MANILA, Feb. 16, 2014—Noting the apparent threats of secularization in today’s world, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) stressed the vital role played by Catholic educational institutions in leading younger generations toward the search for truth that roots from the Divine.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said this can only be fulfilled through a “renewed encounter with Christ” and communal discernment among educational institutions to reflect and act upon the pressing concerns faced by the church and society at present.
“That specific vocation calls them as universities to be centers for the authentic search for the truth of God, of nature, and of the human being-in-human-society and the communication of this truth to students and the world,” Villegas said in his speech delivered at the De La Salle University last Thursday.
“As Catholic, they are called to ‘the privileged task’ to ‘unite existentially by intellectual effort two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the fount of truth, Jesus Christ,” he said.
‘God’s precious gift’
Noting Catholic higher educational institutions in the country —47 universities, 241 colleges, 17 graduate faculties of theology, and 60 seminaries—as among “God’s precious gifts both to the Church and society in the Philippines,” Villegas urged them to lead the youth in searching for the truth of God, nature, and humanity.
“The search for the truth of God involves the search for Him in our ever more secular world that increasingly ignores God and his Church, or for him in our Catholic culture that, despite its intense piety, is neither scandalized by the painful poverty in our midst nor willing to change the structures that support its yet pervasive corruption,” he said.
“The search for the truth of nature involves understanding the awesome power of typhoons and earthquakes, and, due to what human beings do in their industrial centers, factories, power plants and cars, the changes in natural climate cycles as we are experiencing these today; it involves understanding the intimate truths of how human life is transmitted, nurtured and sustained,” he said.
“The search for the truth of humanity involves understanding the human individual in his or her complex relationships in society, and how human life-in-society is sustained, threatened, harmed, or destroyed,” he added.
Villegas recognized the need for academic freedom to be practiced in educational institutions, but noted that it must be taught in the Divine context.
“This awesome vocation for the Catholic university as it must now impact on New Evangelization cannot be taken lightly. It must precisely wrestle with diversity in a marketplace of ideas, yet find consolation and integration in Jesus, the Truth,” he said.
Villegas urged academic professionals in these educational institutions to initiate a renewed encounter with Christ as they mentor and hone the skills of the younger generation.
He also noted the need for communal discernment among groups and associations of Catholic educational institutions such as the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) or the Association of Catholic Universities of the Philippines (ACUP).
“The university community must discern in discussion, reflection and prayer what God’s will for it is at this time, weighing its mission and vision, strengths and weaknesses, resources and needs, and the pressing concerns of Church and society to which it needs to respond today,” he said.
“It must do this specifically in pursuit of its mission in faith, as its responsible use of academic freedom requires, beyond the minimum requirements of government and the stewardship of resources entrusted to it for mission,” he added.
Search for hope, common good
Villegas noted the disparity present in the lifestyle of the rich and the poor, stressing that it is important for Catholic educational institutions to reflect upon what constitutes a meaningful life not just in the Philippines but in the world as a whole.
“In the Philippines, close to two thirds of our people live below the poverty line, millions are victims of exclusion and injustice, yet students in our top Catholic universities are simply ‘bored’,” Villegas said.
It is not enough for them to consider only the ideal concepts of faith, but also the actualities of materialism, hedonism, and consumerism in the local and global context, he noted.
“They must ask seriously whether in the way they teach, form and motivate students to a job, a profession or to ‘the good life’ they contribute to their students’ yawning superficiality, or challenge them to lives of genuine meaning in faith-driven service of the common good,” he said,
The prelate also emphasized the role of Catholic educational institutions in acting upon issues “pertinent to the common good and its pursuit in solidarity.”
He stressed that Catholic universities must not simply focus on the creation of jobs, but also on the pursuance of the good for the welfare of the majority.
“Power concentrated in the hands of a few that seeks its self-preservation and expansion rather than the good of all, harms the common good,” Villegas said.
“On the other hand, such as the cooperation between the public and private sectors to improve the delivery of basic education in society, or the cooperation between nongovernment organizations (NGOs), media, business and government to breathe new life into a dead river, advance the common good,” he added.
Search for human culture, peace
Villegas said that Catholic educational institutions are also tasked to create a “new economic and political order” that go against the culture of corruption that has become endemic as far the country’s landscape is concerned.
“Catholic universities must help elucidate what this new economic and political order for the Philippines entails. It must educate, form and support the experts and politicians who shall work towards its realization,” he said.
“It must shed light on the effects of an increasingly migrant population on personal ambitions, families, the Church and society in the Philippines,” he added.
Drawing context from the recently signed peace pact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Villegas stressed the role of educational institutions in making peace processes materialize through harmonious dialogue.
“The Catholic university in the Philippines may play a special role as privileged convenor of diverse peoples with competing and often conflicting interests in face-to-face dialogue for peace. It must use its institutional prestige to gather government, NGOs, the private sector and religious leaders to work with groups caught in conflict and violence for peace,” he said.
“A key function of the Catholic university would be to help explain and evaluate the peace processes, including the various documents that these processes have produced, knowing that the documents alone will not bring about peace,” he said.
“High-level peace agreements will remain paper-thin unless on the levels of our barangays (villages), our parishes and our basic ecclesial communities the deep-seated prejudice and the hatred stop and the reconciliation begins,” he added.
Defending the environment
Another equally important point raised by Villegas was the task of Catholic educational institutions to defend the environment against abusive use by humans.
“In this concern, the Catholic university has a grave mission. It must educate and form leaders with an abiding specific concern for the environment, where it has sadly failed in the past,” he said. “Care for the environment is not an option. It is an imperative.”
“The national patrimony in forests, minerals, water and air belong to all. It belongs to goods created with a “universal destination” for all on whose exploitation there is a strict social mortgage,” he added.
To succeed in its mission, educational institutions are encouraged to “return to the heart of the church” and effectively engage in searching for the common good, more human culture, peace, and sustainable environment.
“It must do so with humility, but without fear, with wisdom but without arrogance. It must go forth beyond the peaceful halls of academe into the insecure world of Philippine poverty and violence,” he said.
“Beyond words and concepts, it must find truth, insist on truth, obey truth, and live truth. It must make a difference in the transformation of our society,” he added. (Jennifer Orillaza)