New Challenges in the New Semester

[Address to College Faculty Assembly,12 November 2012]

There are many things new at the beginning of this semester. We praise the Lord for our new Filipino saint and martyr, San Pedro Calungsod, a product of Jesuit catechesis, and lay kaabag to the missionary Jesuit Bl. Diego Luis de San Vitores; both were martyred bringing the faith to the Chamoros of Guam. We rejoice in the appointment of a new Filipino Cardinal, Luis Antonio “Chito” Cardinal Tagle, DD. , whom many are already whispering may become Pope (while Danny Huang in Rome becomes the Black Pope!). In the wake of the celebration of the XIII Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, we welcome the celebration of a new Year of Faith with all of its profound challenges. We join our hopes to the hopes of the nation for lasting peace and steady prosperity in Mindanao through the new Bangsamoro Peace Framework. We welcome the election anew of the President of the USA, and pray for greater social justice and peace not only in the USA but in the entire world. We also welcome the election of the new President of China, Xi Jin Ping, and hope through his leadership for greater global prosperity and regional peace. We look forward to the prospect of the new local elections in 2013, and pray that it be especially marked by our new shared concern for the environment. In this context, I am happy to announce I am now a new voter of Davao, and I am happy to welcome our faculty, staff, administrators and especially our students to a new semester of SY 2012-13!

We are happy also because we have a new Academic Vice President, Fr. Gaby Gonzalez, S.J., to replace Dr. Jessie Manuta, who had to resign for reasons of health. We also have a new Director of the Office of Student Affairs, Ms. Theresa “Bimbay” Eliab, even as we thank Mr. Rikki Enriquez for his many years of dedicated service in that position. Today, I also wish to announce the appointment of Ms. Beth Arcena as new chair of the ADDU Leadership Center to replace Fr. Kim Lachica who will focus on his work as Campus Minister for Faculty, Staff and Administrators.

I am also happy to share with you that, as approved by the Board of Trustees last Saturday, we will be pro-actively pursuing a situation where ADDU might become a major center of higher Catholic theological learning in Mindanao, even as Al Qalam builds out its capability to preside over Islamic Studies, including courses to promote Islamic theology. The extraordinary opportunity comes with the necessity of regularizing an unusual situation where ADDU to this date confers higher theological degrees on graduates of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) practically without genuine academic supervision on our part. To rectify this situation, we will be incorporating the SATMI operation into the operation of the University. With this incorporation, the challenge is to further integrate into this effort the theological resources of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missionaries (PIME), as well as of St. John Ma. Vianney Seminary and of Loyola School of Theology. We look forward to a situation where a living dialogue between Catholic theology and Islamic theology in Mindanao might be promoted already within our university walls.

Also, with the approval of the Board of Trustees, we will be working on the establishment by 2014 of a new basic education campus in the Lapanday Properties Philippines Inc. (LPPI) Ciudades Development in Buhangin, North Davao. This is, on the one hand, the negotiated result of a donation of 11 has. and 50 million pesos by LPPI to ADDU to partner with them in this development; on the other hand, it is the result of an SBG study that insists that the demand for ADDU basic education in the north of Davao is high. Part of the plan is to build standard classrooms for children in Grades one to twelve, but for early learners, namely, Play School, Nursery and Kindergarten, instead of staid classrooms a “children’s village” complete with cottages, sand boxes, wading fountains, and interactive games. We are hoping that this Children’s Village will be extraordinarily child friendly, fun, close to nature and outstanding in pedagogical games and gimmicks designed to teach the students early about science and technology.

Being able to expand our number of ADDU basic education graduates in the long term will improve the quality of our students on the tertiary level. This is a project, however, that can prosper only with the preparation of competent teachers and administrators in basic education. It is a project that I hope our School of Education can take to heart and contribute to substantially – already beginning with this semester. For our basic education schools, both in Ciudades as well as in Matina, we need to form a new phalanx of young, idealistic, competent teachers.

