The 2017 CEAP National Convention

[Closing Remarks in the 2017 CEAP National Convention]

CEAP Closing 2017

At the end of the 2017 National Convention, allow me to say:  In the CEAP we have over the years learned that to strengthen our Communio we must work together through a deeper appreciation of our Catholic identity in the communio of our schools, in the communio our regions, in our national communio.  Much of this work is managed by the National Board and National Secretariat, but it succeeds only through a shared mission binding us together in our Communio.  This is a shared mission to which we must all consent.  And so at this point, I would like to hear from you loud and clear:

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves anew to building and sustaining the Catholic Communio in our schools, our regions, our national CEAP, our national community, but now especially in Mindanao?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves to be guided by the Philippine Catholic School Standards in Basic Education and help in the formulation of the PCSS for Higher Education?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves in all our vulnerability to a culture of peace in all our schools, to religious freedom, and to a deepening of our faith in dialogue with other faiths?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves to work against war, to work against violent extremism, to work against discrimination and exclusion, and all forms of social injustice?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves to contribute to the rebuilding of Marawi, but more urgently, to rebuilding the broken relations we have with Muslim Mindanao?  Do we commit ourselves in all our vulnerability – also in using the Mindanao Sulu Multi-Strand Timeline –  to healing our memories of conflict, hatred, killing, and death and to asking for forgiveness?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves to volunteering for or supporting volunteers for service in the name of peace, education, compassion and reconciliation?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves before our God of Life to a culture of life, to the protection of life from all violations of life be this from international terrorism, international drug cartels, the misuse of police power by the State, our even through the misuse of power in our fraternities through hazing?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves anew to support our Communio, but to support especially our 900 small and struggling schools through effective advocacy with our legislators and government officials, effective networking with our educational partners, but also through support of our new Kapatirang Kamagong.

We close this convention then in gratitude for the many graces we have acknowledged and which call us to building and sustaining true communities of life today in the Philippines, true Communio impelled by the Spirit of our Teacher, Jesus Christ.

We close this convention truly grateful for your active participation in it.

But are also truly grateful for all those from the City of Davao, the PNP, and from different schools in DACS Region XI.   During this Convention, we have been under the special protection not only of our God but of the Davao City Administration and PNP.  Thank you to all our speakers, leaders of our concurrent sessions, the Liturgical leaders, choir members, Mass servers, prayer leaders, sponsors, exhibitors, communications experts, nurses, doctors, secretaries, security agents, traffic enforcers, ushers, usherettes, drivers, teachers and administrators!  Of course our deep gratitude to our Executive Director, Allan Arrellano, Mary Ann Cruz and the other members of the CEAP National Secretariat for all the work they did to make this national convention a success.

Finally, special thanks and congratulations to the 180 gifted students from the University of the Immaculate Concepcion, Holy Cross College, and Ateneo de Davao University for the awesome opening salvo of ethnic dances in celebration of our Communio in Mindanao on Day One!  May the memory of their youthful energy and joy in dancing-communio inspire us as we work specially nationwide towards deepened Communio with Mindanao!


[President’s Report, Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines]

CEAP Pres Report 2017After the successful celebration of our 75th anniversary last year in Cebu, when the Board elected me President, we decided to re-chart the direction of the CEAP through a strategic plan to  cover the next 5 years.  This would include marking of CEAP’s 80th year, but especially the celebration of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines in 2021.

The Board decided to reaffirm the vision of CEAP, namely:

A world transformed, a Philippines renewed by people educated in the principles of Communio and Service as taught and lived by Our Lord Jesus Christ and shaped by the missionary mandate of the Catholic Church.

We nonetheless re-phrased our three-fold mission, namely:

First, to promote solidarity among member schools through Catholic EducationSecond, to foster inclusive and transformative  Catholic Education

Second, to foster inclusive and transformative  Catholic Education

Third, to serve as steadfast and effective catalyst of change through education in the differe­nt dimensions of human life.

Within the short period given to me, I would like to highlight some of our major activities and accomplishments during the year guided by this three-fold mission:

Mission 1 – To promote solidarity among member schools through Catholic Education

Mission 1 deals with promoting solidarity among member schools through Catholic education. We are schools.  We are Catholic schools.  We are Catholic schools together in Community

Guided by this mission, we have conducted a series of strategic planning sessions to realign the program of activities of the commissions through the regional representatives’ summits with those of the National Board. We have assisted the regions in conducting these planning sessions.

Aside from this, we undertook the bridge our small mission schools with potential benefactors by: 1. forming a Council of Advocates (COA) that will work with the CEAP Board as a consultative Committee; 2. undertaking fund-raising and networking activities. Later on, Br. Dennis will introduce to you the members of this council;  tomorrow, we will also formally launch the ‘Kapatirang Kamagong’ during the Opening Assembly.

As we assisted the different CEAP regions and our small struggling schools, we also worked together with our long standing partner, the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) and our new partner, the Philipippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) towards educational reform. During the last eight months of CEAP’s leadership in COCOCPEA, we initiated three historic rounds of conversations between COCOPEA and PASUC to articulate and agree on a framework of cooperation between public and private HEIs. From these conversations, we pushed lawmakers hard to accept the constitutional complementarity between public and private schools. The result was the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education  (RA 10931) which recognizes this complementarity between public and private HEIs and so also provides funds for private schools through the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) and the Tertiary Education Loan Fund.  This is still very much a work in progress, and in the coming years we have yet to work hard to see that it is properly funded.  But with the lobbying that the different CEAP board members and superintendents did with their legislators in congress, we allowed public money to flow into our private schools and won representation for the private sector on the Unifast Board through COCOPEA.  In solidarity with each other we won a better future for Catholic education.

We are all aware that the Philippines is constantly harmed by natural and man-made calamities.  Through your graciousness, we were able to collect funds to assist those in badly hit areas.

We wrote to you for support of those affected by the typhoons in Northern Luzon and the earthquake in Northern Mindanao. The funds collected from your response reached more than Php 700,000. CEAP disbursed Php 1.3 Million to many affected schools.

The armed conflict in Mindanao specifically in Marawi shocked us all and to date is still on-going. We participated in the multi-sectoral consultation for Bangon Marawi convened by the Bishops Ulama Conference.  In this context the National Advocacy Commission initiated a drive for prayer and reflection based on the prayer of St. Francis,  and with it a fund-drive to help the evacuees from Marawi. To date, we were able to collect Php 1.2 Million from our member schools and have disbursed portions of these to a program of feeding and caring for children evacuees in Marawi schools. This program is managed personally by Fr. Ben Nebres, with several other groups contributing manpower and resources.

On a lighter note, we have been existing for 76 years now and our member schools have never celebrated a day especially dedicated to CEAP. The Board, during the strategic planning decided that this year, we resolved to promote our solidarity by celebrating CEAP Day every first Monday of February.

Mission 2 – To foster inclusive and transformative Catholic education. For education to be inclusive, it must be able to bring in students who would normally be excluded from education through poverty, discrimination, race, gender, and the like. To be transformative, Catholic education transform, first, the school community and, second, the community that the school serves.

In CEAP, we do not want any member school sidelined. We believe in the ripple effect of delivering quality education irrespective of culture, race, religion and the like. Thus, we have embarked on programs and activities that promote deeper understanding of the curriculum as transformative.

We held NBEC K to 12 summits across the archipelago. These summits were well attended by school heads and administrators; they addressed opportunities, concerns and challenges of private schools in implementing the senior high school program.

Moreover, ReTEACH was carried out to equip teachers with classroom-based research and formative assessment tools. Unto a wider range of training coverage, CEAP-NBEC is partnering with the Private Educational Assistance Committee (PEAC) for a fortified regional roll-out of Re-TEACH. During this National Convention, we will sign a MOA with PEAC, represented by its Executive Director, Ms. Doris Ferrer, to systematize the implementation of RETEACH in all the regions this coming summer.

We are schools.  But we are Catholic schools.  We should not forget the Catholic education component of our second mission, which is at the heart of their being transformative. The Philippine Catholic Schools Standards Coordinating Council (PCSS) conducted trainings to ensure that our member schools have a good grasp of the standards as the PCSS was formally implemented this year in basic education.

Meanwhile, hard work is has commenced on the PCSS for Higher Education.  Today, we will have the commissioning program for the PCSS Higher Education Technical Working Group.

There is also the Philippine Conference for New Evangelization (PCNE).  The CEAP-National Christian Formation Commission has accepted the request of Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle to work with the Office for the Promotion on New Evangelization in organizing the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization.  New Evangelization is at the core of Catholic transformative education.

We now go to Mission 3 –  To serve as steadfast and effective catalysts of change through education in the different dimensions of human life Pursuant to this mission, we have the JEEPGY programs – Justice and Peace, Ecological Integrity, Engaged Citizenship, Poverty Reduction, Gender Equality and Youth Empowerment – as our platform for engagement.

Given the very challenging peace and order situation in Mindanao this last year,

Justice and Peace, involving inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue, took the forefront of the JEEPGY programs. Because of the Marawi Crisis, the National Convention itself was re-worked to insure that we meet our responsibilities in our Communio with our Muslim sisters and brothers beset by terrorism, violent extremism and war.

In this context, our Madaris Volunteer Program (MVP) started three years ago in partnership with the Ateneo de Davao University and the PEAC, took special significance.  Teachers and students in the Madaris (Islamic schools) and their communities in Maguindanao, Cotabato and Basilan are deeply grateful to CEAP for the programs undertaken to assist student learning and teacher formation. This has included recently formation in Compassionate Leadership.

