumph.  Protecting their own position of influence with the people, the scribes were happy that Jesus’ disciples had not succeeded, and were possibly telling the disciples that they were presumptuous even to have tried.  They were probably even chiding the father for bringing the child to the disciples.   And the people, including the disciples, were reacting.

Now, however, with Jesus himself on the scene, all eyes, including those of the scribes, focus on Jesus “with awe” (Mk 9:15).  He asks why they were arguing among themselves.  So the father explains the sorry predicament of his son, how he had brought him to his disciples, but how his disciples had failed to exorcise the demon.  The crowd, including the gloating scribes, echoes the father’s explanation.  “Yes, Lord, your disciples failed.”  Jesus responds to the crowd:  “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you?  How much longer must I put up with you?” (Mk 9:20).  He addresses their lack of faith, their cynicism, their interest only in dramatic spectacles, their lack of genuine concern for the possessed boy, their lack of belief in him and in his mission to save human beings from their sins and from their demons.  But he responds to the sincerity of the father and to the suffering of his son.  He looks at the boy with compassion.

Feeling Jesus’ eyes pierce though the boy to itself, the evil spirit reacts violently throwing the boy “into convulsions, so that he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth” (Mk 9:19).    The father relates to Jesus that this demon has tormented his son in this manner from childhood, casting him even into fire and into water to destroy him.  His love for his son mixed with his weariness at battling the demon for years and the disappointment of his disciples just having failed to exorcise the demon, he says, “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.”  That was not a polite or humble, “Kung pwede lang po…kaawan mo po kami,” but a mild manifestation of doubt in desperation that Jesus even had the power to help. “If you are able to do anything, please do it in your kindness and compassion.”  It is not lost on Jesus:  “If you are able..?!  All things can be done for one who believes.” (Mk 9:23).   Hearing this, the father responds in faith, and searing honesty, “I believe, Lord.  Help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).

Impressed by this honest manifestation of faith, Jesus commands, “You, spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again” (Mk 9:25).   The demon reacts violently to Jesus’ command.  It convulses the boy terribly, and throws him to the ground.  But it cannot disobey the Lord’s command.  It leaves the boy, leaving him as if he were dead.  But Jesus takes the boy by the hand and restores him to his father.

The disciples then ask Jesus why they had not been able to exorcise the demon.  Jesus replies. “This kind of demon can only come out through prayer” (Mk 9:29).

In the face of the demons that we experience in our world, our Gospel today invites us to faith in Jesus.  And to prayer.   Faith is not possible without prayer; enduring faith is not possible without constant prayer.  When we believe that the demons without or within are too powerful – avarice, lust, pride, hatred, hypocrisy, infidelity – when the demons convulse us, throw us to the ground, deprive us of our dignity, corrupt our inner core, our Gospel invites us to approach our Lord and Messiah saying, “I believe, Lord.  Help my unbelief.”

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Jesus Slams Hypocrisy

Woe to you

[Homily.  Assumption Chapel.  Mk. 8:11-13; 14-21.   17 Feb. 2020.]

In our Gospel reading for today, the Pharisees attack Jesus.  They demand from him “a sign from heaven to test him” (Mk 8:11).  But testing him, they expect him to fail.  This really exasperates Jesus.  “He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, ‘…no sign will be given to this generation’” (Mk 8:12).

But Jesus always worked with signs.  In the passage from St. Mark that immediately follows today’s reading and will be read tomorrow, Jesus gives examples of powerful signs which he had set to lead people to faith. Talking to his disciples he asks, “…Do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?”  They answered, “Twelve” (Mk 8:19).  “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?”  They answered him, “Seven” (Mk 8:20).  Jesus used these and many other signs to show people who he was.  He healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead to life.  And because of these signs, those who were open to truth, came to see who Jesus was.  “This is my beloved Son,”  The voice from on high said.  “Listen to him” (Lk 9:35).

But now Jesus, being challenged by Pharisees to give them a sign, a spectacular sign, to prove that he was the Messiah, replied with exasperation, “No sign will be given to this generation,” meaning, this breed of Pharisees.  I give signs and others see.  But you blind yourselves to the many signs I have already given, then now ask for a sign?

You hypocrites!  You lead people to think that you interpret God’s will, but you do not.   You lead people to think you are the examples of religious virtue, but your thoughts and your actions betray your pious pettiness and moral vice.  Hypocrites!  In Chapter 23 of Matthew Jesus vents his anger against the Pharisees:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering it to go in” (Mt. 23:13).  The Pharisees had heard Jesus’ preaching on the Kingdom of Heaven.  They acknowledged the Kingdom of God, but hindered people from entering it, and did not go in themselves.  From Jesus, they knew of the Kingdom of God but refused to mend their ways so that they could enter it, and worked so that others could benefit from what they refused.   Yet, they still asked for a sign.  Hypocrites!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers” (Mt. 23:14).   You know the meaning of the Kingdom of God, its imperatives to compassion and charity, yet because of your privileged positions as holy persons you devour the houses of widows, and for worthless considerations make long prayers.  The prayers do not connect you with my Father, but only with the worthless monetary considerations for which you pray them!   You hypocrites!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.  For you pay tithes of mint and anise and cummin but have neglected the weightier matters of the law:  justice and mercy and faith” (Mt. 23:23).    You make as if you are law-abiding, but your following the law falls short of what is required for the Kingdom of God.  You know what is required, yet you neglect justice, mercy, and faith.  Hypocrites! “You are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanliness” (Mt 23: 27).

