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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Coming Together in the Power of the Spirit


Statement of the Philippine Province Jesuits on Fighting the Evil of Illegal Drugs

It is with deep concern for the welfare of our nation that the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus joins His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle in appealing to the “consciences of those manufacturing and selling illegal drugs to stop this activity” and “to the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces with bonnets, to stop wasting human lives.”

We agree that the menace of illegal drugs is real and destructive. The imperative to defeat this evil does not belong to the President alone, the Philippine National Police, and the instrumentalities of human government. It belongs to us all. The evil that attacks the human with the power of the demonic, should unite us, not divide us. Battling this enemy, we learn how ineffectual, how flawed, our weapons are. Instead of turning our weapons on one another, we must unite, coordinate, and allow good to ally with good; we must fight this enemy together. Truly, the menace of drugs is not just a political or criminal issue. It is evil that attacks our humanity, turns human beings into zombies, policemen into murderers, criminals into lords, and the poor into the victims of their own security forces. The heartless killing of Kian de los Santos proves this. We cannot fight evil with guns and bullets alone. This evil we must fight with insight, cooperation, cunning, the enlightened use of political and economic power, self-sacrifice, prayer and God’s grace.

It is in this spirit that we welcome the call of Cardinal Tagle and the Archdiocese of Manila to a multi-sectoral dialogue. We need to come together to understand the situation in depth. We need to understand why the soul of the war on drugs is a human soul, and why the enemy of this war is not human rights, but lack of commitment to human rights. We need to understand why we cannot fight for human beings by denying them their rights. In a society where the human has so lightly lost his soul to corruption, hedonism, and disrespect for the human person, we need to understand how the poor are illegal drugs’ worst victims, addicted, trafficked, then shot by the guns drug money buys. We need to understand how denying the international drug cartels their markets does not mean killing the poor who are their victims, but reforming the structure which keep the poor poor. We need to understand that building the drug-free, smart, socially-just religiously diverse society envisioned by the Duterte administration needs patient multi-sectoral collaboration of good people 24 August 2017 collaborating with good people. We cannot build the Philippine nation on the cadavers of the Filipino people.

In this spirit of dialogue, where it is clear that the rule of law and the respect for human rights thwart evil, the recommendations of our Ateneo de Manila Human Rights Center pertinent to extrajudicial killings and Operation Tokhang Reloaded might be seriously considered.1

Truly, we must conquer evil with good. Though we wish to be in solidarity with all victims of injustice, we must move beyond expressions of outrage to constructive action. Teach the youth, wealthy or poor, in our families, schools and our communities, about the evil of illegal drugs; engage them so they are helped to overcome bad habits and engage in good. Join groups that are involved in rehabilitation; many of these are diocesan or parish based; many of them are Civil Society Organizations. Capacitate ourselves to get involved. Join groups that partner with government to strengthen our security forces’ commitment to rights-based policing. Involve ourselves in research that studies the drug trade in the Philippines. Work together with the Church, government and CSOs to truly defeat the drug menace in the Philippines. Use privileged power and information to win this war.

Where the fullness of life that the Lord came to bring us (Jn 10:10) is not to be undermined by the evil of drugs, we must be “as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves.” (Mt. 10:16). Some demons can be expelled “only by prayer and fasting” (Mt. 17:21). But prayer and fasting should also lead us to come together in the power of the Spirit to overcome this evil.


1 From: Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC), Summary & Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines, 2017

  •   To enact a law clearly defining “extrajudicial killings” in line with internationally recognized standards.
  •   To conduct an impartial investigation and prosecute all cases of extrajudicial or summary killings. This entails proper documentation of each alleged violation, including the preservation of the evidence gathered.
  •   To ensure the protection of witnesses to alleged enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings and their immediate families.
  •   To ensure that police officers engaged in anti-drug operations are aware that killing perpetrated by them where suspects resist arrest does not enjoy the presumption of regularity, and as such, they must prove the legality of such killings.
  •   In relation to the implementation of the Double Barrel Project:

o To ensure that it is not contrary to the Philippine Constitution and other relevant domestic and international laws…

o To guarantee the right of every Filipino to access information, official records, public records, and other documents and papers pertaining to official acts.

o To ensure transparency in processes involved in the Collection and Validation of Information Stage where the identity and criminal activities of suspected illegal drug personalities are documented and verified by police officers.

o To ensure the credibility of intelligence information used as basis for the confrontation of subjects in the House-to-House Visitation Stage.

  • To ensure access to the effective remedies, such as the writs of amparo, habeas corpus, or habeas data, which protect the rights to life, liberty, and property of the people. This includes according priority to cases that seek the issuance of these writs.
  • To revitalize the efforts in increasing knowledge and awareness of human rights among the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police.
  • To extend an invitation to the special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to conduct a fact-finding mission on the alleged extrajudicial and summary killings.




