BRIDGING SOCIAL DIVIDES THROUGH PEOPLE-BASED DEVELOPMENT FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE AND INTEGRITY OF CREATION
TO THE MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE ASIAN SOCIAL INSTITUTE (ASI); DR MINA RAMIREZ, ASI President; MEMBERS OF THE ASI ADMINISTRATION; FACULTY; PARENTS, BENEFACTORS, AND FRIENDS; AND, THE 2018 GRADUATING CLASS OF ASI:
This moment is a day of joyful thanksgiving! Good afternoon!
I am humbled by the invitation to join you this afternoon on the occasion of your graduation day. This feeling of lowliness comes from the realization that the responsibility to be your commencement speaker today connects me to the honored memory of an extraordinary missionary priest whose legacy you and I share and celebrate in this happy gathering: FATHER FRANCIS SENDEN, CICM, the beloved founder of ASI and an exemplary religious missionary priest. I am privileged to be here, enjoying the warm embrace of the ASI Family as an alumnus, because besides being enrolled in the Post-graduate Program of Applied Cosmic Anthropology, I remember that one summer forty years ago (1978), I followed the one-month Community Development Course, as a fourth-year CICM theology student, preparing for my departure to my mission country, the Dominican Republic. We were the first CICM seminarians to experience said summer course. At that time, there was no graduation ceremony like what we have now. How I wished I could have joined you in your march as you entered this hall!
Like the revered FATHER SENDEN, CICM missionaries live by the missionary orientation of being at “frontier situations,” that is, in those places where their presence is most needed. These are mostly places characterized by the absence of the Gospel values of freedom and human dignity, which are essential to the pursuit of quality lives.
As a CICM missionary I was assigned to the Dominican Republic, a country the Carribean, on an island which we share with the Republic of Haiti, which to date remains to be the poorest country in the western hemisphere. I spent thirty-three years living and working with the poor in urban relocation sites, in the country sides and villages. I have learned a lot from them, and I have been transformed.
In terms of working for social justice, with the poor in mind, no culture and no particular color of the skin is required to become a part of this social calling. Our commitment to the poor transcends national identities. The presence of the poor in many countries, especially where the struggle for human dignity is strong, calls for the spirit of solidarity.
ASI an Institute with a Difference
The difference that you can make, as graduates of ASI, can help shape this world into what everyone of goodwill would dream of. From the perspective of social transformation, the ASI compass points to the direction of a renewed world that awaits the cooperation and participation of people to achieve. My dear graduates, the transformed world we envision is a responsibility we have to agree on and work for together! Yes, together!
Looking at you now, dear graduates, at what ASI has always been successful, your internationality gives hope to achieving a broader solidarity landscape in the world. The key is to have people who will share the same compelling vision to create a more welcoming society. In this kind of desired society, people in their unique and diverse ways of life can develop and lead quality lives to effect social transformation.
At the same time, by enhancing people’s capacity to participate in the deliberation of what fundamentally affects their lives, we increase the potential of arriving at policy responses that adequately address issues. By working together on things that truly matter, we can build consensus among ourselves for appropriate action.
We need to educate people, especially those in grassroots communities, in effective dialogue to bring about transformation in their midst. In the academia, school curricula must include Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation courses that provide students a broader and more mature understanding of their social, political, and ecological rights and responsibilities. JPIC is a call to transformative action through reflective learning that is grounded in people’s actual experiences of and struggle for justice, peace, and ecological harmony. The healing aspect of JPIC has to be explored as well, insofar as embracing the JPIC mindset can inspire wellness and healthy living among our young people!
Together then with the government, the Church, NGOs, and other sectors of society, let them be agents of their own destiny; let them experience the freedom of accomplishing things for themselves, in view of creating a better society. Let the poor teach us an alternative to a brighter future, by letting their own experiences challenge society’s assumptions about economic prosperity. Let the perspective of the poor, the marginalized, and the socially excluded, move us to shift paradigms that allow us to envision a truly inclusive society. Let this new paradigm that builds on people’s full participation in the economic, social, and political life of society bring us back to the foundation and meaning of economic prosperity, namely, “ecological spirituality.”
Indeed, our search, for a more realistic model of achieving a sustainable future, will hardly be found unless we recognize the fundamental unity between economic prosperity and ecological spirituality. Both economy and ecology derive their significance form their root word “oikos,” which suggests a “home.” At the heart therefore of economic development and ecological commitment is the hearth of the “oikos.”
If we can pursue our lives guided by the unity of economy and ecology, of development and environment, then we can make a difference in the world. The difference that we can impact in the world is “liberation.” Fr. GUSTAVO GUTIERREZ argues with cogency that from the Biblical perspective, theology of liberation is rooted in the link between creation and salvation, where creation, the created world, is an integral part of God’s ongoing salvation. Years back, I had the privilege to participate in one workshop for Directors of Catholic radio stations from all over Latin America, Fr. Gustavo said in a succinct manner, “the objective of Liberation Theology is not so much theology but rather liberation”. Creation then is both a gift and a task that people of goodwill are called to make a resolute response.
