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1980 Commencement Speech: Most Rev. Francisco F. Claver, Bishop of Malaybay, P.I.

Source: Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University Libraries

Father Raynor, Faculty, Graduates and their Families, Friends of Marquette:

The ceremonial life is not a strong point with us in Bukidnon, so pardon me if these trappings – this cap, this gown – are not exactly at home with me! But these unaccustomed accouterments not withstanding, the occasion itself, this great hall, you – strangers all practically, and strangers in more ways than just acquaintance – not withstanding all this, I must say I am most at home here. For through a university (and you have a fine one here) is the quintessence of sophistication – intellectual, certainly and in many other ways – and Bukidnon, where I come from, is grassroots in every sense of the word, there is, I believe, a deep, very deep affinity between the two.

You know what Marquette is – or I’ll presume you do! Let me then dwell briefly on the other half of that apparently far-fetched relationship that I speak of: Bukidnon. And Bukidnon, not as a place, a geographical entity (and exotic, according to our tourism-business drumbeaters), but as people, and as people, a generalization of a worldwide human condition. I will have to say too, that if Bukidnon is people, then it has perforce to be also an idea, or, better, a state of mind. That sounds a little too pompous, too forced an effort at effect. But you can also say the same of Marquette or anyplace: it is people; it’s an idea; it is a state of mind.

Bukidnon. Bukidnon, a province set right smack in the center of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, is half a million people and more. Agricultural, rural, perhaps even primitive by Western standards, and poor – though I do not think we can say “desperately” poor, but close. Poverty is a way of life, is life. But so also is the un-freedom born of that poverty – or, rather, un-freeedoms, because there are many.

What does one do in a near hopeless, easily frustrating situation like Bukidnon? Or, rather, since the situation is people, what does one do with them, living, or trying to live, under conditions that are not, to say the least, supportive of “the good life”? And “one” – this could be government, society in general, the Church, groups, individuals.

Let me look at the question as a Churchman. And to do so, I have to rephrase it thus: what happens when the Church is, or tries to be, one with people in their sufferings, their pains, their dreams and hopes, and, yes, their little joys? What happens when Church is people and people are Church, and the life of one is the life of the other? I could just as well ask the question not of the Church but of government, of society, of the more privileged segments of that society. But let it be the Church this time.

It is a question that has intrigued us deeply in the Bukidnon boondocks, in many parts of the Philippines for that matter, these many years past. Intrigued? The word is too tame. Bothered, obsessed, hounded – are probably more like it. For pedestrian as the question must sound to you, the answers we have gropingly tried to come up with have been rather illusive – worse, they have a distressingly perverse way of raising more questions, of becoming themselves further questions. I imagine there is nothing peculiar about this all too common fact, but with you, and with the harsh realities of Bukidnon, it has meant a continual re-examining of ideas that we have rather too easily taken, shall we say, on faith – ideas about the Church and its mission for one, and for another, ideas about people, our people, and their potentials precisely as people, as human beings.

HUMAN DEVELOPMENT. In the context of grinding poverty – and imposed un-freedoms – the ideas I speak of reduce themselves to the basic one of human development, integral, total, liberating.

Recent Popes have time and again given their teaching and attention to the subject. Mater et Magistra, Populorum Progressio, Gaudium et Spes, Octogesima Adveniens, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Redemptor Hominia – these are all great documents (and not only for quoting either!). In different ways, from different points of view, they articulate the Church’s present thinking on the subject of human development and related social questions. I wish that thinking, that articulating were enough. But the painfully sad fact is, they are not. For the ideas they propose and expound, like the Gospel on which they are solidly founded, must be put into act, and in the acting, thought through and evolved further. This putting into act, this thinking through, this evolving of germinal ideas, they constitute what the Church is – or should be – about these days.

At least so it seems to us in that vast expense of exploited underdevelopment called the Third World. So it seems to us who have to try to make sense of the Gospel in the midst of enormous suffering and evil, of insensate injustice and oppression, of dehumanization run wild – and dehumanization, ironically, in the name of development itself.

