To the participants and faculty of the member-institutions of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in Asia Pacific, volunteers and staff of this AJCU-AP Service Learning Program, Dios Marhay na banggi sato gabos, good evening.
In behalf of Fr. Joel Tabora, chairman of the AJCUAP, I would like to extend his warmest greetings of welcome to everyone, especially to the participants and faculty-mentors of our different member-institutions and extend also his sincerest gratitude to the Ateneo de Naga University for hosting this event. I am especially thankful to my alma mater for graciously hosting the 6th Service Learning Program and for courageously facing head on, a chimera, a monster so familiar its face is the face of our neighbor: poverty.
The theme for this year’s SLP is a beautiful message, and a profound challenge. Love for the Poor. The poor here is not some abstract, and occasionally present ‘other’. Western idea of the ‘other’ does not quite fit in our oriental appropriation of the neighbor, who is not completely the ‘other’ but also of us, in us. The ‘kapwa’ in Tagalog and Bikol, the ‘isigkatawo’ in Bisaya. Poverty then is not some distant situation, nor is it a place where we go to for exposure and immersion, but a condition felt and experienced by our kapwa, the ‘other’ who is also of us. We are already in poverty, immersed and fully exposed, yet seemingly blind and deaf to this reality. Only through compassion, of ‘suffering with’, of putting ourselves in their shoes, do we realize that a suffering world, a suffering neighbor, is also a suffering us. It is the aim of this SLP that you find the ‘kapwa’, who is also yourself, in the abject conditions of poverty.
‘Love for the poor’ most of all is a Gospel message and a Jesuit mission. The universities and schools, as venues and agents for change, are moved to action by this message. We gather here as different educational institutions with different visions and missions prompted by local needs, but ultimately we come together in the spirit of Jesuit Education as an apostolic instrument, in the service of the church as it serves society. In this SLP, we invite you dear participants to reflect on the actual situation of today’s world and to respond to the call of Christ who had a special love and concern for the poor. To be a self-transforming experience, this contact, this encounter through the service learning program, must be joined with reflection and intimate meditation.
Lastly, I wish you all to enjoy your stay here in Bikol, surrounded with the warm smiles of the Bikolanos, some of us poor but also richly blessed with God’s graces.
I wish you all a blessed and profound experience here in Bikol.
Dios an mabalos saindo gabos. Thank you.