FOR THE GRADUATES
(Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Beltran Quevedo, OMI, DD, former two-term president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and presently secretary-general of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, was conferred an honorary doctorate in the Humanities by Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City last March 25 “In recognition of the long years of dedicated service to the people of Mindanao and for his continual efforts to help bring peace and development in this land of promise, and for his untiring determination to bring about social justice among its people.” He also delivered this commencement address below).
Your Excellency, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, Distinguished Officers and Members of the Board of Trustees of Xavier University, Rev. Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, esteemed President of the University, fellow awardees, devoted members of the University Community, beloved Parents, Friends, and my Fellow Graduates:
I am deeply humbled by the great honor that Xavier University has graciously accorded me. I am profoundly grateful.
My fellow Graduates, you earned your degrees with diligent academic work. Mine is a gift from the University, precious and unearned.
Today the great challenge of tension and conflict in Mindanao continues to vex and worry us. I speak particularly of the conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Government of the Philippines.
In the face of this challenge, what do our degrees mean? Certainly a degree from Xavier University opens up probabilities of good jobs beneficial to yourselves and to your families.
Yet the vision-mission of this eminent University impels us to look beyond ourselves and our loved ones, beyond the narrow confines of family and places of work. We, in the famous Jesuit saying, are called to be “men and women for others.”
Will our degrees make Mindanao more progressive, more just, and more peaceful? As graduates of Xavier University, shall we make a difference in the striving for peace in Mindanao?
These questions are imperative. The search for peace in Mindanao has endured for 40 long years. The path to peace is dotted with potholes of failed negotiations, of eruptions of war, of the death throes of thousands, of the anguished cries of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons through the years. And now a new administration is charting a new map for peace.
Peace, however, should not be left to negotiating parties. All of us here are stakeholders of peace. We want to know what is going on. We want to be consulted. But beyond these desiderata, what can we contribute to the quest for peace?
To Dream of Peace that Lasts
I believe that we need first to discern what kind of peace we really want — to dream of genuine peace that is just and lasting. Allow me then to articulate my own dream of peace.
I dream of peace in Mindanao that respects and recognizes the personal dignity and right of every person, regardless of religion, culture, gender, race, or ethnicity – whether Muslim, Christian, or Lumad. The God-given dignity of the human person made unto the image and likeness of God is the fundamental pillar of a just and lasting peace.
I dream of peace in Mindanao that recognizes the just aspirations of its original inhabitants for self determination, a peace that at the same time appreciates the historical development of Mindanao and its various peoples. It is this two-fold realization that provides political realism as well as reachable vision in the path to peace.
I dream of peace that overcomes historical, cultural, religious, economic, and political biases and prejudices, a peace that stands firmly on mutual acceptance of differences, on mutual respect and understanding.
I dream of peace that is not merely a covenant of shared ideas and aspirations for Mindanao. I dream of peace that is written in the heart. Peace is more than saying “Yes, we both agree.” Peace is of the heart, a covenant of the heart. It is the heart of one people saying “yes” to the heart of another people — in friendship, and yes, why not love?
I pray that peace negotiators would somehow consider in their work the few fundamental principles that I have attempted to articulate in my dream of peace.
Complex issues await the peace talks in Mindanao, issues of history, economics and politics, of culture and religion. Such are the issues of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, of the right to self-determination, of ancestral domain, of shared responsibility over natural resources, and many other issues.
At the end, such complex issues revolve around the questions of who we are as Mindanawons and what we are to be — our identity and future. Indeed, profoundly transcendental questions.
The road to peace is tortuous and long. There will be provocations and threats of war. We will all need conviction, determination, and patient endurance.
To Work for Peace – Be a Person of Dialogue
But to dream of the peace we want is not enough. We have to work for peace. The question is, How? How can we contribute to the search for lasting peace? Aren’t we just ordinary citizens, perhaps without any significant voice in the public arena?
My friends, I humbly submit that we can contribute significantly to peace. We do so by transforming ourselves into men and women of dialogue. Whether with “friends” or with “enemies”, we need to resolve tensions, disagreements, and conflicts not by confrontation or domination, not by aggression or violence, but by dialogue.
Dialogue is inter-personal communication and relationship. It is done in places of work, in the marketplace, in classrooms, in inter-religious prayer, in the sharing of religious experiences, in collaborative action for the common good, as in common action for integrity and truth, or against corruption. Eventually true dialogue leads to interpersonal communion, to friendship.
Dialogue is rooted in the dialogue between God and us. God communicates with us through creation, through situations and events, through people, through Sacred Revelation. These are all “signals of transcendence [Peter Berger].”
A philosopher (whose name I have forgotten) once said that all history is the unfolding of the dialogue between God and us.
That is why to enter into dialogue is to move into “sacred space” and, in humility and profound respect, we communicate and share with the other.
The person of dialogue listens with the heart to what the other shares or perhaps is unable to express well. To be open is a core value of mind and heart.
The person of dialogue strives to respect and understand in the midst of biases and prejudices, of contrary voices, both within and without. Aware of prejudices but unfettered by them, the person of dialogue is able to relate harmoniously with the other (Muslim, Christian, or Lumad), even if differences remain.
Openness, respect, and the striving to understand in the midst of one’s own preconceptions and prejudgments empower the person of dialogue to catch the unvarnished truth, even if inconvenient and unconventional. Dialogue then becomes a moment of disclosure, of revelation, of the liberation of the human spirit.
Dear Graduates, the question I now ask of you is two-fold: what is your own dream of peace for Mindanao? Are you a person of dialogue?
Surely, your Xavier University education has brought you to a level above many of your own contemporaries in Mindanao society. You are called to make a difference in the striving for peace. You are men and women for others. You are to be peacemakers. And peacemakers, the Christian Sacred Scriptures say, are born of God. They are “children of God.” This is why praying to God for peace is indispensable, a sine qua non, in working for peace.
To be peacemakers in your daily lives, that is my prayer for you as you graduate from Xavier University.
And do remember this, my dear friends — to dream of peace, to work for peace is more than generating ideas. In the final analysis the work for lasting peace is a conversation of the heart.
Thank you very much.
+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I. Xavier University
Archbishop of Cotabato Cagayan de Oro
Secretary General, Federation of 25 March 2011
Asian Bishops’ Conferences