Let me return, to concretize the problems, to Bukidnon and the Philippines. For the past seven and a half years, we have been under “marital law” – a dictatorship, that is, to call it by its right name. There are many reasons for its imposition and continuance, mostly spurious, but there is no need to go into those reasons in detail here. More to the point would be to look at the effects of our peculiar system of governance – and its program of development – on the country and people. In brief, they have meant the loss of freedoms and rights that in less repressive times we rather uncritically took for granted: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of the press, practically all those freedoms enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights. It is amazing how one never adverts to these as God-given rights until they are taken away and one is left helpless and fearful precisely because of their lack. This taking away of rights, their denial, as I mentioned earlier, is being done in the name of development – but development defined in sheer economic terms. The thinking – shall we dignify it by calling it a theory – simply stated, is this: human rights and freedoms as you know them are luxuries for poor, undeveloped nations like ours. To bring these nations into the twentieth century, luxuries must give away to stark necessity, and that necessity is called “progress.”

I speak of Bukidnon and the Philippines. I could just as well speak of whole continents, of South America and Africa and Asia; wherever poverty is endemic and oppressive for the overwhelming majority of people; wherever survival is conceived in terms of economic development by any and all means; wherever governments almost as a matter of course are coercive and totalitarian; wherever their main instrument of development is the gun and human life is not worth the inflated price of a bullet.

It is a tale of unmitigated horror, I grant you, a tale not fit recounting at a time and place like this, and perhaps a tale that may sounds highly exaggerated to you, from your perspective of relative comfort and affluence. But that is exactly why I choose to speak thus: your comfort, your affluence; our pains, our poverty – I am afraid they are cut from the same piece of cloth. Your lives and ours are interwoven in many more ways than we have ever dreamed possible. There is a strong interlinkage between your affluence and our poverty.

ANSWERS. I do not know many of you have ever given a thought to that interlinkage in all your years here at Marquette. I do not know if you even believe there is such a thing, or that it is such as I describe it. If you have, if you do, perhaps you have some answers – or the beginnings of answers, to the human woes I have injected into your joyous celebration today.

I wonder if, because of your closeness to academe, your answers are at base the same as those being thrust on us by all manner of expert (technocrats, they call themselves) in practically every underdeveloped country the world over. Their answers have the ring of scientific validity and are quite convincing – if statistical facts and figures are to be the sole criteria of arriving at them, that is. Those answers? They generally run along such lines as these:

  1. People in the Third World, bypassed by progress, are not capable of managing their own affairs and the ways of democracy will not work with them. Hence, they must be judiciously and firmly governed by those who know better. Guided democracy, constitutional authoritarianism (but strangely – or not so strangely – never dictatorship) – these are the usual euphemisms adopted by those who have usurped power in the messianic conviction that they know better than the commons mass.
  2. That “better” is the way things are done in economically more developed countries: efficiency, rationality, productivity, profitability – these are the concerns of great moment; also, control of resources, of political processes, of the very people themselves.
  3. Ignorance and apathy are the greatest deterrents to progress – and outdated notions and values. For their own good, in order for them to be able to survive in the complex international political and economic order, the poor, benighted “natives” must be educated to new attitudes, to the new ways of doing things, to new values.
  4. A special but crucial case in point of their general backwardness: in their ignorance of such worldwide issues as environmental pollution and dwindling natural resources, the poor are unmindful of the dangers of overpopulation: they breed too much and too fast. Thus the need of modern means of birth-prevention and their wide dissemination, even their forcing on the recalcitrant, if necessary.
  5. Development is defined in purely economic terms. Massive industrialization is the one sure way to achieve it – and this means foreign capital, chiefly through investments by big multi-national companies. Cheap labor, generous terms for repatriation of profits, “peaceful” labor conditions (that is, no real unions, no possibility of strikes, etc.) – these are the great come-ons for big business.

I could go on and on. But let these remarks suffice to bring into focus what I believe is a – if not the – main problem whether you grant that the link of reasoning and acting indicated above is correct or not, scientific or not, valid or not.

THE PROBLEM. And the main problem? The net result of all I have said above is even greater poverty, compounded by organized greed, but short-sighted programs and narrow definitions of development (although there is much talk about readiness to sacrifice whole generations to arrive at development!). But worse than deepening poverty, to my simple mind, the real problem boils down to this: People are not treated like people. Ciphers to be manipulated and programmed, yes. Mindless herds to be driven this way and that, yes. Children to be told what’s best for them, yes.

But people, capable of thinking critically for themselves, of charting their own course of action, of coming up with ways and means within their capabilities, no. To put it another way, despite our modern and quite developed rhetoric about it, human dignity and the rights that flow from it are of no consequence in many a current scheme of development, national and international.

