Light the Candle, Not Curse the Darkness

(Speech of Ateneo de Zamboanga University President Fr. Tony Moreno during the 2008 Special Awards Convocation last August 20, at the ADZU Campus, Zamboanga City.)

The Archbishop of Zamboanga, Most Rev Romulo G Valles; the recipients of the Archbishop Luis V del Rosario Award, the members of the Pontificio Instituto Missioni Estere represented by PIME Father Guilio Mariani; the recipient of the Ateneo Peace Award, the Nagdilaab Foundation Inc., led by its Board member Hon Jessica Flores; awardee of the Mayor Cesar C Climaco Award, Honorable Jesse M Robredo, the Mayor of Naga City, the Ateneo community led by the members of the Ateneo Board, Heads of schools and institutions, religious leaders, distinguished guests, friends, alumni, parents and students, ladies and gentlemen, buenas tardes a todos, assalamu alaikum.

I thank you all for being here this afternoon for our 2008 Ateneo Special Awards Convocation. Congratulations to our awardees.

Two days ago, we were alarmed greatly by the intense fighting between the military and the MILF in Linamon, Maigo, Kauswagan, and Kolambugan in Lanao del Norte, and in Maasim, Sarangani. Days before that, we witnessed resumption of hostilities in various parts of Mindanao in Al Barka in Basilan; Aleosan, Pikit, Midsayap, and other areas in North Cotabato that displaced more than 150,000 citizens. This schoolyear started with a bleak news of skyrocketing prices of rice and oil, soaring inflation rate, and of late many people here were enraged when the controversial aborted Memo on Ancestral Domain was brought to the public forum. Last week as I was going to NAIA 2 to catch my Zamboanga plane, my tax driver asked me: “Saan po kayo pupunta?” “Sa Zamboanga.” I said. Innocently he asked me: “Parte ba iyan ng Pilipinas?” I could not help but ask myself if his innocent question was an omen of the future ahead of us. Now, we hear of a looming specter of Cha-cha. We are once again at the threshold of chaos and violence. In a word, all around us is bad news.

Today, we declare: enough of bad news. Let’s have good news. Let’s give thanks, let’s celebrate, and let’s live out the values exemplified by the awardees. We give thanks to our awardees for showing us the way forward.

The PIME missionaries gave their lives in the service of the people of God despite threats, kidnapping, torture and even martyrdom of the members of this religious congregation. In their forty years of service in the Philippines, PIME Fathers Tulio Favali and Salvatorre Carzedda were martyred. These great missionaries devoted themselves to the task of interreligious dialogue in a world torn by strife and division. They have offered themselves as living witnesses to the Risen Christ giving poor people hope, love and peace.

The Nagdialaab Foundation Inc., members have likewise created spaces for peace and social engagement. They have committed themselves to the work of peace and development even amid adversities. At the height of the crisis in the Basilan in the wake of the beheading of ten marine soldiers, the Nagdilaab Foundation navigated its way to orchestrate the multi-sectoral group Pagtabangan BASULTA to assist the displaced people. Recently, they were a key actor in the ARMM polls in Basilan despite the many threats and difficulties they encountered.

Multi-awarded Mayor Robredo showed us what good, participative, and effective governance is all about. He reinvented politics and gave it a good name. Innovative, heroic, engaged leader and manager, inspiring, amazing, deeply committed to eradicate poverty, and authentically Christian – these are some words that fit in well with the person of Mayor Robredo.

We thank therefore the PIME missionaries, the Nagdilaab Foundation Inc., and Mayor Robredo for lighting their candles, and not simply cursing the darkness in our midst. To this end, we celebrate their great deeds. Their great deeds have given us new purpose, inspiration, and hope for a better Philippines. We also celebrate their sense of courage. Only heroic people like our awardees are able to transform our society. It can’t be transformed by people who are timid, devoid of passion and dreams. Lastly, we celebrate their hopes and dreams. Their hopes and dreams, we see before us. In them, we are able to unmask the beauty of our world, a beauty we may have lost sight of.

Finally, the awards this afternoon are leaving us challenges that we should respond to. We are invited to discover for ourselves what sort of light we must carry in the midst of darkness. In life, there are not many options as we deal with darkness: we either curse it or light a candle. We could spend the rest of our lives cursing darkness, and the darkness remains with us. Our awardees, however, have shown us that simply cursing it does not solve the problem. They lit their candles. The question for us then is: should we merely curse darkness or must we go beyond it and light our candles?

God bless.

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