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Funding For RA 10931, But the Greater Challenge is Quality

The 85th Anniversary of the Philippine Association of the Colleges and Universities (PACU) gathered together some of the most distinguished educators of the country in the Ballroom of the Conrad Hotel. Celebration was in the air not only because at 85 this oldest educational association in the country counts among its ranks major movers and shakers in Philippine education today: Dhanna Kerina Bautista-Rodas, Caroline Enriquez, Anthony Tamayo, Vincent Fabella, Ester Garcia, Michael Alba, Reynaldo Vea, Ma. Christina Padolina, Francisco Benitez, Peter Laurel, Karen de Leon, Guillermo Torres, Jr, and many others. But it was celebrating also because in the recent journey towards the passage into law of the Universal Access for Quality Tertiary Education Act (UAQTEA or RA 10931) PACU played the strongest role among the COCOPEA associations. A breakthrough in that journey was when the COCOPEA officers, quietly arranged by PACU, met with Sen. Ralph Recto and found in him a powerful supporter of the complementarity between public and private education, with private education underscored. It was only fitting then that Sen. Recto deliver the celebration’s keynote address on PACU’s 85th.

Training the people to make the future bright

It takes an accomplished speaker to grab people’s attention while talking about education. Sen. Recto managed this through a combination of self-deprecating humor and a message that spoke to the heart of the educators present. Announcing his intention to honor the 20 minutes allotted to him, he quipped, “Telling a politician to be economical with words is like asking an alcoholic to limit himself to a teaspoon of beer.” But on his teaspoon of beer, he recognized the role private education has played in contributing to the “intellectual prowess” and “moral fiber” of the nation, having educated 13 of 16 of the nation’s presidents, and many of its industry leaders, infrastructure builders, CEOs, and professionals functioning both in the Philippines and abroad. The founders of the universities and colleges represented in the hall “were not driven by any monetary reward… Rather, each and every one of them was guided by the selfless desire to improve the lot of the nation… When they established the schools they looked into the future, and told themselves: We will train the people who will make it bright.”

But tributes having been paid the schools’ founders, their current administrators in the hall were interested in how UAQTEA would be funded. The economic managers had urged the President to veto the bill, claiming it was unsustainable and would cost some 100B. When the President signed it anyway into law, DBM Sec. Benjamin Diokno then tried to hi-jack its implementing rules and regulations, stating he would chair the committee to write this. CHED’s Commissioner de Vera also came out with some confusing statements on how the law would be implemented on a staggered basis, first funding the SUCs, then the LUCs, and only later the UniFAST. Happily, CHED Chair Patricia Licuanan meanwhile convened the one body the UAQTEA mandates to craft its IRRs, namely, the Board of the United Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST), which she chairs. Also through the UAQTEA, private education is represented on the UniFAST Board through its chair, Dr Pio Baconga.

Funding Based on Public-Private Collaboration

The message from Sen. Recto was clear. The UAQTEA was not just about funding free tuition in SUCs and in LUCs and killing private HEIs. The UAQTEA was about tertiary education for all delivered through a system of educational delivery where public and private HEIs are collaborators. “Private and public schools are not rivals for the market but should be partners for progress,” he said. “They are not competitors for enrollees, but collaborators in providing education for all.” Therefore, private schools have clear access to the benefits of this law: “I believe it would be wrong to fence the law with ‘do not enter’ signs addressed to private education.” Therefore, the explicit mention of private HEIs as beneficiaries of the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES, Sec. 7) as well as of the Student Loan Program for Tertiary Education (Sec. 8).  “The law forfeits its noble intention if it is a death warrant of private schools in disguise. We do not want to provoke a stampede that will trample private schools to death.” The manner of funding must not undermine the spirit of public-private collaboration in the law.

To the question therefore as to whether the law could be funded in its entirety, he said:

“To be candid, these mandates may not be fully-funded immediately, given the state of public revenues.” He stated in the open forum that this year to fund EAQTEA some 25B might go to the free tuition of SUCs, 20B to the TES and 20B to the Student Loan Program for Tertiary Education.

“But what is important is that there exists a statute which requires the government to include private schools under the canopy of affordable tertiary education…”

Referring to last year’s budget he stated, “In all, unreleased appropriations reached P63.43 billion in 2016, on top of the unobligated allotments of P544.53 billion.”

“I am confident that Congress can find the ways and the means to fund the law – including mandates which private schools can join, even on a small, pilot basis.

Challenge to Quality

“But for me the more important word in the law is not ‘free’ but ‘quality.’”

“Budget must be linked to results. And if state subsidy is obligatory, then it makes reforms in the SUCs mandatory.” Reforms in the SUCs can come about only through robust quality assurance guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework (AQAF).