As Atty. Masuhud Alamia, Executive Director of the ARMM, will point out in her keynote address, we have also considered how we can help ARMM schools through a series of formal conversations between the CEAP and the DepED, the ARMM and the Bureau of Madrasah Education of the ARMM.  Being an organization of Catholic educators, CEAP can best help ARMM by helping it improve its educational delivery, still the most challenged in the country. We will ask you in this convention how your school might join in this effort.

There were other fora held towards promoting peace. In coordination with WE Act 1325, the Center for Peace Education of Miriam College and Pax Christi-Pilipinas, we conducted student fora on “Challenging War and Prejudice as Pathways to Peace” in Regions 1 and 8 with the objectives of giving an update on the current peace processes; describing how embracing diversity can aid the peace process in Mindanao; and sharing the teachings of the Catholic Church in relation to peace, solidarity and nonviolence.

In addition, a national seminar-workshop on Nonviolence dubbed, “Blessed are the Peacemakers: Re-committing to Jesus’ Nonviolence” was conducted on May 17, 2017 at the CEAP National Office. This seminar-workshop which we co-sponsored with the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, Pax Christi Pilipinas, and the Center for Peace Education of Miriam College, aimed to engage the faculty-participants in a conversation about Gospel Nonviolence and its relevance to our country and the world today. It also presented several nonviolent strategies available for us to use. 11 out of the 17 CEAP regions were represented in this seminar-workshop.

A very concrete contribution to the Peace Process that CEAP has undertaken this year with the generous funding of the World Bank and the Australian government is the Mindanao-Sulu Multi-Strand Timeline. This 1.5 X 6 meter infographic timeline aims to develop and promote a basic and common understanding of Mindanao history, politics, economy, culture and ecology, in the service of the struggle for a shared peace and development of Mindanao and the rest of the country.

Much of the conflict in Mindanao continues because of our lack of understanding of the different cultures, histories, problems, and aspirations of the diverse groups in Mindanao, and the persistence of mindsets that maintain colonial biases and discriminatory practices to a large extent committed by the Christian majority against the Muslim and indigenous peoples.

In this search for this shared reading of reality, our schools play a crucial role in shaping the minds and hearts of the young. We are challenged to seriously review and evaluate how far and to what extent our schools have been repositories of biases against marginalized groups by excluding them or misrepresenting them.

To address this, the CEAP through the inspiration of Project Director, Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ, produced the Mindanao-Sulu Multi-strand Timeline (MSMT) in consultation with:

  • The National Historical Commission of the Philippines,
  • The National Commission for Culture and the Arts,
  • The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples,
  • The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos,
  • The Bangsamoro Development Agency,
  • The Mindanews,
  • The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
  • And the Department of Education

Presentations of this Mindanao Sulu Timeline, ready for use this school year which can be readily downloaded from the CEAP website.

When news of the immanent change of the Philippine Constitution towards Federalism through a Constituent Assembly came last week in the context of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the Board  decided to include a special session on this important topic after the concurrent sessions of this convention on Day 2.  You ae invited to register for this..

Finally,  to ensure that our CEAP member-schools are guided on how to integrate the JEEPGY themes in the whole school system, the Programs Committee of CEAP, headed by our Vice President, Fr. Elmer G. Dizon, gathered for a 2-day writeshop to draft the JEEPGY Manual. The JEEPGY Manual which contains the fundamentals of each pillar program and its biblical foundation, references to the PCSS standards and benchmarks, sample lessons and activities, a checklist of laws and policies to ascertain the school’s compliance with legally-required programs relating to JEEPGY will be subjected for validation on November 8-10this year at the JEEPGY National Congress at Miriam College.

It has been a rich and challenging year.  We have mentioned many activities undertaken under our three-fold mission.   The most important work, however, happens in your schools, day by day, where you work hard to keep your schools functioning and you lead the communio in your schools through education and personal witness to genuine self transformation and the transformation of the local and national community.  It is here where together we hope to truly bring about:

A world transformed, a Philippines renewed by people educated in the principles of Communio and Service as taught and lived by Our Lord Jesus Christ and shaped by the missionary mandate of the Catholic Church.

May this be our humble contribution to the celebration of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines in 2021.

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A Religious Incompatibility

[Thought Leader Contribution (Religious Sector). Conference on Peace and Prevention of Violent Extremism, by the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), ASEAN Society of the Philippines (ASP), and Rajaratnan School of International Studies (RSIS). Sofitel Hotel, Manila, 23 September 2017.]

A Religious Incompatibility

It is my deep honor to be called upon as a religious leader to initiate discussion on Peace and the Prevention of Violent Extremism.

The Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) is a Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino University. Since I became its President seven years ago, it has articulated and embraced its mission to inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, which it believes at heart to be a faith-based mission. In the landscape of diverse religions and diverse cultures in southeast Asia, where in one country Islam is dominant and in another country Christianity is dominant, we believe the imperative to inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue is rooted in one God of compassion and peace. The compassion and peace is not for the God who relates with us, but for us who in our moral brokenness need his compassion and in our endless warfare cry out for his peace. We consider it one of the profound scandals of our history that the most violent wars and atrocities are called and executed in the name of God.   With Pope Francis we might ask: if God is a God of compassion and peace, who is the god who is glorified in the self-righteous condemnation of the other and in the wars and atrocities committed “in God’s name”. The imperative for dialogue is rooted, I believe, in a God of Compassion and Peace who created us diverse in cultures and religions and is glorified in finding his will in the profundity of our diversity.

It is in this context that at the Ateneo de Davao we host the Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities in Southeast Asia directed by Datu Mussolini Lidasan, now a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission. We support the struggle of the Filipino Muslims, in the diversity of their receptions of Islam, for a homeland in the Philippines, whose warrant is their shared culture and shared religion in Islam. Where the Catholic faith today acknowledges religious freedom and clearly states that no person can be externally forced to embrace any religion against that person’s conscience, we acknowledge that methods of Christian evangelization in the past may have focused too much on “conversion”, failed to appreciate the religiously valid practices in Islam which truly acknowledged the one God of compassion and peace, failed to acknowledge the Christian shortcomings in translating faith into praxis, and encouraged a cultural attitude which from the “rightness” of Christianity looked down on the Muslim who in his fidelity to Islam was “wrong,” less-than-human, and therefore a second-class Filipino  We acknowledge the notion that in this context in the Philippines, what are referred to as “historical injustices” were committed against the Filipino Muslims.   Though the Spaniard never conquered this people whose mature sultanates preceded the coming of the Spaniard by two centuries, Spain sold them to the US along with the rest of the Philippines. Under the Americans, they were deceived, brutally massacred, minoritized, marginalized, and deprived of their lands. They were “Filipinized” by imposing on them the rule of northern Christian Filipinos, which continued throughout the Commonwealth period and after Philippine Independence. This rule was more interested in building the Filipino nation centered in the north and the exploitation of the natural resources of Mindanao for the north than in the respect for a Muslim identity and culture and a right for a Muslim homeland. The call for Muslim Independent Mindanao was met with private then state-supported vigilante violence, Marcos-led martial law, and later with Estrada’s all out war. In the 40-year quest for peace mediated by the Organization of Islamic Countries which followed, the GRP has so far failed to keep its commitments so that today the Bangsamoro quest for a homeland is still outstanding.

In this ongoing struggle where religions and cultures are plural, the need both for inter-and intra-religious dialogue is necessary. The inter-religious dialogue which occurs between different faith traditions, as between Christians and Muslims, seeking insight into the faith traditions of the other, has led us to the need for deeper insight in our own faith tradition and the acknowledgement that what separates one faith tradition from another, can also separate receptions of one’s own faith tradition from the receptions of others in the same faith tradition. This includes: the attitude of already possessing all of truth, the attitude of religious superiority, the attitude of “othering” all those who do not share one’s attitude, the attitude that because of one’s claimed oneness with Truth or oneness with the Will of God the other is worthy of contempt, ridicule, punishment, violence and even death. The rationale is: the human who is not truly religious in the way I am is not fully human.

Therefore today’s increasingly-acknowledged urgent need not only for inter-religious or inter-faith dialogue, but also for intra-religious or intra-faith dialogue. As Muslims and Christians seek to find their way to closer understanding and respect for each other in the other’s privileged way of worshipping the one God, both Muslims and Christians are also invited to find deeper insights into various receptions within their particular faith traditions in the hope that the deeper one delves into the truth of a particular reception the more one finds unity with the God whose oneness unites, and does not divide, who holiness sanctifies, and does not desecrate, whose compassion uplifts, and does not degrade. In both inter- and intra-religious dialogue we are invited to prostrate ourselves before the God of Truth to admit in humility that the truth of our lives has fallen short of the truth of his will, and that we worship too often with empty words and gestures rather than in the surrender of our hearts to the divine will. We are invited to notice that before this God of Truth we have no monopoly on truth, and no warrant to monopolize truth, and certainly no need to speak and act as if we were Truth. We are invited to notice, accept and even cherish that one who worships God in another religious tradition or in another reception of my faith tradition may be blessed with profound access to Divine Truth, which I am moved to admire in praising the inscrutable ways God works with his creatures, often in manners which go beyond anything I have been trained to expect.

The prevention of violent extremism, therefore, from the religious viewpoint may involve the religious acceptance through dialogue that we are created plural, that no one has a monopoly on Truth, and that to bring extreme violence, pain, suffering, death on human individuals or on humanity in the name God is a betrayal of God and an idolatrous reduction of religion to a mere ideology bereft of God. This is not a relativization of revealed religious truth which always brings us into a relationship with the one God of Compassion and Peace, but merely a relativization of the absolute positions that we take as human beings in the name of God – be this the God of the Crusader, the Inquisitor, or of the Mujahideen – which seem to justify anything – arrogance, condemnation, oppression, violation of human rights, torture, killing, mass destruction. But the absoluteness of God’s truth is not ours as human beings, and to claim it is blasphemous. The safest indicator of truthful relationship with God is that in this relationship we become more truly compassionate and more trMuuly dedicated to peace. In this relationship there is always great awe and deep humility; here, we find the true God because he reveals himself; here, we find the human being because we accept his inviolable dignity and truth in God.

