[Welcome Address, Culmination Night, Madaris Volunteer Program, Finster Hall, ADDU, 16 April 2018]
At the end of the third year of the Madaris Volunteer Program (MVP) it is my pleasure in the name of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), the Private Educational Assistance Committee (PEAC) and the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) to greet you. I welcome our esteemed friends from our partner Madaris and communities. I welcome especially our volunteers.
To the volunteers, first, I say thank you. Thank you for your sacrifice of your year in freedom in order to be able to share of your education with our brothers and sisters in their respective Madaris. Thank you for your courage to leave your comfort zones to risk experiencing an unfamiliar culture. Thank you for allowing your desire to share your knowledge and your lives to overcome your fears, and for your generosity in sharing what you were able to share in such as mathematics, science, English, history. Through your generosity you have increased the knowledge of those you taught. You have enriched their lives.
To our twelve partner Madaris in Cotabato, Lamitan and Maguindanao, our host families and their respective communities, thank you for accepting our volunteers, taking care of them during their months in your communities. The volunteers came in order to teach, but because of your hospitality and kindness they have also learned much. You have welcomed them into your schools, into your families, into your culture and into your lives. Because of this, their lives have been profoundly enriched.
It was not always easy. It is not easy for students to learn. The lazy and disinterested student remains the prisoner of ignorance. But to the learner willing to listen to and learn from a generous teacher, new knowledge and the foundations of wisdom is a valued reward.
It was not always easy as well for the volunteer unfamiliar with the customs and values of the community. There were many moments of insecurity, uncertainty, fear and aloneness. There were also occasions one made embarrassing mistakes. But the volunteer who persevered, who stayed the course, the reward was the experience of a new family, a new culture, the invaluable insight that one’s original culture is not the only culture, that there are other ways of doing things and other ways of seeing things, and that these other ways are okay. To the volunteer, there was also new knew knowledge and the foundations of wisdom as a graced reward.
The Prophet – may peace be upon him! – taught: “It is obligatory for every Muslim, man and woman, to acquire knowledge.” It is also taught by Amir al-Mu’minin, “The most valuable treasure is knowledge and wisdom, and the worst misfortune is ignorance.” It is also well known that the first word revealed to the Prophet – may peace be upon him! – was “Iqra!” – “Read! That is interpreted as an imperative to seek knowledge, to educate oneself, to be educated. For it is through education that the Muslim ummah is served and advanced.
In the Catholic tradition, the Christian is commanded to seek, find and love God with one’s whole mind, one’s whole soul, one’s whole strength, and one’s neighbor as oneself (cf Mt. 22:37-38). God manifests himself to us, we believe, in Jesus Christ, his Word become incarnate (cf Jn 1:1-8), who is “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). The obligation to find the truth, to grow in knowledge and wisdom, is rooted ultimately in our obligation to find and love God, and in finding him to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is in this love of God and neighbor that we are called to serve the Kingdom of God, the community of God’s disciples.
In both traditions, knowledge and wisdom are to bring us to God and bring us to one another in peace. I hope that that has again been possible in this 3rd year of the MVP. To all who have worked hard and sacrificed much to make this possible, thank you! Shukran! Together we say: Alhamdulillah! To God be the glory!