Jesus labored to bring people closer to his Father, to introduce them to the goodness and compassion of his reign in his Kingdom, to make them experience that if they accept the Father’s reign, they are loved, forgiven, and redeemed. In this desire of Jesus, the Pharisees were his opponents.

While they claimed to be guiding people to God, they were actually making it more difficult for them to approach God.

While they claimed to be holy and appeared pious, they were actually taking advantage of the poor and the lowly.

While they followed the letter of the law with fastidiousness, they neglected the substantial demands of the law like justice, mercy, and faith.

Jesus refuses to give them a sign because he refuses to manipulated by their hypocrisy.

Coming from this situation, Jesus will tell his disciples,  “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees” (Mk 8:15).   “Leaven,” “yeast,”  the bacteria introduced into the dough that makes dough rise, is in the Bible most often a symbol of evil or sin.  Jesus warns his disciples, beware of the evil and sin of the Pharisees:  hypocrisy.  In your relationship with my Father beware of hypocrisy.

Beware of acting as if you don’t know what is right so that you can continue in your wrong.

Beware of acting as if you don’t know the truth so that you can persist in your lack of integrity.

Beware of denying the light that you see, so that you can remain in darkness.

Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.

I have given you signs in abundance.  You have only to see.  I enable you to see.  Come, follow me in truth, integrity, and love.  Why?  So “that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (Jn. 15:11).

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New Coronavirus:  God Does Not Will Human Suffering

Touching-Jesus-Robe

[Homily.  Assumption Chapel. Feb 10, 2020.]

Considering the novel coronavirus today, I do not know whether what you heard today from our Gospel comforts or disturbs you.  When the people of Gennesaret recognized that the man who had come of the boat was Jesus, “they scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.  Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it was healed” (Mk. 6:54-56).

There are many such accounts of people bringing their sick to Jesus and his curing them.  Among my favorites is the story of four men who wish to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus.  “When they could not come near him because of the crowd,” Mark narrates, “they uncovered the roof where Jesus was.  So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.  When Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you.’”  Later, to show that he did have the power to forgive sins, he said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed and go to your house” (Mk. 2:3-12).  The paralytic rose, cured.  But Jesus also cured the man with the withered hand (Mk 3:1-6), the daughter of the Roman centurion (Lk 7:1-10), and raised the son of the widow of Nain to restore him to his mother (Lk.7:11-17).  Jesus was a mighty preacher who enthralled his listeners because he spoke with authority.  But very precious to the people who encountered him was that he was a healer.  He was happy to heal people, even if only by allowing people to touch the tassel of his cloak.

That is why for the past weeks, before every Mass here in this chapel, we have been praying,  “Lord Jesus, in the compassion of the Father and with the healing love of the Spirit, you commanded the lame to walk, the deaf to speak, the blind to see; you brought the dead to life.  You created signs for us to be sensitive to God’s love in our lives.  As the Wuhan coronavirus claims more and more victims, we ask you to stretch your healing hand over the city of Wuhan, the province of Hubei, over all of China, and overall the world.”  We have been praying this since the infections were at about 2000 and the deaths 64.  However, things apparently are getting worse.  Yesterday there were 37,575 cases of the new coronavirus worldwide. Of these 6,196 are severe.  2,915 have recovered.  But 814 have died, including the young Chinese doctor who tried to warn people of the lethalness of the new virus but was censured for doing so by the Wuhan government.

That may be disturbing for some.  Why does our compassionate healing God allow this international health emergency to worsen?  We have prayed that he shield our Filipino people, our city of Davao and our relatives and friends from this virus.  But one Filipino is among those infected in the United Arab Emirates. Meanwhile, three Chinese persons have died in the Philippines from the virus.  There is a general feeling of vulnerability.  Many people are scared.  Many are seeking refuge behind masks.

And so we ask, what may God the healer want to convey to us through this coronavirus?

One may be that he is the master of the universe, and it is not the case that man has killed God and has taken over mastery of the universe.  It is not the case that God is dead.  For all man’s science and power and industry, God is still in control.   This may be an occasion to rediscover the presence of God in our world and in our lives, to cease worshipping our false idols, and to bow down to the one God in awe.

Second, if we say have prayed for God to end the coronavirus, perhaps we have not prayed enough.  Perhaps, we have prayed to manipulate him, rather than say, “Thy will be done!”

Third, perhaps we have not shown enough gratitude for the thousands of men and women worldwide who are working night and day and risking their lives, indeed, have already given up their lives, in order to implement the healing will of God.   Or, in this vein, perhaps we have not shown enough gratitude for the health we enjoy.  Perhaps God is already working miracles in our lives.  Unlike the nine lepers he made clean, we must not forget to thank the Lord for the health he continues to restore in our lives (Lk 17:9-17).