True religion and violent extremism are incompatible.

Discussion points:

The uncritical use of the language of religion – “there is one true religion,” “there is one true God,” “God’s will,” “I do God’s will,” “human value is inextricably linked to a true religion,” “non-belief implies loss of human dignity and human rights” – underpins violent extremism.

It is not less religion that prevents violent extremisms, but less false religion.

Wounds inflicted through historical injustice need healing.

The God of Compassion and Peace is compassionate on the human being and wishes him/her peace. The worship of this God implies acceptance of the dignity and worth of the human being and human life. It is incompatible with violent extremism.

God created us diverse. Dialogue mediates the truth of one’s religion, the value of an other’s, how one’s praxis falls short of God’s will, and how the praxis of an other can enhance one’s own praxis. Dialogue mediates the radicality of true religion between different faith traditions and different receptions of a faith tradition.

True religion recognizes freedom of religion. When external force is used to coerce assent to religion it is a falsification and betrayal of religion and a crime against the creature God cherishes. Violent extremism is a betrayal of religion in a blasphemous ideology.

To explain being in terms of dialogue (“dialectic”), Hegel said: Being is non-being and therefore becoming. Perhaps it can be said: The true religion is not the true religion and therefore the truth-ing religion. Religion is true. But living it discovers its truth in dialogue.


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Transformative School Leadership:  Sharing My Experience at Ateneo de Davao University

ADDU Leadership

[Address: Center for Educational Measurement Conference on “Leading Our Schools to Success.”]


“Leading our Schools to Success” is a wonderful theme for a conference, and I congratulate the Center for Educational Measurement (CEM) for choosing it as its theme.  I have been requested to talk on Transformative School Leadership and about guiding change towards valued institutional goals.  Talk about leadership, even of a school, is always profoundly personal, even if leading a school one must move from personal convictions to actualization of institutional goals that resonate with those personal convictions.  With your indulgence, therefore, I will be speaking personally – even autobiographically – in order to account for convictions and goals that have underpinned my school leadership.  But I will also explain how my personal convictions became part of the transformative education that is practiced at Ateneo de Davao University today.

The convictions of the leader

I am on the nineteenth year of being President of a Jesuit university. After 12 years at the Ateneo de Naga University, I am on my seventh year at the Ateneo de Davao.

When I was still preparing for the priesthood at the Ateneo de Manila during the late 60s (a long time ago!), I was part of a group of young Jesuit scholastics and priests who strongly criticized the educational apostolate.   Influenced by liberation theology, we believed that education was but part of a superstructure that reinforced the economic conditions that produced it.  Ateneo de Manila, we charged, was but catering to the rich.  We believed that we had given up family and fortune to become Jesuits to face the scandalous conditions of the poor and confront the structures in society that create them poor and keep them poor.   We believed work in the educational apostolate was betraying that intention.

I remember as a young adolescent peering from the comfort of our home in Mandaluyong over a wall into the squalor of squatters – before the more politically correct “urban poor” came into use.  We had electricity, they did not; we had running water, they did not; we had a garden filled with santol and kaimito trees; they did not.  Their children played in front of their shanties naked; we did not.  We went to Ateneo and to Maryknoll; they did not.  As a youth, I was deeply impressed by the anomaly of this situation.  “Justice” and “social justice” were yet not part of my vocabulary.  But in this situation which deep within I felt ought be otherwise, I think as a youth I was experiencing social injustice.  And I knew somehow that we who were not part of their poverty were somehow complicit in it.

We were not rich.  We were renting the house we were using.  But we were not poor.  Yet there were poor people in our home who cooked for us when we were hungry, washed our dishes when we were full, cleaned our house when we were busy, cared for us when we were sick, went to market for us when we were still sleeping, but did not sleep in the beds we enjoyed, did not sit at the table we gathered around, and did not enjoy the same food we enjoyed because they had prepared it.  Even as a youth I felt a great inner discomfort at this situation.  In school, we were taught:  God created us.  God loves us.  We are all part of the family of God.  But at home I was experiencing a situation I knew ought be otherwise.  Because God created and loves us all equally, in my own household I was experiencing social injustice.

I had a friend who was very rich.  His name was Wahoo. His father was a manufacturer of cement.  He lived in a posh house in Forbes Park and drove his own car. I admired him because he was intelligent, simple, softspoken and kind.  What he would do, I would want to do.  On weekends, from the luxury of his home in Forbes Park he would commute in a public bus all the way to Sapang Palay in San Jose del Monte.  Then, Sapang Palay was a resettlement of misery.  Their homes had been demolished in the slums of Manila, their remains loaded onto NHA trucks with their erstwhile inhabitants, and dumped onto a lot of Sapang Palay.  There they were told to rebuild their houses and their lives with hardly anyone to help them.  Wahoo would help them.  He would go there on weekends to help in whatever way he could.  Clad in a simple white T-Shirt and fading jeans, he would climb up shanties to help the elderly with their roofs; he would talk to young and old, eat with them and drink with them; he would love and be loved.  I used to go along with Wahoo on these visits to Sapang Palay.  Somehow, I wanted to be like him.  I too wanted to help the poor.  I too wanted to do what I could to work against social injustice.

Social Justice in the Jesuit Mission

That is why as a Jesuit I didn’t want to get involved in the university which seemed to cater to the rich. In time, as my Jesuit formation allowed me to personally appropriate the Jesuit mission, I felt within a quiet elation when what I learned of this mission resonated with my response to the social injustice situations in my youth.  The Jesuit mission is about the service of the faith.  But in the span of my Jesuit life, the implications of that mission have been unraveled.  General Congregation 33 (GC 33) insisted that the service of the faith is inseparable from the promotion of justice.  GC 34 amplified this insight further into an internally interlocking, symbiotic mission in the service of the faith which promotes justice that is sensitive to cultures and engages in inter-religious dialogue, the key insight being that one cannot engage in any one of these areas without getting involved in all others.  GC 35 added the environment.  Most recently, GC 36 re-stated this from the perspective of reconciliation:  the three-fold reconciliation with God, with humanity and with creation.  As all of these brought the Society of Jesus to a deeper appreciation of its mission, I think I felt my own commitment to social justice – rooted in a personal discomfort with and rejection of inequalities in our society – affirmed and strengthened in my personal acceptance of the Jesuit mission.   It was deepened as I spent my first two years as a Jesuit priest as priest-in-charge of San Pedro Resettlement Area in Laguna, and years later as priest-in-charge of the Sambayanang Kristyano ng Kristong Hari, where with the people and Cardinal Sin we fought inhumane and unjust demolitions and worked for the passage of the Housing and Urban Development Act into law (1992).

All this is important for our topic, I believe, because leadership inevitably involves the leader.  It involves understanding what makes the leader lead.

There is a spirituality involved here.  I do not immediately mean something as mature as Carmelite or Cistercian or Franciscan spirituality. I mean something more immediate, and perhaps for many not even articulated, and much less reflected on or even criticized.  I mean that which differentiates a leader from just his or her body, that which makes him or her as a human being tick.  I mean that which makes a person who encounters a mother and a child who have slept all night on the sidewalk react the way he or she does. Some respond with dismay because their sense of order and cleanliness on the streets is violated by this unsightly spectacle.  Others respond with disgust because the welfare and humanity of the mother and child are violated by the conditions that force them to sleep on a cold and dirty sidewalk.  Some people react to a baby as just yet another mouth to feed, others respond to a baby as a precious gift and responsibility from God.  Some people respond to the scent of a flower with awe, others hardly even notice it.  What makes a human being tick is the set of human relations he or she has been blessed or cursed with in life, the set of gut values that have been shaped from one’s childhood, within one’s family, barkada and community that are profoundly personal.  What makes a human being tick, his or her spirituality, is that which moves the leader to lead, and distinguishes his or her leadership from that of another.  It is that which shapes one’s choices, enables one to take risks or isolates one from them, opens one to growth or condemns one to being stunted, helps one to welcome criticism and grow from it, or forces one to avoid criticism, and react to it whenever it must come.   The spirituality in my leadership – what makes me tick – is what began as a profound disturbance at the discrepancy between the way the poor lived and the way we lived, and matured into an personal acceptance of the mission of the Jesuits:  the commitment to work for social justice as demanded by faith and understanding that today social justice is not possible without the transformation of our culture and the dialogue between religions that accepts diversity of faiths.

University Leadership

I never wanted to be a university president. But in 1999 when Fr. Rolly Bonoan, President of the newly-recognized University of the Ateneo de Naga, passed away without permission through a heart attack, his job passed to me.  It was at Ateneo de Naga where I learned how to be a University President.  I learned not only about how to read financial statements and the complexities of construction.  I learned how to appreciate a university community of scholars and academicians that comes together to pursue truth in academic freedom.  I learned how a Jesuit university in academic freedom appropriates the mission of the Society of Jesus:  the service of the faith, the promotion of justice, sensitivity to cultures and inter-religious dialogue.  I learned that as a leader I did not have to have all the answers, and that there was much to be learned from listening.  I learned that leading a university that had appropriated the Jesuit mission meant working with lay-persons who were as committed to the Jesuit mission as any Jesuit could be.  The university mission statement was not just words that adorned walls for the appreciation of accreditors.  It meant the university community itself being transformed by values of faith, justice, resilient cultures and religious dialogue and the spiritual insights of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  It meant a courageous commitment to social justice through the key university functions of instruction, research, and outreach.  In Bikol, this involved them in the struggle against poverty and in the fight against environmental destruction through mining.  I learned therefore that the way ADNU operated impacted transformatively first on the university community, then consequently on the community beyond the university.  I experienced poor students become engineers and nurses and computer animators and witnessed how they pull their families out of poverty.  I experienced how teachers inspired by the positive influence their university had on the communities around it recommitted themselves to university work for the personal satisfaction of the work.  In all this, I learned the university was not the institution that but preserves the status quo as I had once feared, but was a powerful institution if appropriately led for social transformation.  Leading a Jesuit university was about leading a powerful institution for personal and social transformation.  It was about an opportunity to help shape a university in accordance with what made me tick – a deep desire to pursue social justice based on personal faith.

