From September 23 to 25, 2012, a total of 340 delegates from ten Jesuit schools converged in Zamboanga City to join Ateneo de Zamboanga University in celebrating their centennial year and to participate in the 2nd Jesuit Basic Education Congress called “#MindaNow: Re-Imagining the Filipino Soul and Story.”
The theme has been selected due to the frequent albeit unintended marginalization of Mindanao and its peoples in our accounts of history and our national consciousness. Filipinos need to acquire a fuller appreciation of Mindanao and make room for greater diversity in our sense of what being Filipino means. This challenge is especially urgent for Philippine educators such as those in our schools.
The Jesuit Basic Education Congress has been conceptualized by the Jesuit Basic Education Commission (JBEC) as an event to be held once every three years to offer our administrators and educators an opportunity to reflect on their mission and to exchange insights and best practices in professional conversation.
The first Jesuit Basic Education Congress was hosted by Ateneo de Manila University on the occasion of its sesquicentennial anniversary. The theme of that congress was “LIYAB+SILAB+ALAB: Fire, Frontiers, and Friendship in our Mission,” and the keynote addresses were delivered by the General Superior of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, SJ, and by then President of Ateneo de Manila University, Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, SJ.
On the Sunday that the participants arrived, they enjoyed a city tour that took them to the best-known tourist spots of Zamboanga City, such as the Talkusangay Mosque, the Pasonanca Park, the Yakan Village, and of course, Fort Pilar. The day culminated with a chavacano Mass presided by Fr. Edwin Castillo SJ at the beautiful University Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Ateneo de Zamboanga Purisima campus. During his homily, University President Fr. Tony Moreno SJ spoke of the challenges faced by educators in Zamboanga such as the sisters of Pilar College, who, despite opposition from certain sectors, humbly and wisely changed a school policy banning the wearing of the veil by Muslim students. The day was capped with a dinner at the Multi-Purpose Covered Courts with live music.
Day 1 of the congress began with a parade of school flags, during which the administrators of the ten schools marched into the hall of the Ateneo de Zamboanga William Kreutz campus to the warm applause of the congress delegates. After an interfaith prayer and the singing of the National Anthem, Ateneo de Zamboanga University President, Fr. Antonio Moreno SJ, welcomed the delegates as the host, taking the opportunity to share about the 100th anniversary celebration of the university. The Honorable City Mayor, Mayor Celso Lobregat, also took the stage to provide the delegates a taste of the chavacano brand of hospitality. Afterwards, Fr. Johnny Go, SJ, JBEC Chairman, welcomed the participants and presented to them an overview of the two-day congress.
“#MindaNow: Re-Imagining the Filipino Soul & Story” began with a keynote address from Fr. Antonio de Castro, SJ, a Philippine Church history scholar, who spoke during a session called “Why MindaNow? (The Jesuit Story in Mindanao). Fr. de Castro discussed what he considered were the outstanding qualities exemplified by the 19th-century Jesuit missionaries in Mindanao–qualities that he proposed to the delegates as points of reflection as we discern about working in the frontiers: Generosity, flexibility, alertness and creativity, openness, and humility in collaborating with others.
The keynote was followed by a round of professional conversations, a time for the delegates to meet their colleagues form the other schools to discuss in small groups their thoughts and reactions to the keynote. The small group discussion is an opportunity for delegates to practice the Reflection component of Ignatian pedagogy, for them to make connections and understand what has been presented in order to prepare for future action in their respective institutions.
The congress delegates were given a double treat in the afternoon: First, there was a panel discussion called “Mindanao Voices: Feelings and Wish Lists,” featuring USEC Luisito Montalbo of the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), Ms. Beatriz Inangcob-Colmo, an indigenous (or lumad) woman, and Hon. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, a former Ateneo faculty who is now a Congresswoman. These diverse voices gave the audience a first-hand account of some of the major concerns and issues facing various sectors in Mindanao.
After the panel, the participants attended different parallel sessions on various topics of interest about Mindanao such as dance and culture, religious traditions, interfaith dialogue, the changing role of women, the plight of the lumads, and holistic peace education.
While Day 1 of the Congress provided the delegates an overview of Mindanao and its peoples, Day 2 moved away from the big picture and focused on two more immediate concerns to the educators in attendance: what we teach our students about Mindanao, and the problem of bullying in our schools.
Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ delivered the day’s first keynote entitled “What’s Wrong with the Picture? Righting Mindanao’s History.” In his provocative presentation, Fr. Alejo bewailed the flagrant factual errors common in our textbooks, leading to unfair stereotypes and labels. Needless to say, many questions were raised during the Open Forum.
After Fr. Alejo’s keynote, the controversial US film by Lee Hirsch, “Bully,” was screened. The 2011 film is a moving and powerful documentary about bullying in American schools, exposing the gravity of the problem of bullying in the US by chronicling the experiences of victims in high schools in Georgia, Iowa, Texas, Mississipi, and Oklahoma, focusing on the deaths of Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, victims of bullying who committed suicide. By showing how the average American school kid is defenseless against ridicule, the film can serve as an excellent vehicle for generating awareness, reflection, and discussion about this increasingly serious problem.
On hand to provide her expertise was Dr. Honey Carandang, one of the most respected child psychologists in the country, who observed that despite the best efforts of educators in the Philippines, it seems that the phenomenon of bullying continues to worsen in many schools, especially in the light of the increasing number of actual and virtual venues, where bullying can happen and go unnoticed.
During his synthesis, Fr. Johnny Go, SJ articulated the connection between Mindanao and our problem of bullying: Mindanao may well be the victim of national bullying in our history, having been neglected and misrepresented so often in so many ways. Hence, Mindanao may also offer us lessons on how to address the problem of bullying in our schools.
One of the highlights of the JBEC Congress was the keynote address of the Provincial Superior of the Philippine Jesuits, Fr. Jose Magadia SJ, “Quo vadis, JBEC?” The Provincial acknowledged the JBEC’s strengths and accomplishments as a network, and suggested five possible directions:
- deepening Ignatian spirituality
- solidarity with the poor and reconciliation with creation
- working with and for the Church
- involvement in the Jesuits’ works in Asia Pacific
While acknowledging the challenges and constraints encountered in the mission, Fr. Provincial encouraged the delegates by sharing with them a Latin phrase that meant: “We shall find a way, and we shall make a way.”
By the closing Eucharistic Celebration, it was clear to the Congress delegates that they had just undergone a most enriching experience. Fr. Bert Ampil SJ, the only grand old man of basic education who attended the congress, delivered a homily where he even sang a song to the congregation. Fr. Ampil’s presence was significant as he represented the pillars of JBEC: Fr. Jim O’Donnel, SJ, Mrs. Jenny Huang Go, and all the others, who had painstakingly worked to build the strong ties among our schools through the Jesuit Basic Education Commission. Indeed the sense of a shared mission and community was palpable among the delegates in the days of the congress–truly a rare gift that we ought to thank the Lord for. As Jane Cacacho, High School Principal of Xavier School, put it during an Open Forum: “Not only are our bags filled with pasalubongs, but our hearts also are overflowing with gratitude.”
Delegates were encouraged to tweet their comments and insights during the congress. To see their tweets, click here.
JBEC has obtained the local distribution rights for the documentary “Bully” and is currently organizing a premiere, as well as a commercial theater run and school tour. If interested, call Je Ching of the IGNITE Office in Xavier School (632) 7230481.