Response to an Evening of Tribute and Farewell. 20 Mar 2011
First of all, I would like to thank you all for being here tonight. I know you are all busy people. Yet, you have come from different sectors of society – Mayor Bongat of Naga, the mayors from our outreach communities – and different parts of the Philippines at that. I feel very honored.
Second, I would like to thank the organizers. This Tribute has clearly been long in the making. Putting it together, preparing the venue, the animated film, the videos, the song-and-dance numbers, the personal testimonials from different sectors of the university, the many gifts, including the compilation of my own speeches and homilies, has cost much, much imagination, planning, organization, practice, coordination. Most especially I thank Ms. Dada Alarkon, the chief organizer. If all this was done because of a certain love for me, I assure you, the love is felt. And deeply appreciated.
Third, I have been trying to distract myself from the pain of separation by looking forward to the challenges of my future work in Ateneo de Davao. All our Ateneos belong to the same educational mission, so there is a certain sameness in them all. On the other hand, each of the Ateneos is different, the Ateneo de Davao quite different from the Ateneo de Naga. Yet, I cannot help it: whenever I look to the future, I am brought to the past; whenever I look to future tasks, I am brought back to what has been achieved here, and the hopes that in the future perhaps these too might be appreciated and appropriated at the Ateneo de Davao. Among these is the close personal contact between the President and his community, governance that is based on subsidiarity and empowerment through a Council of Administrators, a willingness to use available resources for the good of the school and its community, the creation of dynamic academic, research, and social involvement councils in creative tension with each other to fulfill the triple function of the university, the creation of a compensation package based on instruction, research and social involvement, a close collaboration with the local Church, and, most important of all, a commitment to the mission of the school based on a shared spirituality, and a formation program that supports that spirituality.
Fourth, the pain of separation is of course assuaged by our accomplishments together in the past twelve years, and an enduring satisfaction which comes with these. Our accomplishments: I use the first person plural possessive intentionally. I claim no credit for anything like the build-out of the physical plant, the transfer of the high school to Pacol, the dedication of the Bagumbayan campus to tertiary education, the aggressive upgrading of faculty through the faculty formation program, the improvement of our libraries and laboratories, the achievement of higher levels of accreditation, the achievement of autonomous status, and the PAASCU institutional accreditation, without the dedicated and loyal collaboration of all the administrators, faculty, staff and students of AdNU. Once on the brink of closure, our university has re-emerged as an educational leader for the benefit of Bicol, but also for the benefit of education in the entire Philippines. This has been possible and only possible through the dedicated professional teamwork that has emerged over the years. For this I am most grateful.
Among the accomplishments that I consider ours are the inroads we have made in serving our city, the region and the nation. This especially through the strengthened alliances we have forged through the Bikol Association of Catholic Schools, the Bikol Foundation for Higher Education (represented tonight by its President, Dr. Fay Lauraya), the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines and the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations. With you, and those of you who are here from our allied schools, we have been able to agree on our particular interests, or on the general interests of the nation, and we have been able together to push them. We didn’t win them all. But we won many of them! That was only possible through the collaboration and mutual support that we found together. For this I am deeply grateful.
But, fifth and finally, gratitude cannot be confined to professional teamwork. There are those who would like to strictly separate the professional sphere from the personal, the public from the private. That separation is also drawn here at the Ateneo de Naga. But separating these can be done variously: through impenetrable walls of concrete and steel, or through light curtains that catch the sunlight and flutter in the wind. I think, what is used at Ateneo de Naga are light curtains, so that the professional and the personal pass through the curtains to and fro, and people are appreciated not only for what they accomplish for the university, but for who they really are as they work to realize their inner calling and personal responsibilities: to raise their families, to struggle to make ends meet, to overcome the communication gaps between loved ones, to fight the various illnesses which threaten life, to battle the doubts, loneliness and fears that sometimes gnaw away within, and bring clouds or rain to an otherwise sunny day. It is, I think, through this light curtain that people at work have been found and nurtured friends at AdNU, and that some of them have even moved from friendships to marriage. For me, this is the most precious gift I have encountered here at Ateneo – friends who have embraced the university mission from within, as the university has embraced them in gratitude. It has been a deep personal privilege to witness this here, even as I myself have found friends and have been befriended. I have found love, and have been loved. It is this fact, I think, that makes parting “such sweet sorrow.” You become a friend because of your strengths, but also because of your shortcomings. You give and you take, but the feeling is almost always that you receive more than you give. The network of these friendships is the precious treasure of Ateneo de Naga, the secret soul of its endurance and resiliency.
It is, at its core, a friendship in the Lord. We do not walk alone. We walk with the Lord. And we live from an intimacy with him that allows us to continue to affirm our shared mission – called to his mission, even though we are sinners. You know: I am a sinner, and this evening, even as you bring tribute to me, I ask you for forgive me my shortcomings and my sins. It is not the case that we have solved all the problems, especially the people problems. Many I did not find the wisdom to solve, nor the energy to address. Often, I myself was the problem, managing my own temper, my own “pagtatampo,” or my over-quick judgments, or my own personal craving or need for recognition or love. These I ask you to forgive, as friends understand and forgive. In the end, what Fr. De la Costa wrote when he tried to answer the question “What is a Jesuit today?” is so true: “[To be a Jesuit] is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus, as Ignatius was…” (GC 32, D2,1).
We walk with the Lord as friends, even though our paths may part, necessitated by his mission. Remember the incredible friendship in the Lord between the two Jesuit first companions, Ignatius and Xavier, that allowed Ignatius to send him on mission to the most distant regions of the world? He knew they would probably no longer see one another again. But he sent him readily, with generosity and equanimity, knowing it was the mission of the Lord. The distance was embraced in friendship, but also overcome in friendship. Then it was the distance between Rome and India, the Malaccas, Japan, and almost China. Today, as I am sent, it is only the distance between Naga and Davao! No matter the distance, however, wherever or whenever we walk and labor in the Lord, our friendship with Him remains, as in Him our friendship with each other remains.
So, dear friends…in the Lord, on this beautiful evening, thank you! Thank you for the Ateneo de Naga University that you are! Thank you, friends of the Ateneo de Naga!
In Him, let’s continue to pray for each other.