Shared Passion, Shared Mission

Even after my twelve years at ADNU, I was wary of ADDU.  ADNU had no unions. ADDU had four.  ADNU had a history of people coming together to solve shared problems.  ADDU had a history of strikes.  ADNU was in a city of some two hundred thousand people;  Davao had 1.5 million.   For me, ADNU had been a good and gentle teacher.  ADDU was a challenge.

I knew I could not lead alone.  Even before I was inaugurated President, I gathered together a group of some sixty people.  The criterion for invitation was passion.  I asked my assistants to gather together all those in the university who were passionate about anything.  I didn’t want the yes-people.  I wanted those who had strong convictions.  I said, let’s talk.  So in the Davao Eden resort the Davao eagles gathered, passionate people all.  They came from the unions, the outreach institutes, the grade school, the high school, the colleges, the law school, the students, the staff, the administrators, the alumni.  They came curious about who the new university president was, as I came curious about who they were.  For five days, we discussed four questions:  What is your personal passion?  Are you able to express this at the Ateneo de Davao?  If yes, how do you do so.  If not, why not?   What resulted was genuinely profound.  People who were battle scarred from the conflicts with management through the unions expressed their dismay and hurt.  They had been trained by the Jesuits in social justice.  How was it that they were now on the opposite sides of the bargaining table?  People who were once friends expressed how difficult it was to repair damaged relationships. People who used to know the Ateneo de Davao as a place where each knew everyone else were dismayed by the segmentation of the university into groups that did not communicate with each other.  Teachers who had an eros for research expressed dismay at being held back from research.  Faculty who had a passion for the environment expressed their isolation in their engagement.  People who were focused on teaching had complaints about the cramped facilities of their work spaces.  As I listened to the frustration and the complaints, it was clear to me that all was rooted in a manifest appreciation for the university and its mission.  So in that privileged moment in Eden which had been dubbed, “Shared Passion, Shared Mission,” I worked to understand whether we did share mission, whether we did share a mission as a university that was not only about instruction, but also emphatically about research and outreach, and that as a university, we shared appreciation of being Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino.  We came out with no document in that Eden experience.  But we did come to a meeting of minds, a convergence of spirit, which defined our universitas, our community, from within.  We decided that what made us tick was the same, a shared passion, a shared mission in our community to search for and serve truth through the service of the faith, the promotion of justice, sensitivity to cultures and the protection and preservation of the environment.

When we left the gardens of Eden and came back to our classrooms and offices, we allowed the acknowledged shared passion and shared mission to shape the reformulation of our Vision and Mission statement.  In our identity-statement we clearly acknowledged ourselves to be a university – a community of scholars and researchers pursuing truth in academic freedom.  But we also declared ourselves to be Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino.  The mission statement was a declaration of how our university identity manifests itself in our mission:  in the formation of leaders for the Church and society in Mindanao, in the promotion of faith that does justice, in cultural sensitivity and transformation, and in inter-religious dialogue, particularly with the Muslim and Lumad communities of Mindanao.  ADDU would promote communities touched and transformed buy the faith.  It would promote social justice, gender equality, good governance, the creation of wealth and its equitable distribution.  It would engage vigorously in environmental protection, the protection of biodiversity, and the promotion of renewable energy.  It would promote educational reform.

Walking the Talk for the Environment and for Peace

The mission statement was longer and more detailed than usual in such statements.  But that was because it gathered together the actual convictions and commitments of people belonging to the community.  What however soon became evident was that it was not just words.  It was not just a poster on the wall for accreditors.  ADDU was suddenly in the thick of public opposition to the large-scale open-pit SMI mines in Tampakan, South Cotabato.  It took the side of the Blaan people opposing SMI’s destruction of their homeland.  It took the side of the lowland farmers whose rice fields would be threatened by permanent destruction from the toxic effluence of the mine.  It disputed the claim that a pit 500 hectares large and more than 800 meters deep – the depth of two Empire State Buildings place one on top of the other – would not adversely affect the environment.  It took the side of the Philippine environment whose old-growth forests and biodiversity would be adversely affected by the mining project.  It took the side of the Philippine nation whose interests are adversely affected by implementation of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 – which some have described as treasonous.  Our opposition was determined and effective. We gained many friends among environmentalists, including the social action groups of the Archdiocese of Marbel.  But because we were effective we also gained many enemies, foremost among them the Chamber of Mines.  We also lost friends.  The chairman of our Board of Trustees, whose family had financial interests in Tampakan, resigned.

ADDU also got quickly involved in the peace process.  It took its mission commitment to inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue seriously.  As a Catholic and Jesuit university, it is the only Jesuit school in the Philippines with an AB in Islamic Studies focusing on the political economy.  Soon after the Shared Vision, Shared Mission event, it set up its Institute for Muslim Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia under the leadership of Datu Mussolini Lidasan.  Before coming to Davao I was not sensitive to the historical plight of the Filipino Muslim community.  I soon learned that its struggle – whether for independence or for genuine autonomy – was ultimately a struggle for social justice – or for a righting of historical injustice – and for a homeland.  This was the struggle of a proud people whose culturally rich sultanates under the crescent moon were formed centuries before the arrival of the Spaniard and the Cross.  In Mindanao, through the actions of the Spaniards, the Americans and in time, what many do not understand, even the Filipinos, they were in their native land relegated to the wrong side of history.  In the Treaty of Paris they were sold by Spain to the US, even though Spain had never conquered them and so were not Spain’s to sell.  They were mesmerized and deceived by the Americans in the Bates Agreement, massacred by the Americans in Bud Bagsak and Bud Dajo through Generals Wood and Pershing who considered them barbarians, marginalized and minoritized through the creation of the Moro Province ruled from Zamboanga, then later the Department of Mindanao and Sulu ruled from Manila, where under the civilian governor Frank Carpenter, they were “Filipinized” by subjecting them to the rule of Christian Filipinos from the north. Through the Agricultural Colonies Act under the Americans (1913) and the Colonization Act under the Commonwealth (1935) they were pushed off their lands and subjected to a land registration system that was foreign to them, alienating them permanently from their lands. Closer to our times, they were subjected to the Jabidah Massacre.   The misunderstanding and discrimination is rooted in their culture inseparable from their diverse receptions of Islam persist to this day.  It can be said the contemporary struggle for a Muslim Homeland through a constitutionally mandated Bangsamoro Basic Law begins there.  ADDU has involved itself deeply in this struggle, making the Bangsamoro struggle its own.   It continues to do so in its research, its instruction, the Madaris Volunteer Program, the Mindanao Peace Games, and the ongoing advocacy of a meaningful Bangsamoro homeland in the Philippines.

Our Vision and Mission Statement committing us to self-transformation and the transformation of society is not just words;  it are the soul of the university as it is the soul of my leadership and I daresay the soul of all who teach, who research and serve the Mindanao community from the university.  It is the soul behind what I approve or disapprove, promote or discourage, reaching back in me to that discomfort in my youth with the reality of squatters on the other side of the wall, or the unequal of the poor right inside our household, or the idol I found in a Wahoo Taylor who decided he had something to contribute to better the lot of the poor.  The faith-based commitment to social transformation in the university is the soul which we nurture through a program that promotes Ignatian spirituality on all levels for the University, for faculty, staff and students.  The programs are not mandatory, but because they are highly appreciated they are highly subscribed.  They involve our community in three-day, five-day, eight-day and recently even thirty-day silent retreats.  We have carefully trained lay faculty members who guide these retreats. We have a facility and staff in Samal, the St. Ignatius Spirituality Center, dedicated exclusively to silent retreats;  we open this not only to Catholics but also to Muslims seeking silence to find the will of God.  Ultimately, the institutional faith-based commitment to social justice is the commitment of the members of the community that finds the energy, stamina, generosity, courage and self-sacrificing dedication to fight for the common good in their quiet listening to God in their lives during these retreats.

The ADDU Graduate:  Our Most Important Contribution to Social Change

Meanwhile, the spirit and insights of the Shared Passion, Shared Vision experience in Eden have been re-articulated by similar representations of the various units of the university in another Eden experience this time in the ADDU Strategic Plan for 2015-2020.  Here, once again, beginning from the Vision and Mission of the University we move through five core principles, through nine mission goals, through nine key result areas and accompanying key performance indicators, unto an articulation of the profile of our graduate.  We call the Strategic Plan “AFIRE for Social Justice and the Common Good”, calling forth from us the Administration, the Formation, the Instruction, the Research and the Engagement that ultimately produces our graduates for the common good, declaring that our graduate is our most important contribution to social change and transformation.   We expect that our graduates, rooted in faith, would:

  1. Be educated leaders in society for the common good, especially for Mindanao;
  2. Express their faith through works of justice;
  3. Positively contribute to belief in a secular world;
  4. Engage in dialogue with peoples of different faiths and cultures, and work for peace;
  5. Live out and promote environmental stewardship;
  6. Have an entrepreneurial spirit; produce wealth and ensure its equitable distribution in society;
  7. Work for and with vulnerable communities for their development;
  8. Serve the Roman Catholic Church;
  9. Lead in the promotion of educational reforms.

