Words by Angelo Lorenzo and Stephen Pedroza; Photos by Rico Magallona
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines — Xavier Ateneo graduates were encouraged to take an active part in nation-building and contribute to the progress of Mindanao for the next phase of their lives.
This was among the common messages given by the key speakers during the academic convocation that initiated the 78th Commencement Exercises on March 30 at the XU gymnasium.
Celebrating the Baccalaureate Mass, Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma SJ DD highlighted, in his homily, the vital role of interfaith dialogue in uniting people of different cultures and religions in Mindanao.
This resonated in the speech of XU Class 2017 Valedictorian Brian Adam Anay who, as the College of Agriculture’s Outstanding Graduate and a Development Communication cum laude, shared the responsibility of his Atenean identity.
In his valedictory address, titled “Who am I?”, he declared: “I choose to raise my voice and say that I am not fear nor hate. I am peace and freedom, and I am Mindanao.”
He continued, “I am a Mindanaoan, a Filipino, a Global Citizen, but most of all, I am an Atenean.”
An advocate for the “I am Mindanao” social campaign by Xavier Ateneo DevCom, Anay commits to its aims of “educating college students about the dangers of violent extremism, strengthening the Mindanaoan pride, and empowering communities to create our own counter-narratives” in a time wherein troubling issues scorn some of the island’s regions.
Legacies in Mindanao
As Anay envisions the graduates to work together, according to their respective fields, to achieve the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the recipients of the convocation’s prestigious awards shared their legacies during the program — all of which contributed to the healing, growth, preservation, and appreciation of Mindanao and its people, practices, and beliefs.
The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, a congregation that celebrates its 400th founding anniversary this year, received the Archbishop Santiago TG Hayes SJ Award for “their generous service and dedication to the Church in Mindanao, especially to communities in the peripheries.” Provincial councilor Sr. Neriza Herbon received the award on behalf of the said congregation.
“We accept this on behalf of the 500 DC Sisters in the country,” she said. “This award affirms our mission’s providence, our services in areas where no one dared to go.”
With an empowering motto, “The charity of Jesus Christ crucified urges us,” the congregation has helped communities in Mindanao such as those in Valencia, Dumingag in Zamboanga del Sur by ministering pastoral, community-based health and educational programs, and in Tagum, Davao del Norte where they served in the Diocese to champion the causes of the Indigenous Peoples in their Social Action, Justice and Peace apostolate.
The Martial Law years also toughened the DC Sisters, as they stayed in solidarity with the victims — left, right, and center in the political spectrum — working for relief and rehabilitation, legal assistance, and health care. In 2011, when Tropical Storm Sendong lashed its wrath across the City of Golden Friendship, the congregation sent four teams of DC Sisters to work with the displaced Kagay-anon families. In Sendong-ravaged Iligan City, the DC Sisters also attended to the basic and spiritual needs of families in evacuation and resettlement sites sponsored by their congregation.
Inspired by the Catholic faith, as well as the culture centralized among the Muslim majority in Marawi City where she worked as a literature professor at Mindanao State University for 12 passionate years, Sr. Ma. Delia Coronel of the Immaculate Heart of Jesus was the recipient of the Fr. Francisco Demetrio SJ Award for her contributions to culture and the arts.
“It was Sr. Delia’s work in Marawi that marked her life — a huge undertaking,” provincial superior Sr. Amelia David of the same congregation said in her speech on behalf of Coronel. “She brought focused attention to the Maranao culture. … She approached the people in Marawi with reverence and humility as a missionary and built relationships with them.”
With the same vision for Mindanao, Coronel has devoted her life to promote and preserve the Maranao culture and folklores in her literary works. Her English translations of “Darangen: Maranao Epic” in seven books were introduced in the United States in 1991 and brought her great renown and accolades.
A pivotal event in 1978 changed Coronel’s life. She was kidnapped by Muslim separatist rebels aiming to publicize their cause. While in captivity, the nun’s belief was strengthened that through her work on the Maranao epics, she could contribute to a meaningful dialogue and enlighten the Filipino nation on the cultures of Mindanao. This experience was the precursor of her life’s ultimate mission — using literature as a powerful instrument to promote peace-building and foster mutual understanding.
Relating the challenge of Coronel to young Filipinos, David encouraged the graduates to tell their own stories: “We read to understand and to retell. Make your life story an epic.”
Come back to Mindanao
The obstacle of captivity wasn’t only overcome by Coronel, but was also won over by Br. Carlito “Karl” M Gaspar of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, this year’s Doctor of Humanities honoris causa recipient.
At the height of Martial Law, Karl, fighting for democracy, was captured and detained for 22 months by the regime’s military. During his detention, he was adopted by Amnesty International as a political prisoner and became more determined to stand up for peace and freedom.
Exemplifying the life of Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed in 1945 for defending the Jews during Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Gaspar urges the graduates to “walk in the path of righteousness” amid a world in turmoil and a country where the horrors of its past are gradually returning to haunt us.
“You take a pride of place following the footsteps of all the young people in previous eras who now constitute your ancestors who dared to defy oppression,” he shared. “That can then perhaps be the shining moment of your generation.”
Gaspar has spent most of his life in southern regions conducting interfaith dialogues, leading campaigns, and organizing training programs to combat ecological challenges. Immersed with the indigenous communities, some of which he has worked with have been Davao Oriental’s Mandaya, Cotabato and Bukidnon’s Manobo, Zamboanga Del Sur’s Subanen, and Sultan Kudarat’s Dulangan Manobo.
With doctorate degrees in the studies of anthropology, sociology, and history, he is a professor at Ateneo de Davao University and serves as the academic dean of Saint Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute.
As he advised the graduates to grab every opportunity to establish a career without destroying the dignity of other people and the integrity of God’s creation, he reminded them to keep Xavier Ateneo’s Jesuit education with the responsibilities as “men and women for others” and to always remember their roots.
“Go explore the world, as travel can only expand your horizon and find antidotes to being bigoted and prejudiced against other people’s culture, genders, ethnicities, and religions,” Gaspar said.
“But come back home. Invest in the future of Northern Mindanao which is your home and help this city of gold to prosper.”
Go to the peripheries
In his concluding remarks, XU president Fr Roberto C Yap SJ encouraged the graduates to heed Pope Francis’s message to “go out and head for the peripheries.”
He expressed his gratitude to the awardees for the inspiration they gave to the graduates: “Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan is profoundly privileged to honor the three awardees who have been going to the peripheries. They have embraced the peripheries.”
Xavier Ateneo hopes that the university’s role of facilitating interfaith dialogues along with the awardees’ lifetime achievements and the class valedictorian’s dream for the graduates to collectively take part in the island’s progress may bring the peripheral communities in Mindanao and their issues to light and resolutions.
As the 78th Commencement Exercises continue with the graduation rites slated on March 31 and April 1, Mindanao’s first university proudly sets off its new batch of graduates to continue her legacy and live up to her esteemed identity.