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Meeting of the SVD-Administered Universities in ASPAC
Divine Word University
Madang, Papua New Guinea May 7-9, 2007
of the SVD-administered universities in ASPAC Zone had a 2-day meeting at
Madang (PNG). The meeting took place on 7th and 8th May, 2007. Its venue
was Divine Word University, Madang, and was hosted by its president,. Jan
CZUBA. Fr. Superior General Antonio PERNIA gave the keynote address in
which he highlighted the Society?s current concerns in the area of higher
education from the perspective of the general administration.
Representatives of the six SVD-administered universities in the Zone gave
a brief report of the current state of affairs in their respective
institute of higher learning. ASPAC Zonal Coordinator William BURT and
Generalate Secretary for Formation and Education Thomas Malipurathu also
participated. Present at the meeting also were the acting provincial of
PNG, Patrick HOGAN and the President of the Governing Council of Divine
Word University, Madang, Garret ROCHE.
Thomas Malipurathu, SVD
llow me to begin by thanking Fr. Jan Czuba, Coordinator of the ASPAC Association of SVD-Administered Universities, and all of you here present, for the invitation to attend this meeting. In his invitation letter, Fr. Jan did not specify any topic or theme for this address. So, I thought I should touch on two issues which I would like the association to consider and discuss.
These two issues come from the last general chapter. As you know, the XVI General Chapter passed a resolution and a recommendation that have to do with our SVD universities, even if only tangentially. These are the following:
Resolution 2.6: Common Orientation and Guidelines for SVD Education.
That the XVI General Chapter endorse to the Society as basis for continuing reflection on the common orientation and guidelines for our work in education ?We Give You Our Word: SVD Education as Mission of Dialogue ? A Declaration and Invitation for Reflection.?
Recommendation 3.9: Specialized / Higher Studies.
That the general administration, particularly the secretary for formation and education, in communication with provinces in which there are institutions of higher learning and with provinces which have formation programs, make a concerted effort to raise awareness in the Society of the need to prepare a sufficient number of confreres for work in our many institutions of higher education and scientific research, and for other special apostolates that require academic expertise, such as VIVAT International.
The resolution deals with the question of a common orientation for our educational apostolate. The recommendation, on the other hand, touches on the question of specialized or higher studies. Here, however, the deeper question is the relationship between the university, the province and the generalate. In other words, who decides who to send for higher studies ? the university administration, the province or the generalate? Who is really responsible for seeing to it that there are enough qualified personnel for our institutions of higher learning ? the university, the province or the generalate? In other words, the recommendation on specialized or higher studies brings to the fore the deeper question of the interrelationship between the university, the province and the generalate.
These two questions ? i.e., the question of a common orientation for our educational apostolate and the question of the interrelationship between the university, the province and the generalate ? remind me of two generalate documents published in 1981. On March 1, 1981, Fr. Heekeren published the document entitled ?The Pastoral-Missionary Orientation (or Slant) of our Schools? (cf. Nuntius XI, 1979-83, 1-5, pp. 366-376). This was followed by a document published on November 6, 1981 with the general title of ?Guidelines for SVD Universities? (cf. ibid., pp. 406-430). This contained three specific documents with the more specific title of ?Guidelines to Clarify the Interrelationship between the Generalate, [the name of the university], and the Provincial Superior?. One specific document was for the ?Nanzan Educational Institution? (ibid., pp. 406-414), another the ?SVD Section of Fu Jen University? (ibid., pp. 414-422), and a third for both the ?University of San Carlos? of Cebu and the ?Divine Word University? of Tacloban (ibid., pp. 423-430).
These are the two issues which I wish to present for consideration by the association. Let me deal with them one by one, beginning with the second issue, namely, the relationship between the university, the province and the generalate.
I understand that during the last general chapter, the provincial superiors of the ASPAC provinces where we have an SVD university had an informal meeting to share experiences about the relationship of the universities with the provinces. As far as I know, this was initiated by the then provincial of JPN, Fr. Bob Kisala. In the meantime, Fr. Kisala submitted a Memo to me on this question, making a reference precisely to that meeting held during the chapter. Part of his Memo to me reads as follows:
It seems to me that, at least in JPN, when the Generalate gave up direct control of the university, it did not then come under the direction of the provincial council, but remains a somewhat independent body within the province, and the role of the provincial and council is unclear.