To recap:  I had been requested to talk about transformative school leadership and about guiding change towards valued institutional goals.  I said that leadership has something to do with the leader, and what makes the leader tick. My early personal commitment to social change through experiences which confronted me with I perceived to be social injustice helps account for what makes me tick as a university leader.  This early commitment was reinforced in my appropriation of the mission of the Society of Jesus which involved a faith-based pursuit of social justice inseparable from sensitivity to cultures, inter-religious dialogue and environmental responsibility.  Our university was Jesuit because it appropriated this Jesuit mission, calling for the appropriate transformation of the university community and the community beyond.  This shaped the mission and vision of the school.  It shapes its strategic planning, including the institutional goals as articulated and pursued.  Most of all, it shapes the day-to-day real activities that demonstrate the truth of the mission and vision: like the public protest of the university against large scale mining, and the sustained  advocacy of the university for a Bangsamoro homeland. Like our efforts in instruction and formation to sensitize our students to the demands of the common good and make this the mark of their ADDU sui generis leadership when they graduate.

Not a Rose Garden Without Thorns

I would mislead you were I to give you the impression that this is a rose garden without thorns.  We do have our problems of miscommunication, underachievement, fatigue, discouragement and overwork.  We have our problems with competition and our challenges in our relationships with the Department of Education and the CHED.  We still have ongoing problems in our college faculty union, which have reached external bodies such as the DOLE and the courts. We are disappointed when despite our formation programs there are those who would seem to sacrifice authentic joy, social purpose and personal development in their work for issues of compensation, benefits and power. It is for this reason that I am deeply grateful that in running the university I am not alone.  I run the university with a host of faculty members, staff, administrators and students who truly love the university, who fight for its just rights, and make it function as it does.  I also run the university inspired by the example and dedication of other educational leaders in the CEAP, the COCOPEA, the PASUC and PAASCU who network and bond in the service of education in the Philippines.

Because we are not perfect, because we are a human organization whose excellence is dependent on the freedom and dedication of our co-workers, because good people can get tired, suffer fatigue, and must address challenges beyond the university in their homes and communities, because the roster of our co-workers is vulnerable to the market both local and foreign, because people resign or retire and new people come with unusual ideas or different cultures of work, and ideals of excellence may flag, I am a great believer in quality assurance and in the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework.  We must assure ourselves and others that what we claim is true and can be evidenced.  This demands quality assurance based on an external quality assurance agency, on external processes and standards, on an internal quality assurance culture, operating within a national qualifications framework.  Of these, I believe that the most important insight of quality assurance is that it is the educational institution that has the first responsibility for quality.  Because the institution must find truth, communicate truth and serve the community in truth, it must take first cudgels for the quality of its activities.  Because we are serious about our institutional goals, quality assurance is indispensible.

Thank you for this opportunity to share something of my leadership and my life with you.  In my youth I never dreamed of this role.  I wanted to be a fireman.  But having had the privilege of university leadership, I would now not want it otherwise.  In the Philippines, we have yet to realize the full potential of an integrated self-governing higher educational community where public and private universities work together to improve higher educational delivery for Philippine students.  We have yet to experience a higher educational community that in academic freedom not only outputs the professional expertise and social leadership of the country today, but also stands as a critical promoter and fierce protector of the common good with all its challenges and complexities.  But what we have yet to experience is part of the challenge of educational leadership on our watch.  Thank you to the Center for Educational Measurement for the invaluable service you render education in the Philippines.  As we continue our service, may God continue to disturb us in the many who are poor and ignorant, may he strengthen us in our educational institutions, and in our commitment to truth may he grant us peace!

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Living and Dying for the Lord

[Homily: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Assumption Chapel, 16 Sept. 2017.]

Our Lord

Our readings for this evening coming from Matthew and the Book of Wisdom are beautiful and challenging, but I would like to focus on the message for us of the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans (14:7-9).  It is a profound passage short enough to be memorized, but important enough to be prayed over for life:

Brothers and sisters, none of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.  For if we live we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord;  so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 

For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

It is a quiet text, I think, talking to us gently; we are told our lives and deaths are not for our selfish purposes, but for the Lord’s.  It is a text that invites us to look at our lives and ask ourselves, for what or for whom do we live, and should we ever face death, which for us all is certain, for what or whom shall we die.  It is a gentle text which quietly suggests an ultimate disjunction:  either we live for ourselves, or we live for the Lord.  Either we die for ourselves, or we die for the Lord.  It is not a text which diminishes our selves, which themselves are a gift of the Lord, but a text which proclaims fullness of our selves in living for the Lord, and the ultimate meaning of dying in having lived for the Lord.

While it is healthy to dream and plan for our futures in life, as all people who are young are encouraged to do, St. Ignatius suggested that for life it is salutary to look at our lives from our deathbed, first, because after death there is either salvation or damnation, but more so to be able to check the quality of our living today.  Is the life that we live truly good?  Is it genuinely joyful?  Or is it wasted in pure drudgery on that which I know is meaningless.   Today we may not need  St. Ignatius’ deathbed exercise to reflect on the quality of our living.   With every passing day the news reminds us increasingly that death is immanent, and life is precarious.  We may dream to live a comfortable family life in a beautiful home, but each day we are reminded how such dreams realized at great sacrifice, and sometime even through great compromise, may be shattered by an earthquake, a typhoon, an act of criminality, a police action that mistakenly claims our lives, a deadly terrorist action taken for some unholy purpose.  What has happened to Kian de los Santos, unfortunately, can happen to anyone of us; and what exploded in Marawi can be repeated in other cities like our own.  Or in London, in a subway filled with innocent people.  Death is in the air as North Korea shoots missiles over Japan in aggressive self defense, as South Korea responds by firing two missiles (one of which fails) in self-defensive warning, and as the US President Trump, whose tweets fill us all with confidence, says he does not discount to the arrogant threats of North Korea a military response of fire and fury that the world has not yet seen.

Paul says:  none of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord;  so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 

We must admit, I think, that for many of us this is not true.  We live for survival, we live to keep living.  To live, we live for money.  To flourish, we live for more money.  We spend the money on many “necessities” that most people don’t need.  We relate to God to grant us success and to protect us from harm.  We help other people to feel good.  And when death comes, well, we pray, so that in death we might be saved.

But this type of a life is far from what Paul articulates as true of the genuine Christian.  The Christian does not live for oneself.  The Christian does not die for oneself.  The Christian lives and dies for the Lord.

What that means in your lives you may need to work out for yourselves in genuine reflection, prayer and spiritual conversation.

Paul says:  none of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself…  What compels that is not a matter of force;  it is a matter of freedom.  What makes that imperative is not a matter of fear, it is a matter of love.  It is the outcome, I think, of prayer that can take place right in this chapel before the crucified Lord, where we appreciate that Jesus did not live for himself as he preached to open to us the Kingdom of God.  Jesus did not die for himself as he was misunderstood and killed for what he preached.  Jesus lived and died for us.  This is part of Paul’s message for today:

… whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.  He died, that he might deal death its deathblow.  If Jesus lived and died for us, it is now only fitting that we now freely respond with Paul’s words:   For if we live we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord;  so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 

Living for the Lord does not mean giving up our friends or our families or our civic responsibilities.  Quite the opposite.  It means making the Lord proud in the way we value our friends, care for our families and discharge our responsibilities to the common good.  It means glorifying the Lord in the way love, serve, and forgive.  It means cherishing a friend as Jesus cherishes us as friends; it means caring for our families and being faithful to our spouses until married life reflects the mutual love between God and his people;  it means pursuing God’s will in our workplaces and in advancing the common good.  I wonder how many of the congressmen who so generously voted all of one-thousand pesos for the Commission on Human Rights even considered the Lord.  Even in politics, Christian politicians ultimately serve not Speaker Alvarez nor President Duterte nor Mammon nor Power nor their own selfish ambitions, but the Lord.  Why?  Ultimately because: if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord;  so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  On this is decided salvation or damnation. “Whatever you have done for one of these the least of my brothers and sisters, that you have done to me” (Mt. 25:45). the Lord said.  When it is clear that we live not unto death but unto life, it is the Lord who says or does not say,  “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…” (Mt. 25:34).


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That dry cups be filled with wine

[Homily: Birthday of Mary, Chapel of the Assumption, 8 September 2017]

Today is the birthday of Mary. Where many of us for whatever reason may have taken a step away from Mary, on her birthday, I propose we take a step closer to her.

Why do I say many of us have taken a step away from her? I guess it’s simply because times have changed, values have changed. And what was taken for granted in the past, may no longer be taken for granted in the present. In the past it was a celebrated mark of an Atenean that he or she have a rosary in his or her pocket. That was because in the past it was part of the day of the Atenean to pray the rosary. That may no longer be the case today. And if so, it is a bit sad. Because through the regular prayer of the rosary – the repeated prayer of the Hail Mary, the Our Father, and the Glory Be – one developed a closeness to Mary.   Through this closeness to Mary, one also developed a familiarity with her Son, and a deep gratitude for the history of salvation. That’s what happens when one regularly recalls in prayer the mysteries of the rosary: the joyful, the sorrowful, and the glorious mysteries. Relatively recently, Pope St. John Paul II added the luminous mysteries. For me, I consider that one of the greatest contributions of his papacy to the Church! So in coming closer to Mary through the rosary, one entered more and more deeply into the mystery of salvation by regularly contemplating such as the incarnation of the Son of God, the birth of Jesus, the baptism of the Lord, the marriage feast of Cana, Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the transfiguration, the institution of the Eucharist, the suffering and death of the Lord, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Decent of the Holy Spirit and his sanctifying action in our Church, the Assumption of Mary (that is celebrated specially in this chapel) and her Queenship in heaven. That we no longer pray the rosary daily, habitually, and no longer carry a rosary in our pockets, so that in fingering it we are reminded to pray it, is sad. This would mean, as I said, we have taken a step away from Mary.