If this is the problem how do we face up to it? How indeed? Earlier I asked: What happens when the Church is one with people in their sufferings, their pains, their dreams and hopes, their joys, their life? I could just as well have asked: What happens when the Church does not only come out with beautiful and sublime documents on integral and human development but also gets involved in the task and looks at this involvement as an imperative of the Gospel it preaches? Or, to put the question in terms of human dignity: What happens when the Church really believes what it teaches on the inalienable value of the human person and does all it can to preserve and enhance human worth?

The questions, I am fully aware, imply criticism of the Church. They do. But if we are the Church, then they are directed to ourselves. And this much I know when these questions are squarely confronted: where the Church is one with people (and these do not always have to be members of the institutional Church), where the Church is deeply involved with real problems of human development (and not just with what is narrowly defined a the spiritual), where the Church takes the promotion and defense of human dignity and rights as mandated by the Gospel (and not just the salvation of “souls”), there you will see difference between a moribund Church and a living Church, between a Christianity turned in on itself, and a Christianity turned toward life, between a religion that validates what Communists claim it is (an opiate, that is) and a religion that inspires men and women to heroic service of people in the name of Christ. And where you have such Church involvement as I have described above, there you will see a people of hope, purposive, courageous, and, yes, human – even in the midst of hopeless degradation and penury.

YOU. What does this all have to do with you? Bluntly, nothing or everything. Nothing – if your concerns are only for what tomorrow brings for you: a job, a career, raising a family, immediate, personal needs and interests. Everything – if those concerns include other people, the interests and the needs of others, in acceptance of the fact that urban Marquette is indeed linked with rural Bukidnon, and your good is our good, your pain is our pain, and whatever diminishes the humanity of other people anywhere likewise diminishes yours.

All this must sound to you like nothing but words, a surfeit of words. It is all well and good to speak of love, concern, brotherhood, humanity, Christianity – but how do we achieve these in a world in which hatred and unconcerns, distrust and selfishness, injustice and violence are the realities, and realities which must be met with practical and realistic measures, not with mealy-mouthed platitudinous commencement addresses?

How indeed? I agree, most wholeheartedly, this is the problem. And disagreeing, I throw the problem back at you. For I am afraid solutions will not come from mere words spoken here, nor from any instant ideas bursting from the top of our heads this very moment, nor, least of all, from prejudice on my part and yours about how economic and polities should be carried on. They will not come from beautiful ideas and theories, philosophies and ideologies, necessary as they may be, but from what you and I do about them, each in our own little way, to build one another up, wherever we are, into more and more genuine humanity.

Still words? I hope not – or will I have to say your stay here at Marquette was a dreary waste of time. For these “words” are merely an attempt at restating what your education here at Marquette has been all about – unless the Jesuits have in recent years veered away drastically from wheat their own traditions and directives tell them they should be doing as educators!

It too is what we in remote Bukidnon are trying to do. Under whatever rubric – educating the whole man, integral human development, total liberation, building up people, creating Basic Christian Communities – the wording does not matter. The intent does – we are (or should be) doing the same thing. The motive could be essential Christianity (being men and women for others for the love of God), or simply sheer humanism (according to all the dignity that is theirs by right), or enlightened self-interest (a pragmatic acceptance of the essential relation between personal good and common good). In its practical results, it should not matter too much.

What all this mans, I think is that there are in the task of human development more important things than – or at least equally important things as – increasing the GNP, attaining a favorable balance of trade, assuring national security, getting ahead in the arms race. Things of the spirit are important too – dignity, justice, equity, compassion, solidarity, all those values that we call human. It is the latter that will decide how truly human each person is – whole people and nations, for that matter.

CONCLUSION. The perennial exhortation to graduates (even kindergarten graduates!) has been to “go and change the world.” I am not too sure this constant exhortation has affected much of substance. Certainly, we do have today many different things – many more sophisticated ways of doing things (of killing people too, if that is to be included under the term “progress”!). But when it comes to being neighbor, to being friend, family, to one another, there are good reasons for doubt. And the main one may well be that we, you and I, are still learning to be human.

This is not as negative a reading of people and history as it sounds. As I said earlier, even in the most dehumanizing conditions of life, it is still possible to learn to be human, to strive to be human. People learning how to be human, striving together to be human, this, in the final analysis, is what that affinity is that I spoke of in the beginning between you of Marquette and us of Bukidnon. It is also the idea; the state of mind that I said Bukidnon is for us. These are the only reasons I can see why many people living under the crushing poverty of the Third World are still men and women of hope. I trust you are that too.

God bless you all in the life ahead of you.


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