While the situation in each province is different regarding the relationship of the university to the province, we felt that there were enough common concerns to call a follow-up meeting to discuss the issue at greater length .... Since it was impossible to pursue this issue adequately during the Chapter, a decision was made to call a meeting of the provincials of provinces with SVD universities within the following year, to discuss the issue at greater length and perhaps come up with some proposals for the Generalate. I was supposed to be in charge of calling the meeting.
It would therefore seem to me that the ?Guidelines for SVD Universities? of 1981 are largely unknown to most provincials and perhaps even to some University presidents. The Guidelines are rather detailed ? touching such questions as, for instance, the competence to assign personnel to the university and to the university SVD community, to give permission for studies, to approve travel requests, etc. The primary objective seems to be to clarify the competencies in terms of the university as a legal body and the university as a Society apostolate.
Obviously, the Guidelines may now be dated. They were formulated more than 25 years ago. In the meantime, many changes and developments have taken place in the Society as a whole, in the provinces, and in the individual universities. At this time, there were only four SVD universities in Asia, and guidelines were formulated for each of these four universities. In the meantime, the Divine Word University of Tacloban was forced to close down, and three other universities have emerged ? Widya Mandira in IDT, Divine Word Univesity in PNG, and Holy Name Univesity in PHS. In addition, the status of our SVD presence in Fu Jen University has changed.
The question here is: Are the Guidelines of 1981 still applicable at this time? Do they need to be updated and revised? Are Guidelines of this sort necessary at all? Should analogous Guidelines be formulated for the newer universities? If we so decide, how should be the process of revising the existing Guidelines and/or formulating new ones?
This is the first issue that I would like to present for your consideration. Let me know move to the other issue ? the issue of a common orientation for our educational apostolate.
Obviously, the first question here is whether it is possible at all to provide a common orientation for our educational apostolate throughout the Society. Indeed, doubts were already expressed during the general chapter itself. Some capitulars claimed that, given the wide variety of situations in the different countries and continents, in the various provinces and zones, it is simply impossible to arrive at any common orientation for our schools. One only needs to point to the vast differences between Latin America and Asia. And even within Asia itself ? between Indonesia and Japan or between PNG and Taiwan.
On the other hand, other capitulars felt that if we are one religious missionary congregation with one and the same mission and charism, should there not be something common in our educational apostolate, no matter where our schools are located? In the end, this second group of capitulars prevailed. The chapter passed Resolution 2.6. on the ?Common Orientation and Guidelines for SVD Education?.
At the generalate planning sessions in October last year, it was decided to implement this resolution in the following manner:
(1) At its next planning sessions in July this year, the generalate will undertake a preliminary discussion on the question based on a study of the 1981 document on the ?Pastoral and Missionary Slant of our Schools?. The aim would be to arrive at some ?initial guidelines? for further discussion in the zones and provinces.
(2) The result of this preliminary discussion will be presented to and discussed further with the four zonal coordinators also in July. The aim would be fine-tune the ?initial guidelines? which would then be sent to the provinces.
(3) The provinces will be asked to have these ?initial guidelines? discussed particularly by the confreres engaged in the educational apostolate. The provinces should then send their reactions and suggestions to the generalate.
(4) Eventually, selected confreres engaged in the educational apostolate in the various zones and provinces will be invited to an international meeting for the purpose of finalizing a document that would contain the common orientation and guidelines for SVD Education.
Thus, the generalate feels that a good starting point for a reflection on this matter is the 1981 document on the ?pastoral and missionary slant of our schools?. Allow me therefore to give an overview of the main content of this document.
1. The 1981 Document: ?The Pastoral and Missionary Slant of our Schools?.
The first thing to be said about this document is that it was not its purpose to provide a common orientation for our educational apostolate. It arose from a particular situation. Social justice, liberation theology, the preferential option for the poor ? these were the by-words of the time. This was 1981, a year before the general chapter of 1982, the chapter that incorporated c. 112 into our Constitutions and produced a document entitled ?The Promotion of Justice and Peace in Solidarity with the Poor in the light of c. 112?. The situation, therefore, from which the document arose was characterized by such phenomena as the following:
(1) a growing feeling that the educational apostolate was becoming marginal in our Society; that school work was no longer really missionary work; that the confreres engaged in the school apostolate were not as missionary at those working in the parishes and in the front-line missions;
(2) the criticism that most of our schools were catering to the rich or the middle-class, supporting the status quo, creating an elitist class with a sense of superiority, instead of forming people in the faith and making them aware of the necessity of social change;
(3) the tendency of many religious to give up school work in favor of pastoral work and working more directly with the poor.