Today is Mary’s birthday. And I am glad we are all here in this Chapel of her Assumption to celebrate with her. For she is our mother. From his Cross, Jesus gave her to us as our mother. And I would like to bet we have all had special moments of intimacy with her as our mother: when we knew she was very close, when we knew that she was listening, when we knew that she had spoken to Jesus on our behalf, and when we knew she’d worked out a little miracle for us. In my life that happened in Bicol, when Mary, Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Ina, wondrously intervened there in the long-estranged and often tense relationship between my mother and father, worked out that they after many painful years of conflict meet “accidentally” on the steps of her Basilica, and there, for all to see, brought them together in a loving kiss. The great Jesuit theologian once told me, “Accidents, accidents! There are no accidents, only grace.” Mary has a lot to do with winning for us these graces that appear like accidents. Sometimes, however, because we are so educated, or so sophisticated, or because we think cynicism more fashionable than humility, we block ourselves off from perceiving miracles and remain with the accidental, and so shy away from praying to our Mother Mary. We think we are grown up. We think we can solve our own problems. We think if we cannot solve our problems, no one can. Should that be the case in our lives, it would mean we have taken step away from Mary.

In the prayer of our Mass today, we proclaimed, “The birth of Mary’s Son was the dawning of salvation…” We recalled the birth of our Savior in our Gospel. The angel proclaimed: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She is to bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew explains: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Through Mary, God is Emmanuel. Through Mary, God is with us. Through Mary, God is Love, Compassion and Peace for us.

On the birthday of Mary, where we may have stepped away from her, we ask for the grace to turn around, and once again step towards her. We ask for the grace again to pray the rosary daily in our lives, and to discover that this prayer, simple as it is, really helps. Another step back to her would be to ask for the grace to pray and mean the Memorare. Did you ever know the Memorare? As kids, we were asked to memorize this prayer. But too often, even I forget.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. 

Let us not be shy about bringing Mary our concerns – no matter how great they may be. If we are hungry, let us bring our hunger to our mother. If we are sick, let us ask her for healing. If we are in conflict, let us ask her for peace. In this spirit, our prayer with the entire Church in this Mass is: “May the celebration of her birthday bring us closer to lasting peace.”

Peace. Let us take a step closer to Mary by putting into her motherly hands our concerns for peace in this world. The situation is precarious. North Korea will not back off from its dangerous nuclear arms program. The United States and its allies will not back off from opposing this program.   A war of words has been joined. One can say, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But these words call forth action. Yet action in this case, be it the action of a rogue politician or a ponderous statesman, would be totally catastrophic. Today, we must bring this dangerous situation to our Mother Mary.

We must also bring the situation of peace in Mindanao to our Mother Mary. With our Muslim sisters and brothers we share a deep devotion and love for Sitti Maryam, Holy Mary. On her birthday, let us bring our hopes for lasting peace in Mindanao to her for her intercession. The guns in Marawi must finally be silenced. The peace that we have hoped and prayed for for more than four decades must finally be achieved. The autonomy and self determination the Bangsamoro claim and deserve must finally be granted in the passage of the enhanced Bangsamoro Basic Law. Let it be granted despite the spoilers and the spoiled among politicians; let it be granted despite the determined effort of a minority to impose their reception of Religion on all. Let it be granted in the press of diverse faiths seeking the one Divine will. Let us put this situation in the hands of our mother, recalling to her, that never was it known that anyone who fled to her protection, implored her help, or sought her intercession was left unaided.

Take a step closer to Mary. Even on her birthday, show her, our mother, our cups gone dry. Let her whisper to her Son, that our vessels of water may be changed into the finest of wine!

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Death in the Air


If the recent news has been giving you a sense of dread, it is because death is in the air.

First, in deadly airs of self defense. North Korea has been firing missiles into the air in self-defense – against western world powers decided to annihilate it. Its recent H-bomb test now suggests that a death-bringing thermo-nuclear device can be mounted on one of its missiles to bring death from the air to millions on the other side of its southern boarder or on the other side of the globe. The aggressive behavior in self defense is occasioned by routine war games played between the US and South Korea in self-defense. The war games infuriate North Korea which views them as the world’s hostile threat to its existence. They warrant North Korea’s nuclear program in self defense. To the missiles fired by North Korea to flaunt its ability to defend itself against enemy attack, South Korea fires Thermal High Altitude Area Defense Missiles (THAAD Missiles) into the air to prove to itself and the world it can defend itself against death in the air coming from North Korea. It simulates an air attack on the missile sites of North Korea, also, of course, in self defense.

But death is also in the words of war unleashed in the air. The American UN Ambassador Haley says North Korea’s intractability in a history of unsuccessful UN sanctions against it for violating its provisions against nuclear tests is “begging for war.” The somber US Defense Secretary Mathis says that further threats from North Korea could launch “a massive and overwhelming military response.” Earlier, Trump had made stronger remarks against North Korean threats, declaring that America, “locked and loaded,” would respond “with fire and fury.” Meanwhile neither the sanity of Kim Jung-un nor the wisdom of Donald Trump can convince the world that death is not in the air.

Death is in the air. To spite all the high-level debate in the United Nations on how to respond to the North Korea that ignores its prohibitions and sanctions, the rogue nation is now moving to fire yet another missile over the Pacific. It is shooting a middle finger against the US and exploding it in the UN.

With death in the air, we have no choice but to breath it in, and sigh at the fragility of life we think we hold so dear. Death in the air is ironically in purposive programs undertaken to oppose death. It is in the guns of rogue security officers who kill those whom they ought most urgently secure. It is in the profits of those captains of consumption whose industries ravage the environment and suck life from the poor to inject opiates into the veins of the rich. It is in the knives that decapitate heads that defy their concept of God and way of life. It is in the bombs that oppose the rebellious who oppose the impious who oppose the arrogance of the holier than holy. Of course, we can choose to deny the stench of death in the air after the murderous shots near the pigsty. We can choose to ignore death in the air to attempt to live as if there were only life, to dance and sing and revel in denial of the undeniable. We can work and work on as if death in the air were but the latest edition of fake news. But we awake from sleep to the latest reports of CNN and ANC on the Harveys and Irmas in the air and on the political idiocy that turns the innocent lives of dreamers into nightmares.

With death in the air, what is important in our lives that like a thief in the night can be snuffed away? What is important in time that suddenly ends? With death in the air, it may be time to take stock and consider matters of ultimate importance – like the urgency of a reconciliation with a former friend, of righting an old wrong, of the scent of a flower, or even of a quiet conversation with a God I formerly believed in but who had been killed in my life by the death in the air.






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Exploring Intra-Religious Dialogue through ADDU’s Al Qalam Institute with Fr. Felix Koerner, S.J.


[YouTube Video of the Pakighinabi]

Intra-Religious Dialogue

[Welcome Message to ADDU’s Pakighinabi led by Fr. Felipe Koerner, S.J., of the Pontifical Gregorian University, August 30, 2018.]

Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J.

Eanna-Fernandez-10,large.1504093555.jpgIt is with great pleasure that I welcome you to this special Pakighinabi event at ADDU entitled: Intra-Religious Dialogue:  How a Faith Tradition Can Rediscover its Unity.  Through its vision and mission, the ADDU is committed to inter-religious dialogue.  In this context, we are happy to host in the University the Al Qalam Institute for for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia headed by Datu Mussolini Lidasan.  The inter-religious dialogue however which occurs between different faith traditions, as between Christians and Muslims, seeking insight into the faith of another through greater appreciation of one’s own faith, has often led us to the need for deeper insight into our own faith traditions and the acknowledgement that what separates one faith tradition from another can also separate receptions of one’s own faith tradition from the receptions of others in the same faith tradition.  This includes: the attitude of already possessing all of truth, the attitude of religious superiority, the attitude of “othering” all those who do not share your attitude, the attitude that because of one’s claimed oneness with Truth or oneness with the Will of God the other is worthy of contempt, ridicule, punishment, violence and even death.  The rationale is: the human who is not truly religious in the way that I am is not fully human.

Therefore, today’s increasingly-acknowledged urgent need not only for inter-religious or inter-faith dialogue, but also for intra-religious or intra-faith dialogue.  As Muslims and Christians seek to find their way to closer understanding and respect for each other in the other’s privileged ways of worshipping the one God, both Muslims and Christian are also invited to find deeper insights into various receptions within their particular faith traditions in the hope that the deeper one delves into the truth of a particular reception the more one finds unity with the God whose oneness unites, and does not divide, whose holiness sanctifies, and does not desecrate, whose compassion uplifts, and does not degrade.  In both inter- and intra-religious dialogue we are invited to prostrate ourselves before the God of Truth to admit in humility that the truth of our lives has fallen short of the truth of his will, and that we worship too often with empty words and gestures rather than in the surrender of our hearts to the divine will.  We are invited to notice that before this God of Truth we have no monopoly on truth, and no warrant to monopolize truth, and certainly no need to speak and act as if we were Truth.  We are also invited to notice, accept and even cherish that one who worships God in another religious tradition or in another reception of my faith tradition may be blessed with profound access to the Divine Truth, which I am moved to admire in praising the inscrutable ways God works with his creatures, often in manners which go beyond anything I have been trained to expect.

So we come together today in an exercise of both inter- and intra-religious dialogue.  We are profoundly grateful that through the Al Qalam Institutie distinguished leaders of Islam in the Mindanao are here, Ulama, Asatidz, and Muslim leaders of the civic community.  Similarly, we are grateful for the presence of Fr. Felix Koerner, SJ, of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, a Catholic theologian and scholar of Islamic Studies who has agreed to be the lead discussant for this Pakighinabi.  We are also grateful for the participants present from the Christian Faith Tradition, from the different Christian churches, from the local Catholic church led by its Archbishop Romulo Valles, and for those who are here, Muslims and Christians together, who in the name of God, pray, yearn and work together for peace.

