It is the last evening of the week of Christ the King.
We planned the heavy wooden crucifix to be the centerpiece of the new University Chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption. The renowned Paete craftsman, Paloy Cagayat, carved the corpus from old baticuling wood; he fashioned the cross from narra. Because of its size, the crucifix needed to be shipped to Davao dismembered. But in Davao, Paloy was on hand to re-member his masterpiece, to combine bodily members and soulful memories to re-present anew an eternal moment in the life of Jesus – when from his Cross he gazed on us, peered into our souls, and loved us to the end.
Because of its extraordinary size and ponderous weight, fixing it to the center of the chapel was no easy feat. Cross and corpus needed to be hoisted up by some twenty able-bodied workers with a chain block fixed to a strong overhead beam. We were there. This was not just the burden of workers. It was Jesus weighed down by our many burdens being lifted up. It was Jesus gathering to himself all that weighed us down in disaster, discouragement, depression, despair and death, dealing death its death blow, uplifting us with him to new life.
We witnessed this painful process of lifting Jesus up on his Cross. As we watched, we remembered the blessings and burdens of the past year, the joys and the pains.
Pope Francis’ uplifted the nation with his message of mercy and compassion during his joyful visit. But then there was the tragedy of Mamasapano, reminding us of evil in our world, and of our abiding need for redemption. The secretive attempt of State security forces to take down two international terrorists ended in their deaths and the deaths of the local defenders. Binding covenants had been breached; the sensitive balance of peace violated. The long nurtured hopes for lasting peace in Mindanao were dimmed by virulent voices of reaction and recrimination, prejudice, bigotry, anger and hatred. The prospects for a Bangsamoro Basic Law as painstakingly negotiated between the GPH and the MILF were jeopardizd by versions that fell short of the autonomy the Constitution envisioned for Muslim Mindanao. But despite this darkness, light: Friends of peace continued to work towards their elusive goal. With the CEAP, the five Ateneo Presidents came out with an unprecedented shared public statement of support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law. The Madaris Volunteer Program brought fresh hope for actual inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue through volunteers of different faiths teaching in Islamic schools. Even on the sports front, collegiate teams of schools, public and private, from all over Mindanao came together in Mindanao Peace Games.
Leaders of indigenous people’s communities paid dearly to protect their ancestral lands against incessant encroachments of mining companies and religious land grabbers; they were killed in the cross fire between the military and the New People’s Army; they were killed trying to salvage the benefits of a law spelling out indigeneous peoples’ rights, while others used it to deceive and exploit them. Ateneo de Davao suffered with them pursuing a solution no one seemed able to find. Meanwhile, it also collaborated with the DepEd in founding a culturally-sensitive TBoli Senior High School, while serious efforts were underway to establish an Apo Governance and Indigenous Leaders’ Academy “AGUILA” in Makilala, Cotabato.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus – the Jesuits in the Philippines – commenced preparations for the election of a new General Superior through General Congregation XXXVI in Rome next year. In response to Pope Francis’ challenge to “Go to the poor,” it started serious consideration of a Province Roadmap to Mindanao and Asia Pacific which would shift the apostolic center of gravity from Manila to Mindanao and focus on new evangelization, poverty alleviation and the environment. The results of consultations of Jesuit communities nationwide show widespread acceptance of the general direction of the roadmap to the excluded and marginalized especially among Mindanao’s Muslims and indigenous peoples. Tired ways were replaced by new dreams.
Pope Francis came out with an unprecedented encyclical entitled Laudato Si addressed to all the inhabitants of the planet calling for dialogue on “care for our common home.” It exposed serious damage to the environment resulting from a consumption-driven economy rooted in a loss of relation to a Creator that adversely affects mostly the poor. At ADDU the encyclical was discussed and well received, even as efforts to address environment issues nationwide were reinvigorated. We renewed our opposition to mining in Tapacan, to aerial spraying in Davao, to the use of GMOs in agriculture; we renewed our resolve for a greener campus, as finally green returned to the gardens of the Jacinto campus and its fresh water conserved. At the world Forum on Climate Change in Paris the Philippines committed itself to reduce its carbon emissions by 70% in the next 15 years.
