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Thursday, July 17, 2008

isew speech

{this is a speech i was asked to be given to the whole Ateneo de Iloilo community during the ISEW last may 26-28}

My Role in the Mission of the Ateneo de Iloilo
ISEW – Ateneo de Iloilo
27 May 2008

Good morning my fellow colleagues and friends. I was tasked to give my own reflection on “My Role in the Mission of the Ateneo de Iloilo.” At first I felt unworthy because I have only been here for one year and I believe that most of you can speak more on this theme. Due to my obedience to my superior, I will heed the call and I do hope that in the end of my sharing, I will be able to share some points for us to reflect in this workshop, especially my experiences as a Jesuit which we share a common mission.

Let me then start my sharing with a story. As I was preparing this reflection, I remembered a simple story that happened during my last year in college. During that time in Ateneo de Zamboanga, we would have a beauty contest called Miss Ateneo that would happen as a starting event for our weeklong Ateneo Fiesta on early Decembers. During that time I was part of the team that was to coach our contestant, our Miss Arts and Sciences, how to answer the question and answer portion of the contest. Not that our bet is “stubborn” or sort, but because we want our contestant to be as prepared as possible. Before the actual contest, our team would think of all the possible questions that the judge may ask and also think of the possible intelligent answers to those questions.

Just minutes before the question and answer portion of the contest, we made some final preparations. Suddenly, it just came to us, what if the question would be about the vision and mission of the school. Among all the possible questions, this question is what we have overlooked. Luckily, as a good Atenean like myself (ehem!), I have kept a leaflet in my wallet containing a summary of the vision and mission of Ateneo de Zamboanga. So we gave another short review to our contestant. And you know what? The question that our bet raffled has something to do with the vision and mission of the school and our contestant simply aced it and she eventually was crowned as Miss Ateneo of 1997.

Looking back at the story, I was amazed how we have done a great job in making our contestant a winner. Yes, our contestant became Miss Ateneo, but is she really a Miss Ateneo? Let this question be a springboard to my sharing. My sharing will basically focus on two questions that were given: first, what to me is the mission of Ateneo de Iloilo-Santa Maria Catholic School?; and second, how do I contribute to that mission?

Immediately, perhaps, when someone ask us this question, we might run back to what is usually written on the main doors of our school like the 7Cs (Christ-centered; men and women of competence, conscience, compassion, community, character and culture), being a Catholic, a Jesuit, and a Chinese-Filipino school. Perhaps, for someone who is familiar with the Jesuit Education System, this can be easily explained. But for me, answering this question may go beyond what is just written there. It should come from experience and from the heart. For me then, the mission of Ateneo de Iloilo is set our students and each other on fire. What do I mean to set each other on fire? This is not an invitation to go and burn each other, although some of us may occasionally feel that way, but these are images of fire – to be on fire for unity, to be on fire for purity, and to be on fire for service. Let these three images of fire be the three parts of my sharing.

Fire for unity

When there is one flame here and another flame there and you put the flames together, they will not put out each other. They harmonize; they become one flame, a bigger flame. So should it be with us. While we are on fire and we meet another who is on fire, there should be a meeting of hearts. There should be harmony and there should be oneness. As we try to form leaders, our students should be the point of unity because before they are able to lead, they first have to experience to bring us all together.

On the summer of 2006, I was assigned in Dingalan, Aurora to do Gawad Kalinga (GK) work. And there for a month, I helped build 3 GK houses and form the Kapit-Bahayan and the SIGA-Youth Program. I’ve thought that when I will arrive there things will be easy. But it came out differently. My work was really to start their organizations from scratch, elect officers, create by-laws, do initial fund raising, as well as do community building activities. These are the problems of the GK areas that time. When you put together different people from different places to live in one community, tensions can easily start because of these differences. Almost every night there would be disputes from one house to another. Almost every day I have to stand in the middle and facilitate compromises between arguing families. It was a very difficult situation for me. I was alone and sometimes I entertain the thoughts of packing-up. But I remembered a Jesuit friend once told me, that perhaps you don’t need to do anything concrete, but be with them. So I continued despite the difficulties. And then a great opportunity came. After letting them voice out their concerns, I have found a common fire among them, a fire that could lead a stronger and united GK community. They didn’t realize all along that they are brought together because they lost their old homes because of the great typhoon that year. Nobody can ever understand them except they themselves; they have each other to make this work. And slowly things were slowly turning out to be better.

My dear friends, I believe that we all share the same fire that’s why we are all here. Even with our students and parents, they too share the same fire. But putting these fires all together may be a challenging task. Yet this is our mission – we try to unite ourselves so that we can make a change, we can make a difference.