Thus, the main point of the document is to underline the fact that the question was not a matter of a choice between pastoral/missionary work or school work, but rather a matter of making school work truly missionary and pastoral. Thus, the title of the document: ?The pastoral and missionary slant of our schools?. To quote the document itself:
The question I would like to put to you today is a purely positive one, to wit: How can we run the schools that we actually have, that we have in principle accepted as part of our Society?s work, in such a way that they fall into line with the real pastoral and missionary concerns of the present day? (p. 370).
In response to this basic question, the document makes the following seven points:
(1) The true significance of education does not lie in its pragmatic value. ?The knowledge of truth is its own end and justification; it is a fulfillment of the human character and is thus of the highest value? (p. 370).
(2) Education concerns the whole person. School work must aim at integral formation. Our effort to impart to the young the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is based on the belief that genuine integral formation can be achieved only in the light of the Gospel.
(3) The Catholic school should, therefore, be a place of encounter with Christ. ?Our schools should not be just ordinary run-of-the-mill schools, but we should rather be a community of schoolmen who radiate faith and reflect Christ, who can be seen to live the gospel? (p. 371).
(4) Religious instruction and guidance in Christianity should be the basic task of every Catholic school. In places where religious instruction is not possible in the schools, opportunities should be used of doing so elsewhere (e.g., youth groups, holiday camps, information centers, etc). ?In most of our schools today our confreres can engage in this ?asphalt mission?....? (p. 372).
(5) The strength of a Catholic school lies in the collective witness given by the community of religious working in the school. This community should eventually include the wider circle of the lay teachers and staff, as well as the parents of the students.
(6) A deep sense of social justice is essential in our school work. This entails further the following requirements:
(a) ?... every school should be open to all, also for poor students, for children from the lower income groups, children from slums and favelas, for the handicapped, for children of minority groups. This is not only a question of finance, but, above all, an ethical one? (p. 373).
(b) ?A school in today?s world that takes no notice of social grievances has its head stuck in the sand? (p. 373). This is important so that the students? eyes are opened to real need and to the necessity of helping.
(c) No school is an island. It cannot insulate itself from human needs, but rather open its windows to what is happening in its own country, its own continent and in the world at large .... It is precisely in Christian schools that the sense of universal solidarity, of universal commitment and sharing, has to be awakened and practiced? (p. 374).
(d) ?In all our schools the value of freedom should be held in the highest esteem: freedom of opinion and freedom for minorities to express their opinions. This is a freedom that begets personal responsibility, that permits criticism; it involves structures that form people for freedom and responsibility? (p. 374).
(7) Points which are of particular relevance to SVDs at this time and which our schools should bring home to the students: great esteem for the Word of God in Holy Scripture, right use of the communications media, an appreciation and study of indigenous cultures, dialogue with other religions, ecumenism, furtherance of inculturation in theology, liturgy and architecture; conscious acceptance of our internationality; complete dedication to our cause; responsible use of our time? (p. 375).
So, these are the seven points underlined by the document. Given the situation out of which the document arose, it seems to me that point # 6 is the centerpiece of the document, i.e., the development of a sense of social justice. But, it is in point # 7 that the document becomes more specific, mentioning the elements that would be characteristic of an SVD school. Point # 7 would then be a good starting point for a reflection on a common orientation for SVD schools ? even if the purpose of the document was not, I repeat, to provide a common orientation to our educational apostolate.
2. Prophetic Dialogue.
Beyond this 1981 document, however, I believe the insight of the last two general chapters about ?Prophetic Dialogue? needs to be incorporated in any statement on a common orientation to SVD education. This is what the declaration accepted by the last general chapter and entitled ?We Give You Our Word: SVD Education as Mission of Dialogue ? A Declaration and Invitation for Reflection? attempts to do. This declaration was produced by the ?Select Committee? at the general chapter which was formed to study and discuss the proposal about a common orientation for SVD education. Allow me now to outline the main points about prophetic dialogue.
