Develop Mindanao, nurture diversity, XU grads challenged

Stephen Pedroza, Angelo Lorenzo
Develop Mindanao, nurture diversity, XU grads challenged
'We really need to promote more concern and engagement because if we, Mindanaoans, won’t do it, who will?'

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines — How can Mindanaoan youth actively take part in nation-building and contribute to the progress of the country’s second largest island? 

“We really need to promote more concern and engagement because if we, Mindanaoans, won’t do it, who will?” asked Br Carlito “Karl” Gaspar of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer on Thrusday, March 30, during the commencement exercises of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan (XU). “This is our region. These are our people.” (READ: #InspireCourage: A Mindanaoan’s valedictory address)

Gaspar, who is the recipient of a Doctor of Humanities honoris causa degree this year, advised the graduates to grab every opportunity to establish a career without destroying the dignity of other people and the integrity of creation. He reminded them to uphold the responsibilities of being “men and women for others” and to always remember where they came from.

“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,” said Gaspar. “But come back home. Invest in the future of Mindanao which is your home and help this city of gold prosper.”

Lumad rights champion

For nearly 3 decades, Gaspar has lived and worked with indigenous communities in southern Mindanao – including the Mandaya in Davao Oriental, the Manobo in Cotabato and Bukidnon, the Subanen in Zamboanga del Sur, and the Dulangan Manobo in Sultan Kudarat – as a member of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team.

His work, especially in promoting the land rights of Lumads, have resulted in various collaborations among church groups, non-government organizations, and educational institutions. He initiated solidarity work on behalf of the Lumads to defend their basic human rights and claim their ancestral domains.

With doctorate degrees in anthropology, sociology, and history, he is a professor at Ateneo de Davao University and serves as the academic dean of the St Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute. To bolster Mindanao studies and research, he encourages a shift of focus on the acknowledgement of indigenous knowledge, skills, and practices to trace our heritage.

“The moment you are theoretically attuned to their plight and your life experience is very much connected to the reality of social problems, you cannot not respond,” he said.

As a multi-talented and celebrated writer, Gaspar has received a number of awards for his works on spirituality and on indigenous cultures, including the Jaime Cardinal Sin Catholic Book Awards for Best Book in Ministry and Best Book in Spirituality in 2015.

At the height of the Marcos regime, Gaspar, fighting for democracy and justice, was captured and detained for 22 months by the military.

GRADUATION 2017. The Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan's academic convocation was held on Thursday, March 30, 2017 at the XU Gymnasium. Photo by Rico Magallona.

“The path I took ultimately led me to imprisonment as a political prisoner. In those lonely and excruciating times as a prisoner of conscience it was the writings of those who experienced the same desolate existence – the likes of St. Paul, Nelson Mandela, Benigno Aquino and yes, [German Lutheran pastor Dietrich] Bonhoeffer – that got me through the darkness of prison and helped me to survive to once more experience the blessing of light when I was finally released,” he narrated.

During his detention, he was adopted by Amnesty International as a political prisoner and he became more determined to stand up for peace and freedom.

“Life in prison is no picnic, which is why you never wish it to be the experience of even your worst enemy. I do not wish that any one of you here will have to face this kind of experience,” said Gaspar, who was a high school classmate of President Rodrigo Duterte.

They both studied at Holy Cross of Digos (now Cor Jesu College in Digos City) after the latter transferred from the Ateneo de Davao University High School.

Going to the peripheries

The Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul (DC Sisters) provincial councilor Sr Neriza Herbon also spoke to the graduates at the ceremony.

The religious organization 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,” and Herbon received the award for the group.

The Martial Law years also toughened the DC Sisters, Herbon said, 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 4 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.

Meanwhile, Sr Ma. Delia Coronel of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was awarded the Fr Francisco Demetrio SJ Award for her contributions to culture and the arts. She takes inspiration from the culture centralized among the Muslim majority in Marawi City where she worked as a literature professor at Mindanao State University for 12 years. 

“It was Sr Delia’s work in Marawi that marked her life — a huge undertaking,” 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 promoting the Maranao culture and folklores in her literary works. Her English translation of Darangen: Maranao Epic was introduced in the United States in 1991 and brought her great renown and accolades.

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.”

“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,” the university president added. – 

Stephen Pedroza, Rappler’s Lead Mover in Cagayan de Oro City, is a journalism graduate from Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. He attended a course on new media in journalism at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

Angelo Lorenzo, a Development Communication graduate of XU, is one of the Lead Movers in Cagayan de Oro.

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.