Homily of Rev. Msgr. Ely Rafael D. Fuentes, PC, PhD (Batch ‘75) on the celebration of ASEC’s 50 years

50 YEARS OF CATHOLIC EDUCATION @ ASEC *

The Assumption of Our Lady Parish, Bo. Obrero, Iloilo City
July 7, 2018
20180709_094512His grace, the Most Rev. Angel N. Lagdameo, D.D., Archbishop Emeritus of Jaro, My brother priests – our former and current parish priests, Rev. Sisters - Our beloved Sisters of the Religious of the Assumption, the members of the Auxiliary Missionaries of the Assumption, Officers and Members of the Board of Trustees of ASEC, Administrators, faculty, staff, personnel and pupils of ASEC, fellow Alumni, Friends, Sponsors and Benefactors of ASEC, My dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Let me begin this reflection with the words of St. Marie Eugenie which I believe gives our 50th Foundation Year a meaningful perspective. She said, Every detail of our life has been the object of a divine thought, and that thought has always been one of Love.” This is how our life at ASEC began: From the story of the Assumption in the Philippines: the story of God's 'kagandahang-loob' to both the Assumption and the Filipino people (Assumption San Lorenzo webpage). At the special request of Pope Pius X, a group of English-speaking Assumption Sisters returned to Manila in 1904. The Sisters re-opened the boarding school for the elementary and secondary levels in Herran, Manila. In 1910, a second Boarding School was opened in Iloilo in Western Visayas at the request of Bishop Dougherty. Both schools had as emphasis, character formation of the young women in line with the Assumption philosophy of education. In the 50's, the expansion answered the needs of the rural poor in the opening of San Jose Academy in Antique and Sta. Rita Academy in Sibalom. Assumption also went northward towards Baguio by formally opening St. Martin de Porres Grade School for the surrounding tribal villages. In line with the spirit of Vatican II, more socio-pastoral apostolates for the urban poor communities were opened with the help of the Assumption alumnae in1968: Maryville Homes and San Juan Nepomuceno School in Malibay, Pasay City and the Assumption Socio-Educational Center in Barrio Obrero, Iloilo City. (cf. Assumption San Lorenzo webpage) In 1951/1964/1967, there was great fire in Iloilo City that left hundreds of families homeless thereby obliging the local government to reclaim a 26-hectare of government land from swamps and portion of the sea for their relocation. This new site was named, “Bo. Obrero” or Workingman’s Village. Prompted by this event, as a concrete response to the spirit of Vatican II to open more socio-pastoral apostolates for the urban communities, a group of dedicated graduates and friends of Assumption-Iloilo led by the Spirit of their Assumption Education that formed them to be socially responsible - brought food, clothing and shelter to the fire victims. Their generous engagements inspired them further to organize and called themselves as the Auxiliary Missionaries of the Assumption or AMA (cf. ASEC webpage). Then a tiny seed was planted - the dream of the Religious of the Assumption through this newly formed Auxiliary Missionaries of Assumption, to spread the Good News of God’s love in this part of the world, in this part of the Philippines, in this part of Iloilo City began to sprout. They first set-up a medical clinic, (and it still standing today), then built an elementary school under the administration of the Religious of the Assumption, (some of them are also here present today). The school opened its portals to the children of Bo. Obrero in 1968, (and many of us are also here present today). It was not just to have a few children and a little corner to learn ABC and to count 123. They dreamt of a school, and they dreamt big. And it was not only big, it was a dream that had in it all the necessary things needed for the growth of a mission to proclaim God’s love. It was a dream that grew into a reality when it came into contact with persons who had the same passion for educating the new generation in Christian morals and values and for supporting such endeavors with their time, talent, and treasure. And in 1975, ASEC graduated her first batch of pupils and still counting until today. Indeed, St. Marie Eugenie has long visualized this journey of 50 years of ASEC today - Every detail of our life has been the object of a divine thought, and that thought has always been one of Love.” Today, in this Eucharistic Celebration, we are grateful for this tiny seed that was planted by generous lives and loving hearts that continue to grow into a tree and, with proper attention and care this can become a huge tree. It has been my practice as a school administrator for the past 19 years, that at the beginning of the school year I visit classrooms of our pupils and students – to greet and welcome them. In one of my visits to one of our small schools, I was trying to explain to them that our school is like a tiny seed and like any other seed if taken cared of it will grow into a tree. So, I picked up a little seed from my pocket and showed it to them. I told them, “Well, first. God makes seeds like this. This is where trees come from.” The classroom was quiet for a while, until I heard a small voice from the back – “… but Father, how can God make one big, big tree fit into that tiny, tiny seed?” WOW! What a question and I never anticipated that. So, I looked at our Science teacher for an SOS. This is the answer to that question. “Seeds contain all the necessary nutrients and instructions for making a tiny plant complete with a stalk and with a first set of leaves, which later on become the trunk, branches and leaves. Moreover, the seed has some kind of a built-in sensitivity that triggers it to start making a tiny plant once it spends time underground and comes into contact with moisture. It sprouts.” The question also triggered me to do some researches. This is what I found out. How a tree grow sturdy and healthy: It depends on a process that is not visible to the naked eye. It is the process through which the roots establish themselves underground. According to tree growing experts, it doesn’t really help make a tree sturdy if you always water its base when it is in its juvenile stage. That is because roots have some kind of an attraction to moisture that enables it to grow towards the source of moisture. If the roots of a young tree are always exposed to moisture on the surface, the tendency of the roots is to spread horizontally. But if it is regularly deprived of water, the roots tend to look for moisture downwards; hence the roots dig deep into the ground towards the water table where it can obtain water. The deeper the roots, the sturdier and firmer the tree becomes established. After some reflection, it is only then that I realized and understood why we have to go through the struggles and challenges at ASEC and continue to do so, and see how God works – yes, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, sometimes it is also wise to be deprived because it makes us seek deeper so that we can become sturdier and healthier. This I believed is also the biggest and continuing challenge of ASEC since its foundation 50 years ago: the challenge of developing “deeper roots” in everyone that came in contact with the school – administrators, teachers, staff, personnel, pupils, parents and alumni. This I think is also the reason and the wisdom why we need to celebrate jubilee years - that in recalling how we started the journey to reach these golden years; that in reminiscing the good old days when we were once here we cannot but remember and celebrate with gratitude how the grace of God nourished and sustained us all these years when our roots continue to seek deeper and deeper. He is always there in the “water table” to provide. So, let our thanksgiving today and onwards be a concrete response to the invitation of the Lord in the gospel  – “to pour new wine into fresh wineskins” that is, (1) for ASEC to rediscover the heart of the original intentions of the founders and reshape these intentions so that the heart shines through bringing it alive again in our contemporary context; (2) for all of us, to be in that “water table where the roots of ASEC can obtain the needed water” so she can continue nourishing and sustaining this heart. Finally, let me say these words of thanksgiving to all of you who journeyed with us all these years so we can reach these golden years - from the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Every time we think of you, we give thanks to our God. We always pray for you, and we make our requests with a heart full of joy because you have been our partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And we are sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again. It is right that we should feel as we do about all of you, for you have a very special place in our heart.” (Phil. 1:3-11) ALL FOR THE GLORY OF GOD!
*Assumption Socio Educational Center (also known as Assumption Barrio Obrero)
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