Fire for purity

Fire also cleanses. It purifies. That is why we cook food by subjecting it to fire. We must be on fire with purity -- not only purity that is chastity, but purity that is also honesty and sincerity. Purity also means generosity. The Gospel says that the Kingdom of God cannot be found by those who are lazy. Only those who go all the way, those who are pure of heart can discover the Kingdom of God. That is why the mission of our school is to call on our students to be generous with themselves even to the point of sacrifice, for the good and growth of the school as well as the community.

Two years ago, I was at the Game 4 of UAAP between Ateneo and UST. That year, it was clear that the UST team was better. They were leading in a big way, and it seemed impossible to close the gap. The Ateneo crowd was only one-third of the UST crowd in the jam packed Araneta Coliseum. I was feeling terribly discouraged and wanted to go home, concede defeat, give up, and I suspect many on the Ateneo side felt the same way. But there was a magical moment in the middle of all that discouragement. I don’t know who thought of it, but suddenly someone unfurled a banner for all to see. It simply said, “Summon the heart of a champion.” The effect on us was electric. It was as though someone had slapped us in the face, called us to remember what we had been. All of a sudden there was shouting, cheering, confidence, passion, energy until the end, where once there had been despair and mediocrity. We didn’t win, but it was a magnificent defeat.

Last year, as a class adviser with Sir H, it was not a golden year for our class. We never really won the crown among the many different competitions in high school – from cheerleading to verse choir, from sports events to spelling bee, from Alay kay Maria to Christmas Outreach fund raising. But if I may say so, we did well that year. We did well because we went an extra mile despite we knew that we can only strive as much. By these, winning had become secondary; it was the heart and sacrifices that each and everyone had put that mattered.

Fire for service

The third thing about fire that we should ask of the Lord thru St. Ignatius of Loyola, is that our hearts be on fire for service. This is our mission. We can be tempted to become lukewarm and indifferent to others and on the day our hearts no longer burn with fire, many others will die shivering from the cold! A lot of people are depending on our service to them. Our service takes on the form of igniting not only our students but also the entire Ateneo community so that everyone is given a chance to bring forth their talents and to let their light shine for others.

Whenever I feel tired or perhaps even at lost in my Jesuit vocation, I usually go back to my JVP experiences in Bilibid. As most of you know, I have worked in the New Bilibid Prisons for two full years as a rehabilitation officer. Though working in Bilibid was really tough, it is special in my heart because I have firmly found my Jesuit vocation there. And looking back at my experiences, I would never be this burning if it wasn’t the fire for service that our Jesuit fathers, my fellow program officers, and even the many selfless prisoners, has shown to me. They were persons of passion. Think of it. Sometimes we ask for food to eat because we share our food supplies to those prisoners in the hospital or even to some strangers. Sometimes we beg for money even to those who doesn’t believe in helping the prisoners so that we could send some children of prisoners to school. Sometimes we plead in front of government leaders and public personalities in order for the Death Penalty to be abolished. But in spite of all of these problems and obstacles, these persons of passion never cease to serve, they never cease to love. And I am so edified by their example that it had taught me to do the same no matter what.

Perhaps some of you might not believe the things I have done for the love of the ministry. I was the DJ of the dance during the HS acquaintance party. I sang the Psalm in a school-wide mass. I played basketball against the varsity team. I did cheer dancing and stunts with my students during the intramurals. I conducted a choral singing. I performed magic tricks in a program. I dressed in Korean costume to teach the famous Korean froggy dance in front of the GS assembly. I also dressed in Binukid costume for Fr. Manny’s birthday. I surprised my class by wearing a HS uniform. And most of all, my all time favorite, I dressed in Sto. NiƱo costume (which I look like a small Black Nazarene) during the Dinagyang week and gave candies to grades 1 and 2 pupils. Until now I still wonder how I did all of these stuff. When I look back with my experiences I sometimes caught laughing at myself about how I look and my different gestures. Yet at the same time I was also cautious that others might get me wrong thinking that I am just playing around. A fool for Christ -- I think this captures that fire for service. Regency for me is really a time to shine, a time to go an extra mile, to try new things, to make a difference. And to do these one must be a sort of a fool, going to the frontiers, all for God’s greater glory. And this is also what I feel is our mission as a school. Whether we are a teacher or staff, we can be a sort of a fool sometimes if only to make even one person realize that he is special and loved by God.

I would like to end my sharing in gratitude and in hope. Thank you very much for this opportunity to be with you, working with you, praying with you, and dreaming with you. I have learned and grown so much for this past year as a Jesuit Regent because of all of you, and I do hope that I have also contributed in my little own ways in fulfilling our school’s mission. And I also hope that I was able to give you some points to ponder on this theme. So when you will be invited to be a contestant of Miss or Mister Ateneo in the future, will you be able to answer in your own words what is YOUR mission in Ateneo de Iloilo. God bless you all and your love ones. Thank you, thank you very much.

Arthur W. Nebrao, Jr., SJ
2nd Year Jesuit Regent (ADI-SMCS)

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