Through this dialogue may we in our diversity all come closer to the one God and his peace.

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Intra-religious Dialogue:
How a Faith Tradition Can Rediscover Its Unity

Felix Körner, S.J.

Fr Korner.jpgThank you for the invitation to share these moments of pakighinabi with you. Last week, I spoke to Catholic theologians at the Redemptorists’ Davao theologate called SATMI (St. Alphonsus Theological & Mission Institute); my lecture was on inter-religious dialogue. Now, Fr. Joel Tabora and his co- workers at Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia invited me to speak on intra-religious dialogue. Some of my Muslim friends, in my home country, but also elsewhere, in Indonesia, Syria and Turkey, for example, have shared their pain with me about Islam’s lack of inner unity. Now, as a German, and as a Christian, I am also looking back to a history of religious divisions. In Europe, processes of reconciliation have become fruitful in the last years. Coming from there, I have prepared ten theses. Afterwards, you may discuss my theses. I hope that my experience, research and reflection may be an inspiring contribution for a helpful afternoon, although I am an outsider—or maybe, because I am an outsider: helpful, I hope, for each one of you, for the communities you repre- sent, and also for myself; and since in the discussion you will speak about your past experience and future hopes, today’s encounter may also be helpful on the inter-religious level. That is my hope and prayer this afternoon.

  1. Healing memory
    Thesis: Reconciliation requires “healing of memory.”

500 years ago, Western Christendom fell apart. Martin Luther’s “Reformation” was meant to renew Christianity. He and other Reformers wanted to return to the loving, convincing, Gospel-shaped beginnings of the Church. The outcome of that attempt to renew the Church, however, was to split the Church: Catholics over against Protestants. In my home country both groups are equally strong in numbers and influence. Last year, they wrote an impressive text together. We do not want to “cele- brate” the Reformation, because it had regrettable effects: loss of unity, loss of credibility—and indeed loss of many lives. We do not want to celebrate the Reformation, but it is an important anniversary. So together, we found the formula that we “commemorate the Reformation.” The 2016 document propo- ses a long-tested methodology called the “healing of memory.” This title refers to two things at the same time.

  • First we are all, even after 500 years, still carrying wounds in our memories which need healing: “healing of memory” means “let our memories find ”
  • Second, however, also: memory is the way for the future: “healing of memory” means “healing by digesting the past.” Memory, remembering is important for the process of our

So, the point is not “let us simply forget what has happened.” One cannot decide to forget, anyway; likewise, forgiving is not an option, it is a process. The whole world was able to learn from South Africa after apartheid. It is from Nelson Mandela’s wisdom that we learned the methodology called the “healing of memory.” We will only get lasting peace if we dare to look at what happened, what was done, by whom; not in order to cut new wounds but in order to allow the old ones to heal. Two former enemies were able to prepare this year’s “commemoration” together. In that process, they had three insights.

  • We cannot get rid of the scars; but healing means: to arrive at a time when the scars do not hurt any more.
  • We cannot change the past; but we can change the effects the past has on
  • And: we need not tell two conflicting stories. We were, rather, finally able to tell the story of our separation

These are three insights of humility and maturity. How come that century-old enemies were suddenly able to get reconciled? That brings us to our next three theses. They all have to do with memory.

2. Europe: continent of war?
What made such a historic reconciliation possible? The first answer is terrible:
Thesis: Reconciliation grew out of the horrors of wars.

The continent that seemed to be the homeland of Christendom had become the homeland of wars. Nations that were traditionally Christian were brutally fighting against each other. After 1945, however, there was a shared will for reconciliation among the nations and within the one Christian religion.

How? Here, I want to mention three factors that refer especially to my own nation, to Germany.

Trenches In the battle fields, soldiers feared together, fought together and died together, Catholics and Protestants: and they saw the reliability of the comrade, the humanity of that other guy, indeed often also the patriotism and the faith of that member of that other denomination. Before the World Wars, many Germans did not have any contact with the other Christian group. Catholics had thought the other cannot be a real believer and Protestants had thought the other cannot be a real German.

Migration After World War II, millions of Germans lost their homes in the East of Europe and had to flee to Germany’s West. Formerly separated denominational groups were now forced to live together; churches of the “other” were now built, mentalities of the “other” were now visible. Suddenly, Ger- mans had to get used to living in areas with almost equal numbers of Protestants and Catholics.

Responsibility The most horrible war, World War II, was started by Germany. We acknowledge that  we are carrying heavy guilt and that we have caused in the years until 1945 more than 12 million deaths, in concentration camps, in armed combat, and even in people’s homes. You might say that I am not responsible of that because I was born almost 20 years after the war; but we say, and I think that is exactly right: today’s Germans are in fact responsible of that. I am not saying “I am guilty of the Nazi crimes” but I am responsible; responsible in two senses:

  • I and my fellow Germans today are responsible in front of those victims who only now come and ask for recognition of their suffering, like the thousands of prisoners of war who are still alive and were exploited, abused, de-humanised by
  • Second, I and my co-nationals are responsible for the future: we have to educate people to overcome prejudice and polarisation, we have to unmask and denounce selfish nationalism, totalitarianism, tribalism and

The painful post-war repentance gave us a new sense of responsibility. That also opened the doors to another view on the role of our faith in today’s world.

3. For all humanity

The unprecedented sufferings, traumas, deaths, and the continuing threat to global peace after World War II changed the priorities in many Christians, including their theologians and leaders. The nuclear menace and the cries of millions of hungry and unfree people put the former inner-Christian quarrels about doctrine into a different light. We Christians started asking ourselves whether we had no other things to say and show to the world. Are we, the followers of Christ, King of Peace, only another group of infighters? Do we not have, in the Good News that God is the Father of all, a great message urgently needed today? Can we, as the one Church that overcomes old discord not become a light of hope, an example of reconciliation for other conflicts? Suddenly, we Christians felt that we had lost time and energy in condemning the belief of a fellow Christian, rather than seeing in it an enriching perspective on our common faith. Our fellow human beings’ cries for help made us understand that we Christians can actually work together and grow into what we were meant to be from the beginning as one great faith community: the leaven, enzyme, catalyst of humanity’s unification.

Already some decades before World War II, some Christians had tried to uncover an old idea that, however, had not found much resonance among Catholic leaders first: the coming together, the growing together of the long separated Christian communities. The project’s name re-awakened a Greek term of the early Christian self-understanding. The term translates “all humanity”: oikoumenē. That is the origin of the words “ecumenical” and “ecumenism”: intra-religious dialogue. In the face of the 20th Century’s horrors, Christians had finally rediscovered that they have greater challenges than keeping their profile clear of their fellow Christians. Our responsibility in a world in which many resort to the quick solution, must be a testimony of patient work for unity rather than an emotional condemnation of the other. Therefore my third thesis:

Thesis: The sense of unity grows within a religion if it feels how its origins call it to responsibility in today’s world.

Responsibility also means that we believers have to respond to the questions and needs of the people around us. We are losing time and credibility, we are losing lives if we focus on how wrong the other is and how right I am. Precision in faith questions is important; but it also requires precision in understanding what Christians from other traditions are really saying. If we can speak again as believers who understand each other, we can be responsible: we can speak with one voice and respond to the questions, desires and needs of our young. Only then we can transmit our faith’s meaningful message to them.

4. Identity in sensibility

When I look at young clergy in today’s Europe and then at the now old priests, I presently see less enthusiasm for dialogue with others. For some incoming European Church leaders, the most import- ant concern seems to be “our own side.” Why is that so? Well, for one, the memories of the War are fading, and people forget what we were able to learn from it; but there is another reason: today, many Christians see their identity in danger.

This is the identity trap! Because the many options of modern life seem to challenge us to clarify our own identity. Now the quick answer becomes attractive, a magic formula, the “safe way to your safe profile,” a short definition. The problem is that a real identity lives without a self-definition. It requires patience and sensibility, because one cannot put it in words: identity needs to be experienced. How can we experience it? First,

  • in a life of reading and learning, discussion and reflection we sense our tradition’s growth in history and its place in history; and I sense that my own story and future are shaped from many sources, religious and cultural ones—in other words: I can experience my identity in an ever continued education; that also leads me to a second source: we can experience our identity
  • in prayer life, when we sense that God has a call for us, a future for us—thus, out of joyful grati- tude our hearts will be shaped; and from there,
  • in our active life, by serving God and our fellow creatures and now sense the confirmation: “yes, that is our call from God, that is who we are really meant to be.”

Texts, signs, vestments, rituals, prohibitions: all those can be helps in living my particular identity; but those exterior markers must not come from my individual decision and must not lead to my self- distinction over against other believers, whom I want to consider as less pious than myself. We cannot use such markers as if they were an identity technology, a tool against the culture we reject. Rather, we can only receive such traditions and thus enter into the mutual process of transformation: we are being transformed by our religious culture and thus we will also develop it further. It is tempting to let our identity be designed by modern standards of visibility, performance and success. If I let my iden- tity symbols be dictated by someone’s simple formula, what I will have is yet another brand on the global market—a religion like Nike or Apple, rather than a living tradition.

Thesis: Believers will not be attracted by simplistic offers of self-definition or self- demarcation, if they come to sense their identity in learning, praying and serving.

5. Fullness still ahead

When a Protestant in Germany becomes a Catholic, some of my fellow Catholics comment: finally he understood where the only true Church is. That is actually not the attitude of Jesus. If we have the sense of Christ, we know that our own faith community is not yet what it is meant to be.