It is the same for private HEIs. If State funding will flow into them through the TES and the Student Loan Program for Tertiary Education, their quality must be quality assured through the AQAF.

The UAQTEA is not wrong

Recently, Bienvenido Olas, Jr. of Businessworld, has listed four reasons why the UAQTEA was wrong[1]:

First, “the Government has no extra cash to cover extra spending on these already substantial expenditures.” But Sen. Recto has shown that money can be found to fund the UAQTEA.

Second, “spending in public elementary and secondary education is still limited and it is unwise to further expand spending in public tertiary education.” But if more funding is needed for public basic education, it should get it. Quality tertiary education is based on quality basic education. But this does not mean that government does not have a role to play in providing universal access to quality tertiary education. “The battle for the future is waged in classrooms today, both private and public.” Sen. Recto says. “We cannot win the future if we splurge on war and yet economize in education. But building the country’s talent pool is not the responsibility of families alone. Government must provide equity.”

Third, “Students who are absolutely destitute do not reach university level. They drop out after elementary or after high school and start working… So those who reach universities are lower middle class to rich students.” But while the UAQTEA intends to help the poor, it insists that the poor who reach the tertiary level must be academically qualified. Destitution alone does not qualify for tertiary education. Through the K-12 reform, the drop-out rate needs to be monitored, but it is expected to diminish. Meanwhile, SUCs understand themselves to be missioned to poor students that are academically qualified. Through quality education the poor can be truly liberated from poverty while being prepared to make significant contributions to the common good. That is also experienced in scholarship programs in all quality private HEIs.

Fourth, “People’s values will be corrupted because personal and parental responsibility will be assumed by the State. As a result, children’s education from elementary to university level will no longer be the responsibility of their parents but of the state.” But the 1987 Constitution states: “The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all” (Art VIX, Sec 1). “The State shall establish, maintain, and support a complete, adequate, and integrated systems of education relevant to the needs of the people and society.” Education is not just a private, personal and parental responsibility, but a means towards the achievement by each of the common good. It is a public good. Far from people’s values being corrupted through universal access to quality tertiary education promoted by the State, the higher education necessary for the critical preservation and advancement of human values, the promotion of social justice, and the advancement of the common good is more equitably distributed.

Congratulations to PACU on its 85th! And our sincere gratitude to Sen. Ralph Recto for his support of genuine universal access to quality tertiary education in both public and private HEIs.


[1] Please see:

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Seventeen.  Kian was just seventeen. 

I was seventeen when I decided to join the Jesuits.  Some today may think that that was much too early to make a radical life decision, that there were too many other possibilities in life that I ought first to have explored before deciding for a life involving the evangelical counsels, poverty, chastity and obedience.

For a while, my father felt that way too.  I’d actually wanted to become a priest very early on, when serving Masses regularly in our parish church at 8 years of age introduced me to a love for the altar and a youthful admiration for the diocesan priests of the parish.  When I got to the Ateneo de Manila High School, my class moderator in first year, Fr. Ernesto Javier, noted my desire.  He told me to join Challenge House, which I did.  For two years, during my second and third year high school days, I’d left home to explore the challenge now of becoming a Jesuit priest.  It was a good experience. But I left Challenge House because my father felt it was unhealthy for me to be thinking only about the priesthood at that age.  He wanted me to get out, explore the world, interact more with other-thinking people, and “get a girlfriend.”  So that’s what I did.  But after a retreat under Fr. Raymund Gough during my first year of college, I discerned the call to the priesthood undeniable.  Fr. Horacio de la Costa, then Provincial of the Jesuits in the Philippines, concurred.  On July 16, 1965, I entered Sacred Heart Novitiate.

I have since lived more than three times those seventeen years as a Jesuit in the Philippines.  After my ordination to the priesthood in 1983, I began my priestly service in the Resettlement Area of San Pedro, Laguna.  Yesterday, I returned there for the first time in some forty years to preside over the renewal of marriage vows of a couple, Jojo Eduque and Sonny Castro, whose marriage I’d witnessed in that church 40 years ago yesterday.  Jojo and Sonny remembered the dirt floor and the few rough wooden benches that were part of the luxurious setting of their marriage.  The church I’d built in 1988 had meanwhile been totally replaced.  But the kamagong crucifix was still there.  Happily, there were some elderly women who peered into my face and remembered a youthful priest forty years and forty kilos earlier who’d served the urban poor community of San Pedro Resettlement.  One declared that she was part of a livelihood project called “Lovers’ Own” which my father in Beautifont had helped me run for the people.  Awesome.