2.1. General Chapter 2000: Prophetic Dialogue as our Mission.
The statement of the 2000 General Chapter was basically an attempt to renew our understanding of SVD mission. There are three principal insights in this renewal:
(1) Witness to the Kingdom: Our mission is primarily to give witness to God?s Kingdom. In a particular way, our call is to witness to both the universality of the Kingdom and its openness to diversity. Such witness is especially urgent in the context of globalization which tends, on the hand, to exclude and, on the other hand, to eliminate all differences. On the one hand, globalization is not nearly inclusive enough. There is an inbuilt process of exclusion that is at work on the economic, social and political levels. It leaves many to be excluded and abandoned along the way. On the other hand, globalization is not nearly open enough to the wide diversity of peoples. It produces in its wake a uniformity that tends to eliminate all differences, creating and promoting a ?one-size-fits-all? mentality. In view of this, there is particular need today to witness that God?s Kingdom is a kingdom of Love that includes absolutely everyone and, at the same time, is open to the particularity of every person and people.
(2) Prophetic Dialogue: We carry out this witness by engaging in
prophetic dialogue especially with four groups of people, namely, with
faith-seekers or people who have no faith community or religious
affiliation, with people who are poor and marginalized, with people of
different cultures, and with people of different faith traditions and
secular ideologies. In other words, our mission can be described as a call
to primary evangelization and re-evangelization, commitment to the poor
and marginalized, cross-cultural witness, and interreligious
understanding. Because of this four groups of people, we sometimes speak
of the ?fourfold prophetic dialogue?. The two words in this phrase can be
elaborated in the following way:
First, it is dialogue in the sense that we see our mission as a call to collaborate with God?s ongoing dialogue with the world. It is dialogue also in the sense that, following Vatican II (GS 3), we strive to permeate all of our activities with the attitude of ?solidarity, respect and love?. Secondly, it is prophetic in the sense that we do not dialogue from a neutral position, but from our own faith. It is prophetic also in the sense that our mission needs to be rooted both in an attitude of openness to God?s Word and in a commitment to solidarity with the world?s poor.
(3) Characteristic Dimensions: Our mission of prophetic dialogue is to be marked by four characteristic dimensions ? namely, Bible Apostolate, Mission Animation, JPIC, and Communication. As the 2000 General Chapter statement puts it, these dimensions are like ?family traits? that characterize us as SVDs. The same Chapter statement explains further and says:
Our characteristic dimensions invite us to deepen our experience of the Divine Word in multiple ways. We get to know the Biblical Word whose story is told in Scriptures. We proclaim the Animating Word who calls everyone to share in mission. We commit ourselves to the Prophetic Word who announces peace, justice and the transformation of all creation. We share the Communicating Word who seeks only to be poured out in self-giving love (74).
2.2. General Chapter 2006: Prophetic Dialogue as our Lifestyle.
The last general chapter, the General Chapter of 2006, builds on this insight and uses it as a lens to renew our religious-missionary life. Prophetic dialogue is not just our mission but also our lifestyle. Prophetic dialogue describes not just what we must do but also how we should live. Prophetic dialogue is to characterize both our mission and our life. Five aspects of our life are considered under the lens of prophetic dialogue ? spirituality, community, leadership, finances and formation. The ?conversions? called for are identified and concrete ?steps to renewal? are suggested to help us make prophetic dialogue truly our lifestyle.
I believe that the choice of ?dialogue? as a key to understanding our life and mission is a very appropriate one. Commentators observe that if in the 1970?s and 1980?s, the primary theological question was about liberation and social justice, today the principal theological question seems to be about dialogue and the plurality of religions. The focus seems to be moving from Latin America to Asia. Indeed, Pope John Paul II defined Asia as the great missionary horizon of the church in the 21st century (cf. RM 37). Economically, China and India are emerging as the new giants in the world market. Additionally, the recent prominence of Islam makes interreligious dialogue a central concern today.
A new or renewed document on the ?Missionary and Pastoral Slant of our Schools? needs to be written in this perspective. Indeed, it needs to be formulated in the framework of ?prophetic dialogue?. Not that the question of poverty and social justice should be set aside, but that a new focus needs to be integrated. After all, our notion of ?prophetic dialogue? encompasses reaching out to four dialogue partners, the poor and marginalized included.
In this perspective, our SVD educational apostolate could be understood as directed fundamentally at promoting dialogue. Our schools could be seen as places where the spirit of dialogue is learned and imbibed, where men and women of our time are formed to become persons of dialogue or dialogue-persons. Ultimately, the vision would be of our schools forming communities which mirror the divine community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That would certainly echo the prayer of the Founder that ?One and Triune God may live in our hearts and in the hearts of all?.
To make the university, and all our educational institutions ?schools of dialogue? ? this is the great challenge facing SVD education today. This indeed should be the center-piece of a statement on the common orientation for SVD education today.