Towards Upgrade in Academic Atmosphere

We would be willing to support this effort with new scholarships. The percentage of students on some form of scholarship in the colleges today is 12.35 percent. We need to raise that to twenty percent. New scholarships, I believe, which are funded by the operation of the University and the fruits of the A-1 Scholarship program, must be granted not only on the personal choices of the scholars, but on the vision and mission of the university. This means that scholarship grants will be based on educating and forming young men and women for service in the university or crucial service in an economy of Mindanao where study opportunities are undersubscribed in the market. For instance, where we are committed by mission to service of the faith, promotion of justice, cultural sensitivity and transformation, and inter-religious dialogue, we will allocate scholarships for such as religious education or Catholic theology, for studies in the social sciences, literature or law, for anthropology, or for Islamic studies. Where we are called on to generate wealth and equitably distribute it, we will grant scholarships in the natural sciences, in all branches of engineering, and in education as well as in all fields of study with a firm commitment to education.

With these scholarships we also hope to upgrade the academic atmosphere of our studentry, and to organize the scholars and students creatively so that they can optimize their academic performance even as they grow in what we referred to last semester as Ateneo de Davao University leadership sui generis. Unto these ends, I wish earnestly to implore all our faculty members to reflect on their vocation to be teachers of students who will be key players in society of tomorrow. I ask you to be teachers of excellence; I ask all formators to renew their personal commitment to be formers of freedom. I ask you all to help our students to roundly reject intellectual dishonesty, shun intellectual mediocrity, and strive for excellence in the pursuit of truth with personal integrity and appropriate academic discipline. I ask that this be done from day one of year one in any ADDU course of studies, modeled by your own love for your disciplines and your own commitment to academic excellence, and not to pass students into higher years or into the world who have not achieved what they ought to achieve under your tutelage. Where our mission is to find God in truth, and in God to pursue justice, and in justice to profoundly appreciate life, and in life to celebrate the diverse manners in which humankind relates to God in worship, we cannot be party to the formation of a generation of slothful individuals who have no powers of personal reflection, no sensitivity for the appropriate, who cannot think for themselves, who have no genuine mastery of their professional disciplines, who cut and paste and steal the ideas and formulations of others rather than think sharply, express themselves precisely, and argue their thoughts with tenacity. I ask you to teach your students zealously – to the point where they discover the thrill of learning, and themselves hate all forms of academic cheating, intellectual thievery, plagiarism, and the like. We have just had to deal with a group of seniors who have been found guilty of plagiarism. As determined by the Disciplinary Council they will have to pay for their error. What I ask all to reflect on is whether we do enough to teach students how to think critically and creatively for themselves, or how to properly cite sources of their ideas. What I fear is that such students in fourth year may have submitted paper after paper in the past without proper citations, without it having been corrected. We certainly do not want a situation where intellectual dishonesty and academic slovenliness are embedded in our university culture.

I hope instead for a university culture where structures make joy in discovery and service to others based on a nurtured commitment to ongoing reflection on the common good endemic to our university culture. This is the challenge I articulated last semester towards ADDU Leadership sui generis. Our vision and mission with its commitment to faith, justice, cultural sensitivity, interreligious dialogue, leadership formation, the creation of wealth and its equitable distribution, the support of local communities, environmental protection, renewable energy and educational reform already outline an idea of the common good. With your help and guidance, our students must learn to deal with the push and pull of these facets of the common good and to articulate effectively the call of the common good today. Where the creation of wealth demands stable peace and order, for example, how does this square with a type of governance that undermines the judiciary in its imposition of punishment? On the other hand, where a judiciary is inefficient and corrupt, how do members of society and the productive engines in society protect themselves against thieves and lawless forces? Where investment is needed to create jobs, how do these investments and jobs contribute to or militate against a healthy environment? I submit we must work hard and work together at the creation of a university culture that supports the development of leaders based on an ongoing commitment to reflection on the common good, a commitment on the other hand that is possible because the reflection on the common good is ongoing and endemic to our university culture. Unto this end, the Leadership Center will be giving us input and guidance in the near future.

The Year of Faith: New Evangelization

We are happy that during the XIII Ordinary Assembly of Synod of Bishops in Rome Pope Benedict XVI surprised us all with the appointment of Abp. Jose Luis “Chito” Tagle to the College of Cardinals. Chito is a product of San Jose Seminary and still a professor of Loyola School of Theology, where I have left part of my life. He also continues his weekly televised commentaries on the Sunday Mass readings from Scripture in the Word Exposed which I listen to whenever possible.