So much has unfolded in my life because of a decision I made when I was seventeen.  Or, from a possibly more accurate perspective, so much has happened because of a decision God made manifest to me when I was seventeen.  I was only in first year college, but life had already unfolded so richly, and in its further unfolding would take me to doctoral studies in Germany and Austria, teaching at Ateneo de Manila, service of the urban poor community of Kristong Hari, Commonwealth, the rectorship of San Jose Seminary, the presidency of Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Naga University, and currently Ateneo de Davao University.

So for me, it is a very personal thing.  At seventeen I was still in first year college.  That today is the equivalent of eleventh grade.  At seventeen, when I was pondering the differences between marriage and the priesthood, between management engineering and joining the Society of Jesus, I was the age of Kian de los Santos on the same academic level as he. That Kian was framed, shot and killed in a police action gone rogue, at a time when his life was yet unfolding, is a matter of deep personal pain for me.  It could have been me at seventeen.  It could have ended all.   In the case of Kian, it did end all.

It has been stated that this is an isolated case.  But even if it were isolated, it is one case too many.  The President has just signed the Universal Access to Tertiary Education Act into law providing real hope for quality education to all Filipino learners such as Kian.  But where are we if the State on the one hand undertakes to promote their welfare through higher education, but on the other hand kills them in senior high?  Where are we if the State on the one hand undertakes at great material and human expense to fight a war against drugs for their sake, but on the other hand kills them.  When a life is taken, describing it as an isolated case rings hollow, if not cynical.   When a life is taken even as genuine collateral damage in a police operation nothing can replace that life.  When a life is taken through abominable police action that frames an innocent person as a criminal and shoots him to increase the statistics of “progress” in the war against drugs, this is a crime that cries to the heavens for justice.

The war on drugs must be fought.  The drug menace is international evil, driven by powerful forces of evil.  This is still the case.  It has for too long victimized our people with impunity.

But the war on drugs is fought ultimately because those forces of evil disrespect human lives.  They are evil because they destroy human lives, human futures and human culture particularly in the Philippines. For cheap money, they bring their victims to chemically-induced highs, but cook and extinguish their brains till little is left of the human being.  In this way, they destroy whole families and whole communities.  They attack the entire nation.  The President has declared that the Philippines, corrupted by these drugs in all levels of government, local and national, and even in its security and its law enforcement agencies, is a narcotic state.  Push back is needed.

But not in the way it is being done.  If the war on drugs is fought out of respect for human life, it must be guided by respect for human life.  The President must be the first to cry out for this because that is why he is fighting the war in the first place, out of his love for the country, and especially out of his love for the poor.  Where security and police forces are already flawed because of their vulnerability to corruption and disrespect for human life, even more care must be taken to lead them on the straight path, to direct them to destroy the enemy, and not the victims of the enemy.  Certainly, the President must rally his forces to win the war and to legitimately defend their lives against the onslaughts of the enemy.  At the same time, he must be keen not to encourage the dark culture of death against which he is fighting his war in the first place.  High numbers of people killed dahil nanlaban – because they resisted – do not indicate the war on drugs being won.

Where the President himself was shocked at the extent of the use of drugs in this country and its corruptive effects, it may be helpful for him not only to declare that we are now a narcotic state but to make the nation aware of who exactly the big players are and where exactly the big distribution centers are located.  He may wish to explain the operations of security forces against a strategy of winning against strategic targets.  He may wish to tell us that if the war on drugs was not won within six months, where the nation now is in its strategy of winning this war.  He may wish to help us understand how he measures his successes, or even his failures.

He may acknowledge that since his war on drugs many groups in civil society and in faith-based communities are contributing to the war on drugs through personal and communal efforts at battling illegal drugs and helping their hapless victims.

He also may wish to state unequivocally that the killing of a Kian at seventeen does not advance the war on drugs.  It debases it.

Not too long ago, human rights lawyers associated with the Center Against Illegal Drugs (CAID) of the Ateneo de Davao University conducted a three-day seminar in Samal for law enforcers from Mindanao on human-rights-based law enforcement.  The intervention was very well received by the law enforcers.  For many of them it was the first time they had be given the opportunity to reflect systematically on their responsibilities as law enforcers in the protection of human rights.  Perhaps something like this may be done in other parts of the country in order that our security forces gain personal insight into their responsibility to protect and not destroy, nor even to instrumentalize, human life.

The war on drugs is a battle for human life, for human dignity and the integrity of human society in the Philippine context.  The enemy of the war on drugs is not human rights.  The enemy of the war on drugs is thinking a President will be pleased with large numbers of chalked-up deaths “dahil nanlaban” that have no demonstrated strategic value in winning the war; or it is the Commander in Chief giving the troops the impression that the murder of such as Kian at seventeen is defensible in the context of a narcotic state.

The death of Kian is not defensible.  He was only seventeen.  Think of all the possibilities killed.  Think of his goodness extinguished.  Think of his bereaved family, friends and nation.

Justice for Kian!

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