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Do not forget the poor



Here is the conclusion of the speech I gave at the graduation rites of St. Dominic College of Asia.

Use your talents wisely

Fr. Ben Nebres, former president of Ateneo de Manila University, gave this year’s commencement speech at Ateneo de Zamboanga. This time, I will paraphrase and quote from his speech.

In his speech, Father Ben said when Cardinal Chito Tagle spoke at the recent commencement of Ateneo de Manila, he said that in Rome, when it became clear that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina would be the next Pope, the cardinal from Brazil who sat beside him whispered to the future Pontiff: “Now that you will be Pope, do not forget the poor.”

Cardinal Bergoglio, the first Jesuit to become Pope, chose the name Francis after the saint of Assisi, who gave away everything to be with the poor.

Our new Pope reiterated that “the greatest challenge of our time and the greatest scandal is that so many continue to live in the most abject poverty amidst a world of progress and plenty. It is also so in our beloved country.”

“About 20 percent of our people regularly go hungry,” said Father Ben. “In our Ateneo de Manila work with public schools, we are now providing feeding programs every school day for 5,000 children in Quezon City and 6,500 in Valenzuela. The DepEd (Department of Education) says we should be providing them for over 400,000 children in our country.”

Father Ben also talked about Dr. Jose Rizal, whom most of us know only through the Noli [Me Tangere], the Fili [El Filibusterismo] and his being our national hero.  In exile, Rizal cared for the poor in Dapitan.

“Rizal was… a doctor and so he provided healthcare for the people of Dapitan,” says Father Ben. “In a letter to [Ferdinand] Blumentritt, he gave his clinic schedule as between breakfast and lunch time. Rizal also wrote that he put up a school and his schedule after lunch was to teach his young boys arithmetic, Spanish and English until 4 p.m. On Sundays and holidays, together with the Jesuits assigned to Dapitan, he held adult classes in education and fine arts.  More amazing is that, with the help of a Jesuit, he built a water system, which a visiting American engineer described in later years:

“A famous and well-known water supply is that of Dapitan, Mindanao, designed and constructed by Doctor Rizal during his banishment in that municipality by the Spanish authorities… This supply comes from a little mountain stream across the river from Dapitan and follows the contour of the country for the whole distance… The length of this aqueduct is several kilometers and it winds in and out among the rocks and is carried across gullies in bamboo pipes held by rocks or brick piers to the distribution reservoir.”

Rizal also planted thousands of hemp plants and coconut trees.  He introduced American machinery to help modernize agriculture. He introduced a net for trawl fishing and asked a couple of Calamba fishermen to train those in Dapitan.  Rizal used a method he had seen in Belgium to make good bricks and even invented a machine for doing so.

“Water, health clinics, schools, productive farms and fishing, better homes,” Father Ben summarized. “Pope Francis would be very proud to claim Rizal as a son of St. Ignatius.”

Serve the community

That was then.  This is now.  Father Ben said: “But after more than 100 years, the challenge of poverty remains. Among the major Southeast Asian countries, we are sadly the worst performers with respect to the top two United Nations Millennium Development Goals: Cutting in half extreme poverty and hunger, and [providing] universal primary education. About 40 percent of our children do not finish grade school.”

I know many of you want to go abroad, that you took the course you did because you or your parents felt it was the most lucrative. That is the way of the world and no one can fault you for that. But if you can afford to do so, strive for a better Philippines. There is so much suffering here, so much poverty, so much despair. You are among the very privileged few to have finished college and your talents and training are sorely needed here.

Work hard. Do your best. No excuses allowed. Have courage. Do not despair. Help one another. Use your talents wisely. Serve your community. Do not forget the poor.

Congratulations again and may God bless us all.

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