But it is what happened at the Synod which proclaimed the Year of Faith that concerns us more directly. The Year of Faith, which lasts from October 11, 2012 to Nov 24, 2013 and commemorates the commencement of the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago and the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church twenty years ago, is, according to Pope Benedict XVI, “a summons to the authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the World.” Treated at the synod was the challenge to “New Evangelization,” a challenge whose consequences for ADDU we must understand.

In his homily at the concluding Mass of the Synod, the Pope articulated three pastoral themes of the Synod which may be helpful to us: The first “concerns the sacraments of Christian initiation” – Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist, and the concern that through the sacraments people come to a genuine encounter with the living God; the second concerns evangelization “to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ” and the concern that people go out of their way to introduce Jesus to people who do not know him; the third “concerns the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism” and the concern that the baptized are increasingly numb to the inspirations of the faith. New Evangelization must certainly push us to more authentically encounter Jesus in the sacraments of initiation, especially in the Eucharist, just as it must motivate us to share our faith with those who have not yet met Jesus Christ. But, considering the large number of baptized people in our University and in our society, the challenge of the Synod and the Year of Faith may need to be focused on the baptized, and the need to re-evangelize those who already do belong to the Church but have meanwhile fallen away from its life-giving mainstream.

Clearly, in this Filipino, Catholic and Jesuit University, we share responsibility for forming our students in the faith. We do this through our own 12-unit program of mandatory religious education plus an array of formative activities like retreats, recollections, talks and individual counseling. Yet we must ask: where are we in the formation of faith in our students? Where are we in helping them encounter Jesus Christ and live authentically in the communion of his disciples? Do we help them to practice their faith maturely? Do we succeed in mediating such a vibrant faith that our students commit themselves seamlessly from faith to the pursuit of justice and inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue? Or do we find a disconnect between the baptism that one acknowledges and the life that one leads, a disjoint between the hope of being “baptized into the suffering and death of the Lord” and the stoic secularity that craves initiation and immersion in the world of comfort, fashion and pleasure? One is baptized into the Church but feels increasing distance from the values it represents; one is baptized into the truth of the Church, but is happy to set this aside to seek truth in the media, the social media, the world of gadgets and quick downloaded wisdom, and in one’s particular set of friends. In religious education, one is more interested in the teacher’s manner of teaching than in the teacher’s lessons, one is more interested in the human evangelist than in the evangelium, the Gospel message itself. One is Christian, but feels it okay to put together one’s own set of moral maxims and norms, or feels it precisely Christian to transcend the recognized norms of tradition and foray into “Christian imperatives” of reproductive health, gay, lesbian and transgender acceptability, and women who are ordained priests, and priests who are married.

In this reflection, since most of us are baptized, we must ask ourselves: How goes it with our own faith? Do we love Jesus, or is this God-man figure merely part of a meaning-bestowing myth that can indeed be replaced by other meaning-bestowing myths? How are we believers as scientists who can engage in conversation other scientists who know about the origin and future of the Milky Way? We are baptized, but what does this really have to do with the problems we have making ends meet, allowing our child to go on the excursion he wants to join, and eventually to take the college course he wishes to choose. We are baptized but how does that help me break the painful communication gap between ourselves and our children, or between myself and my estranged friend?

Crucial for New Evangelization for our students is that we grasp ourselves as evangelizers ourselves, needy for our own renewal in the profundity that our baptism brings us. It is a renewal, I think, that shall find ourselves anew in a most personal conversation with the Crucified Lord saying: “If this is what you have done for me in love, what is it that I have done for you? What am I doing for you? What ought I do for you?” If that leads us to a resolve to better prepare our classes, to apply ourselves to the research we have begun, to protest against civilian lives wasted by the military, and military lives wasted by rebels, to return from a tepid and disengaged life of faith to a more conscious walking of our campus with the Lord, so that it is possible for me to engage our students in conversation credibly about the faith, perhaps we might in this manner be taking up the challenges of New Evangelization.