On the education front, the K-12 educational reform weathered attacks on its constitutionality and is now at the threshold of general implementation of senior high school in SY 2016-17. The implementation of the K-12 reform, specifically the SHS program, was made possible through unprecedented public private partnership in the provision of education for the Filipino people. ADDU partnered with the DepEd in research towards a rational implementation of SHS in Region XI and ADDU became a veritable center for information and enlightened discussion on the SHS implementation in ongoing partnership with the CEAP, the PEAC and the DepEd. Its partnership with the DepEd in co-founding the TBoli Senior High School provided a paradigm for all such IP schools nationwide. Meanwhile, ADDU’s efforts towards implementing its own SHS promise an innovate and academically robust program focused on rigorous preparation for college – complemented by a unique program of shoe design and manufacture.
Meanwhile, as the construction works on the Community Center of the First Companions, the Martin Sports and Assembly Hall and the University Chapel of the Assumption finally neared completion, ADDU expended much work and energy to evaluate its own performance and generate a new and complete university strategic plan, which is now being implemented. Encouraging was the fresh readiness of the alumni to be engaged in the implementation of the university mission. Amidst resolutions for better administration, improved instruction, more research output and ongoing efforts at peace building and inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, we experienced our own painful Calvary in our own miscommunications among ourselves, recriminations, and inability to come together in dialogue. We remembered our mission configured to Jesus’ mission uplifted on a Cross. We prayed. We hoped.
We raised the heavy wooden crucifix, recalling the eternal event in love when they raised up, “Jesus, King of the Jews” (Lk 23:38) in scorn – because his preaching of the Kingdom of his Father that was “not of this world” (Jn 18:36) threated people and powers very much of the world. This had led inexorably to his crucifixion. It was the tortuous event that bound this darkened world with the redeeming light of the next. The event was as thoroughly cosmic as it was essentially personal, it was suffered as it was radically free, it was reconciliation between God and man, between heaven and earth, between eternity and time, as Jesus gazed into our eyes, expressing intimately his Father’s word of acceptance and love. Till today, he gazes into our eyes inviting our considered response. He peers into our souls inviting us to the Kingdom of his Father, inviting us to work in our world for the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God – in a world possessed apparently by anything but God! In our world, they have warred on one another in the name of God. They have forced people in the millions to flee their homes, their villages and cities, their countries and continents, challenging the comfortable and the secure to look at them in the light of the Gospel, “Whatever you do for one of these the least of my sisters and brothers, that you do for me” (Mt. 25:45). In the name of God, in Libya, in Tunesia, in Yemen, in Cairo, in Beirut, in Paris, they have murdered, maimed, massacred. In the name of God, they have destroyed the priceless heritage of ancient civilizations, they have blown up the places of worship with their worshippers, they have sown terror and fear in centers of culture and governance of today. In the belief that what they do is pleasing to God, they have spilled blood by blowing themselves up, they have taken lives by taken their own, they have waged what Pope Francis called “a piecemeal world war,” killing innocents coldly, calling forth the retributive furies of France, Russia the United States and the rest of the human world. Amidst all the sounds of exploding bombs and blown up civilizations, of weeping and wailing, of persons tortured and beheaded for their personal beliefs, the image of the unlikely King affixed to a Cross is raised in silence.
As a source of life (cf. Numbers 21:9): “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that every one who believes in him may have life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-16).
The Kingdom of God, here but not yet. On the wood of the Cross the unlikely King is lifted up with eyes wide open, as he is lifted up each day from the wood of the altar. “This is my body given up for you. … This is my blood poured out for you” (Mt 26: 27-28), he says gazing into our eyes, peering into our souls, “that you may have life, life to the full!” (Jn 10:10). We have rejected him. We have said there is no room for him. We have killed him. But his love has prevailed. “He is arisen, alive” (Mt 28). He does not abandon us. On the wood of the manger we know, “God is with us” (Mt. 1:23).