Thesis: Acknowledging that my own faith community is not yet perfect opens me to acknowledging the other.

Many have heard of the great worldwide renewal process with its events and texts of 1963–1965, the “Second Vatican Council” also known as “Vatican II.” Until Vatican II, we Catholics said that the only ecumenism is the ecumenism of return; in other words: there is no other way to Church unity—the others have to come back to us. Now we know, this is wrong. Ecumenism, finding together, is not looking back but forward. None of us was perfect in the past, none of us is perfect now; but in this process of coming ever more together we can all heal. That is also why the reunification of separate communities from the same religion is not a compromise. It is, rather, becoming more completely what we are meant to be: in richness, tolerance and the joy of a growing integration; joy also about the other. That brings us to the next thesis.

6. The gift of the other

The opening of the Reformations’s commemorations happened in Lund, in Sweden. It came as a big surprise that there was a special Catholic guest: Pope Francis was there. On that occasion he said something remarkable. Actually he did not simply say it, he prayed it: “O Holy Spirit: help us to rejoice in the gifts that have come to the Church through the Reformation.” We can see the individual reli- gious other as a gift; we can see this other tradition of our own faith as a gift, and we can even see that God’s wisdom has brought good things out of that what we felt, for centuries, to be only the source of disunity.

Thesis: The other is a gift we can rejoice in—the person who lives a competing tradition, but also that other community, that other style of living our faith.

The new interest in the Bible, hymns in peoples’ own languages, a good preaching, well-educated clergy, and even the humility we all gained in seeing that we ourselves cannot bring about our intra- religious unity: all those effects of the Reformation are gifts which we can now cherish as signs of God’s generosity, God’s way of purifying us, God’s challenging us, God’s gifting us.

Beyond this joyful tone, however, more is to be learned from the demanding inspiration of the present Pope, Francis:

7. The pain of the other

In 2014, the Pope travelled to Jerusalem and met the Grand Mufti Muḥammad Aḥmad Ḥusayn there. In the holy city, he also said something remarkable. To sense its challenge you have to imagine that everything expressed on that occasion was to be heard also on the background of the Israeli–Palesti- nian conflict. Francis called out: “Let us learn to understand the pain of the other.” That must be my seventh message!

Thesis: We must learn to understand the pain of the other, too.

In the Holy Land, the two conflicting parties cannot tell their history together. They will both say: we are the victims of humanity’s most inhumane suffering; the whole world is siding with our enemy; we want peace but the others frustrate every attempt to live together; because of their unreliability a serious dialogue is impossible. Both will say all this. And both have good reasons. Any advancement is blocked, any solution is deadlocked. In this context, and to all of us, Francis gives this risky direction: dare to sense what the other has gone through.

What good can come out of that? You will be a greater human being. You will not be blinded by small-minded jealousy; as if the other was so privileged and you were the real loser! You will be opened to new ideas, to constructive proposals, to a new vision of what real life is: it is, first of all, not that the other has to disappear. The other will be around; and, yes, that is not easy.

8. Differentiated Consensus

Now, so far, my theses sounded like the proposals of a mediator who comes from outside, they soun- ded pragmatic and as if the faith contents of the religious traditions played no role in solving the conflict. But I am a theologian, and I do think that the teaching of my faith tradition, my religious community is true. Therefore, I will also show you the method Protestants and Catholics use when they write documents of agreement in the hard questions of foundational teaching.

Thesis: In an agreement, the concern of the other must be expressed.

If we want to reach unity, our best experts, our greatest faith teachers must come together, too; and that is what has been happening between Catholics and Protestants (I keep using this example). These Christian specialists produce texts. They are documents of outstanding quality. That is so because they follow an excellent methodology. It is called “Differentiated Consensus.” It does not mean they formu- late a compromise. In our most existential themes, we do not want compromise. To avoid this, the method of “Differentiated Consensus” was developed. It proceeds in three steps.

  • First, both parties say how they can express a central faith question in wording that is acceptable for both. After all, we both belong to the same religion. So that must be possible; but that is not enough.
  • Then, each party expresses why they have a different tradition in speaking about this question, why they set different accents, utter different pre-occupations, underline the importance of their profile: they write down their particular “concerns.”
  • Finally, after listening to the others’ concerns and listing them in the document, both parties again write together, declaring that those concerns do not cancel the common formula found at the beginning.

A dialogue that follows this rule will often take different rounds until the right expression is found for the common faith formula. Once found, however, it is a solid basis for the future. It is so strong for three reasons. It understands that

  • unity is not uniformity;
  • our faith has always had room for variance, cultural differences, for a certain plurality;
  • we can distinguish between essential belief, and contrasting perspectives on

9. Face – side – back

Is there a lifestyle in which a lasting co-existence can grow? My formula is the following.

Thesis: Living together in mutual understanding flourishes when we have moments of face-to-face, of side-by-side, and of back-to-back.

We need to sit together, to talk about our past, to hear the pain of the other, to listen to the others’ differing understanding and practice, to go through the story of our separation, to allow the memory heal us and to rejoice in the gift of the other. That is the “face to face.” Apart from that, we also need other moments of togetherness: we need to work in a common project. First of all, as faith communi- ties, this is, of course, shaping this world together in the way that is inspired by our common faith— especially, passing our faith on to the young. Also, charity work is a great ground for such coming together; but sometimes the task can be much simpler. Psychologists recount stories where conflicting youth groups were brought to a summer camp and till the last day the discussions lead to no agre- ement. When they left, rather disappointed, their bus had a puncture. Suddenly, all had to work together, and suddenly they felt who the others’ talents were urgently needed: working “side by side.” This dimension also comes in when we speak together to outsiders, or the society, to the world—it is good to have one voice, then. Finally, it is an all-changing experience when we can stand as one united community before our Lord: when we can pray together.

With the “face to face” and the “side by side” experience always in our hearts, we can, thirdly, have times of “back to back.” There will be things we do not do together: we may have different litur- gies or different teaching sessions. It is a sign of trust that we allow the others to have their space for themselves. In Turkish, “the one standing back to back with me” is arkadaş—that is the word for “friend.” You trust your friend back there, although you do not see him; but together, you have the full-circle perspective.

10. Islam’s  own resources

The Second Vatican Council showed why Christians should be in favour of freedom in questions of religion. This is no lack of conviction of our faith; quite to the contrary. Freedom of religion is, rather, religious freedom: it follows from our faith. We promote a state that leaves its citizens free to choose their religious believes, or not to believe, or not to choose. Why does that follow from our faith? Faith is a willing, loving “yes” to God—and as such, it requires the space of freedom in which such a truly loving “yes” can be given.

So far, I have spoken out of Christian experience, indeed as a Christian theologian. As a person grateful for having found many Muslim friends, I might also give some hints at Islam’s own traditions of Muslim–Muslim understanding and unity-in-diversity. I mention nine points leading to the last, my tenth, thesis.

  1. The Koran’s fundamental intention is to call everyone to conversion to the one and only God. So, the Koran speaks to free persons, free to take their own life
  2. The Koran’s vision of the Muslims is for them to be the “middle community” and thus God’s “witnesses to all human beings” (šuhadāʾ ʿalā n-nās, al-Baqara 2:143).
  3. The Koran is, however, well aware of the dangers of Its way of dealing with quarrels in faith questions is to remind the dissenters of their common ground. In the Koran itself, that refers to Jews and Christians (Āl ʿImrān 3:64) but the principle holds for inner-Islamic quarrel- ling as well: agree on what is your common ground but do not strive for uniformity!
  4. Inner-Islamic dissent in questions of belief was, from early on, mixed with struggles for political power. Every generation has to uncover the politics behind
  5. An old Islamic motto says that salvation is in the community (ǧamāʿa). That word can be a good orientation, because it might mean, not only “in the group, over against the individual” or “in the big group, rather than in some sect,” but also: that the way to paradise is to go “in ”
  6. What the early rulers normally avoided was to declare dissenting Muslims to be unbelievers (takfīr: mark out as kuffār). They did not want to get obliged to start a religious war against them.
  7. The classical Sunni rule to have four different legal schools (maḏāhib) active in the same place is a model of visible unity in
  8. Today, we remember the due respect the 2004 ʿAmmān Message and its concrete “Three Points” of the following year found on the side of both Muslims and non-Muslims (www.ammanmes- com).
  9. The Marrakesh Declaration of 2016 had many Muslim groups speak with one voice, jointly commemorating an event, here, celebrating 1400 years since the Charter of Medina and accep- ting the concept of citizenship as basis for each person’s rights (

Consequently, my tenth and final thesis must be:

Thesis: The Muslim umma is meant as a testimony for all humanity; Islam’s foundation, tradition and presence has its own resources for intra-religious harmony.

Felix Körner ( is a German Jesuit priest. He holds a doctorate in Islamic Studies and has spent parts of his life in Muslim majority countries (Syria, Turkey). After his second doctorate, in Catholic dogmatics, he was called to the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome: an academic institution founded in 1553 by Ignatius of Loyola and now known for its mission to form future leaders of the universal Church from more than 120 countries. Father Körner lectures on the Catholic faith (theology of the sacraments), on intra-Christian dialogue and Muslim–Christian relations. He is a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue’s “Commission for religious relations with Muslims.”

Talking points:

Beyond enmity. When did I feel that the other is not our enemy but a fellow believer?

Needed together. Which responsibility do we have, as one religion, in our region, our country, our world today?

The other’s pain. Can I already feel that members of other groups of my religion have suffered from what we have done to them?


Society and Politics. What are the root causes for radicalisation, tribalism and group hatred? Formation. How must religious education change so that conflicts within my own religion end? Consider that it is never enough to just tell the young what they should do. Which reasons, motiva- tions, examples, spaces for healing experience can we provide?





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