From the “Message to the People of God of the last Synod” allow me two brief citations:

“A field in which the light of the Gospel must shine in order to illuminate humanity’s footsteps is politics. Politics requires a commitment of selfless and sincere care for the common good by fully respecting the dignity of the human person from conception to natural end, honoring the family founded by the marriage of a man and a woman and protecting academic freedom; by removing the causes of injustice, inequality, discrimination, violence, racism, hunger and war. Christians are asked to give a clear witness to the precept of charity in the exercise of politics” (no.11).

The critical articulation of what the common good is, however, in a plural society is a task that, I submit, is proper to our Jesuit, Catholic and Filipino university, which we must bring to bear on the world of politics. It is a world that must be affected by a phalanx of new ADDU leaders whose ongoing reflections on the common good is shaped by university’s ongoing reflection on the same.

That articulation must, I submit, be brought to bear on the forthcoming local elections. The elections must be clean and fair. But each political aspirant must be made to account for how he or she will work for the common good relative to concerns for preservation of the environment, the interests of businesses big and small, the challenge for better education public and private, the imperatives for peace.

Towards peace, the Synod, focused on renewal of Catholic faith, states: “Finally, the Church considers that other religions are her natural partners in dialogue. One is evangelized because one is convinced of the truth of Christ, not because one is against another. The Gospel of Jesus is peace and joy, and his disciples are happy to recognize whatever is true and good that humanity’s religious spirit has been able to glimpse in the world created by God and that it has expressed in the various religions. The dialogue among religions intends to be a contribution to peace. It rejects every fundamentalism and denounces every violence that is brought upon believers as serious violations of human rights. The Churches of the whole world are united in prayer and in fraternity to the suffering brethren and ask those who are responsible for the destinies of peoples to safeguard everyone’s right to freely choose, profess, and witness to one’s faith” (ibid.).

These are words of profound relevance to hotspots of religious violence that continues to shake our contemporary world. It is a plea for religious freedom from a Church that itself had to discover it in the Vatican Council; in this Year of Faith, we celebrate the enduring truth of religious freedom. It is a freedom that is also relevant to us here in Mindanao and in ADDU where our tightened embrace of Jesus Christ in truth allows us to open our arms to other religions in humility and in love, grateful that through other religions the glory of God in his Creation is acknowledged in ways often beyond our imagination. They are relevant to us as we pray and work for peace in Mindanao not alone but with other women and men of various faiths and good will.

It is in this context that I ask all in the ADDU community in the name of God, who is a God of Peace, to seize the opportunity for peace presented in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. With those who sue for peace, I believe, we cannot disagree: “The status quo is unacceptable…” (I.1). In God’s name, I pray it might be given to us in grace to accept and support the right of those concerned to freely identify themselves as Bangsamoro, and to accept the key provision of the Framework: “The Parties recognize Bangsamoro identity. Those who at the time of conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands including Palawan, and their descendants whether of mixed or full blood shall have the right to identify themselves as Bangsamoro by ascription or self-ascription” (I.5).

It is in this spirit that I ask the academic and formation officials of the University supported by the invaluable insights and inputs of our Al Qalam Institute to take to our prayer, to our chapels, to our classrooms, to our university councils, to our student organizations, to our university discussions and debates, as well as to our social media, and if necessary, to our streets, the cause of peace in Mindanao, and as intellectual insight and moral imperatives may allow, to support the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

In celebration of a Year of Faith, so many things new, so many new challenges in renewed faith that embraces others in support of justice and peace! In all of this, in ADDU there is an old, old saying, an enduring motto, a conviction of the heart: Fortes in fide! We are strong in the faith. Only in the faith do we have strength.

Welcome to the new semester!

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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2 Responses to New Challenges in the New Semester

  1. Pingback: New Challenges in the New Semester |

  2. I’m happy to know of the progress of my alma mater. I am particularly delighted of your passion in pursuing a possible integration or incorporation of theological institutes within the region. This is going to be a welcome development for the Church in Mindanao especially in raising the bar of excellence in our theological education. How I wish this endeavor would also result into a production of journal publication wherein researches of these institutes/schools and that of other researchers can be published. God bless to your mission, our mission, Fr. Joel.

    Randy A. Tudy
    Cor Jesu College

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