Fourth, perhaps we have only shown selfish fear for ourselves and failed in our lives to mirror the compassion and love of the Father for those afflicted.  Those who fall victim to this virus are human.  So too Chinese throughout the world.  Perhaps the Lord is leading us to be more willing to help them, more willing to be in solidarity with them and with the world as it struggles to bring this international emergency to an end.  Perhaps, even in the Philippines, we are being led to be more cooperative with our national health officials who need to make hard decisions to respond to the contagion, to prevent the loss of life, and to achieve the common good.

I am certain:  God does not will human suffering.  But we know:  God writes straight with crooked lines in dealing with human beings he has created intelligent and free.  If we seek to find him in the signs of our times, we must also seek to find him even when in our family or in ourselves illness strikes; or when despite our limitations and fears, we are called to respond to the suffering not only of our close relatives but of our unknown neighbor, whom God commands us to love as we love ourselves.  Often, we are called upon really to be the Good Samaritan who refused to ignore the wounded human being on the roadside but went out of his way to help him (cf. Lk 10: 25-37).  As the coronavirus claims more and more victims and seems to come closer to ourselves, we are called upon not to pray less, but to pray more, and find our trust in the power of the Lord.  After he rebuked the winds and the rains, the Lord said, “Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith?” (Mk 4:40).  We are called upon not to be more selfish cowering in fear, but in faith to reach out to others in compassion, courage, and care.  Remember the message of yesterday’s Gospel, “You are the light of the world” (Mt. 5:14).

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International Academic Conference on Conflict Sensitive Journalism

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[Finster Hall.  10 Feb 2020]

In the name of the Ateneo de Davao University and in partnership with the Media Educators of Mindanao, Inc. (MEM) whose President, Ms. Christian Faith Avila, is the Chair of our Mass Communications Department of this University, in further partnership with the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (PECOJON), the Forum Zivil Friedensdienst (ForumZFD) of Germany, the Deutsche Gesellscaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC) and the Asian Media Information and Communication Center (AMIC)

it is my pleasure to welcome you to this International Academic Conference on Conflict Sensitive Journalism.

Major religions like Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity, major ideological and ethical systems, target the attainment of world peace.  Yet ours is yet a world of conflict.  Consider Conflict in Afghanistan (2M deaths), the Mexican Drug War (115,000), the Yemeni Crisis (83,000), the Syrian Civil war (570,000), the Kurdish-Turkish Conflict (45,000), th Somali Civil War (500,000)  the Mahgreb Insurgency in Africa, (16,873), the Iraq conflict (2.4M), and the Libyan Crisis (42,000).  In the Philippines, the local Marawi uprising claimed 1000 dead even as the country still struggles to find an end to centuries of conflict between Christians, Muslims, and Lumad.

In this world of conflict, the media have an important role to play.  That is why you come together:  to generate academic insights on practicing journalism and communication in conflict settings;   to increase the professionalism of journalism in general and to contribute to peacebuilding in conflict area.

There is much need for discussion – and I suppose, soul searching.  What is “good journalism” in a contemporary situation where journalism has become decidedly tendentious and partisan – so much so that the President of the USA has pronounced mainstream journalism the enemy of the nation… the producers of “Fake News.”  What is good journalism when the professionalization of journalism is so challenged by the democratization of journalism on the internet?  What is good journalism in conflict situations?  How does one achieve objectivity?  Does objectivity allow, if not demand, a subjective sensitivity?  How does one avoid being manipulated and reduced to become a mouthpiece of conflict propaganda? In a world of superficiality and comfort in superficiality, how deeply must one report on the cause of conflict, on the contradictions in governing power structures and on the strengths and foibles of personalities involved in conflict when “people” seems to be happier to receive simpler, if not simplistic accounts?  In situations of war, does media have a role of promoting peace?  In situations of human abuse and violation of human dignity during war, does the media have a role of promoting human rights?  If so, to what extent?  In situations of war where live bullets are flying and mortars exploding, do the reporters have a responsibility to stay alive?  If so, how? How does one keep safe?  And is keeping safe more important than delivering the truth?

When on a cosmic level the profane battled the holy, and evil battled good, and the people cried “Crucify him!” who claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life, Pilate, who condemned him to death, washed his hands of his violence against his own conviction and asked, “What is truth?”  Islam says it is a religion of peace but is compromised every time its members battle against each other “in truth.” Religion is to bring us to the goodness of the God who created us human. Yet journalists today are confronted with lethal conflicts that in the name of truth debase and dehumanize what God has created and loved.

Yes, what is truth? And what is the journalism that helps us to arrive at truth and impels us to share truth? There is much to discuss, and much opportunity to learn from each other.

There is much to discuss, and much opportunity to learn from each other.   But what you discuss, or what you quietly conclude, shall belong to the soul of journalism.

I wish you all a fruitful conference.

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