That is why like the disciples, who Jesus Christ sent to the whole world to announce freedom and the dignity to be God’s people, ASI students upon graduation are also sent to make a difference in society with their expertise and compassion. Yours is a mission that is rooted in the Gospel imperative of building the kingdom of God where it is most needed. That is my message to you. Yes, and I reiterate: yours is a mission that is rooted in the Gospel imperative of building the kingdom of God.
This year’s graduation theme of “Bridging Social Divides through People-Centered Development for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation” timely sends a powerful message on what it means to be ASI graduates today. Once again, through this theme, ASI, for one, has been resituated within the social context in which all of us are interwoven. The social context we have to keep in mind is the integrity of God’s creation. In God’s creation, everything is interconnected with a purpose to fulfill God’s plan for all generations to come.
The fulfillment of this plan demands walking the path of justice, which in turn bears the fruit of peace in the process. Against this “cosmic” standard we can measure the weight of our individual and collective action. JPIC is our guidepost through a rather complex and tortuous way to attaining a truly sustainable future that builds on the principle of inclusion.
Let us observe the following data. There is a growing optimism in Southeast-Asian economies. In the Philippines alone, which has recently adopted an aggressive infrastructure investment of “Build, Build, Build” as a growth strategy, a 6.8% economic growth has been recorded during the 1st quarter of 2018, notwithstanding the inflation rate as a consequence of several factors which include fiscal initiatives introduced by the current government.
For example, the TRAIN law (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) which is projected to yield 90 Billion Philippine Pesos in additional revenue in 2018 comes at a price, thus the inflation. Without getting into the debates surrounding this law, let us focus on how the consequences of this law are taking a toll on the ordinary consumers.
That remains to be our situation. Therefore, we take into serious account the observation of experts and even ordinary people who face the everyday grind that despite the rapid growth in the region, there still exist widening disparities in income and opportunities. The national economic growth is yet to be felt in the homes of ordinary Filipinos.
Francis on Francis
Again, as long pointed out by FR SENDEN, the proverbial gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” between the rich and the poor, continues to rise. The irony cannot be more evident: in spite of today’s unprecedented connectivity through the global communications technology, countries are becoming more unequal.
That technology affects people’s lives, including their personal and professional relationships, is a truism that certainly provokes careful thinking and thoughtful decision-making. In appreciative response to your graduation theme, we can approach the technology challenge by adopting the ecology paradigm. The eloquence of POPE FRANCIS is both instructive and exhortative: Proclaiming the joy of the Gospel to the world (Evangelii Gaudium) involves ensuring the integrity of our common home (Laudato Si).
Inspired by POPE FRANCIS, the work of bridging social divides is accomplished more meaningfully by acknowledging the ecological divine that creates a unified sense of living together in a shared space. Learning to live together is an ecological thrust.
At this point, I would like to show the intimate resonances between the ecological Gospel of POPE FRANCIS with the transformational mission of FATHER FRANCIS (SENDEN).
The passion of both POPE FRANCIS and FATHER FRANCIS is concerned with the orientation that Christ exemplified: Never exclude anyone; bring back to people their dignity which society, due to unjust structures, has deprived them of.
That is why, for your ongoing reflections, as you go out to the world as ASI graduates, I offer you the following –
First, by being followers of Jesus Christ, we are called and compelled to respond to situations of injustice and oppression.
Second, the work of proclaiming the Gospel demands working for the dignity of every human person.
Third, our mission of social justice is carried out in communion with that of Jesus Christ through the genuine participation of people.
Fourth, transformative education implies people empowerment, which teaches the reasonableness of an increased involvement of people in decision-making processes; and
Fifth, the work of social transformation includes and is sustained by a profound experience of interior conversion.
So, as ASI graduates, you are called to become agents of social change, in terms of the servant-leadership orientation. Serve people, especially those in the margins, to fulfill their dignity. Through this they can participate in the building of an inclusive society. The orientation of servant-leadership can make this happen. I would like to underscore and salute the official announcement of the forthcoming canonization of Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero this coming October 14, 2018. Archbishop Romero was assassinated by the repressive military government of El Salvador, to silence him and to put to an end to his work for and solidarity with the poor of his beloved country. He is worth emulating as a servant-leader.
Servant-leadership means developing one’s gifts and capabilities to serve people above one’s own interest. This includes motivating people to develop their potentials. As you take on future leadership roles, you will impact people’s lives. The decisions and actions you make can affect people in various ways. Use that strength to transform people’s lives for the good of society as a whole. Keep the servant-leadership principle to create a positive influence in society.
Moreover, as ASI graduates, you are tasked to build bridges to connect across the social spectrum. How we narrow the gap between a widening inequality is as task, for you and me, and the people we work with, as well as those entrusted to our care, to discuss and agree on together.
In other words, if we can frame people’s collective effort according to what will advance the “common good,” an important term we need to invoke more often during these days, then we have a chance at bridging social divides, with the people themselves, who are at the center of this work.
See you, dear graduates, at frontier situations, and Congratulations! Thank you.
Ramon R. Caluza CICM
May 26, 2018