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Valedictory Address of Fr. Cesare Sposetti SJ at the Graduation Ceremonies

Jul 5, 2021

Fr. Enrico Eusebio, Jr., SJ, President of Loyola School of Theology, Fr. Rogel Anecito Abais, SJ, Vice President for Academic Affairs, LST administrators, professors, and staff, our formators and communities, family and friends, dear graduates of LST 2021, good afternoon!

Today is a day of joy. Congratulations, dear classmates, we have done it! We have reached this moment which we have probably been daydreaming about since the beginning of our formation journey in LST. And yet, our joy is still a little bit overshadowed by the awareness that our world has changed so much in these last four years. Fortunately, unlike last year, some of you are now able to gather in the Church of the Gesu’ in the Ateneo, and to wear your togas and cheer and celebrate together, but of course maintaining social distancing! Many others are following this ceremony online. And this is a pre-recorded message! I myself am not able to be with you today.

I am speaking to you from my hometown in Italy, Vicenza. Behind me you can see the beautiful scenario of our diocesan seminary, another place of theological formation, like LST.

I was ordained a priest two weeks ago, and I just celebrated a few days ago my thanksgiving Mass here at home, together with my family and close friends. This is a special time of gratitude for me, a time in which I can give thanks for the many gifts I have received in my formation. Today, our graduation day, is a special occasion of gratitude for us all for these four years spent working, praying, having fun, and sometimes even suffering together in LST. Today we might reflect on this question: what are we most grateful for when we look back at our years in LST? What is the greatest gift we have received?

To answer that, let me start with a memory. In my second year in the Philippines, my second year of studies in LST, I had a crisis. I don’t know if I can call it a vocation crisis, but it was surely a faith crisis. Studying Christology with Fr. Manoling, I had some difficulty with the so-called quests for the historical Jesus. I was really struggling with the idea that there were so many doubts and open-ended findings concerning the humanity of Jesus. Christ just seemed to me too human, too enfleshed. I realized how much I struggled with the very mystery of the Incarnation. Eventually I also realized how I too struggled with my own humanity and limitations. I recall how my Spiritual Director, having heard about all my doubts and struggles, suggested that I talk personally to Fr. Manoling about this. Thank God I did. He didn’t give clear-cut answers to my doubts (because there were none), but he encouraged and inspired me to stay with those troubles, to bring them into prayer and to see them not as a hindrance, but rather as an opportunity to grow in my faith. That shift was really crucial for me. From that moment on, I started to see my stay and my theological studies there in the Philippines in a completely different light. I started to see it as a deeper descent into our humanity, in order to find the real Heart of the Divinity. In other words, I started to consider our theological studies as an experience of incarnation.

Incarnation in a new culture, inculturation, first of all. You remember very well, dear friends, that I was the only Italian and European, not only in our batch, but in my Jesuit community and in the entire school, at least for three years. Definitely there were no problems in finding a representative for European countries among LST International Students! It has been a challenge for me, obviously. Many of you, fellow international students, know this very well. Nonetheless, I really experienced so much love and encouragement from you, my dear classmates, LST professors and staff, during all these years. You showed me a love completely gratuitous, unearned, unasked for, similar to Divine Revelation, as Doc Yap would say! More than my effort to accommodate myself to the Asian and Filipino context, it was your patience and friendship in helping me in this process of inculturation that I will never forget and forever be grateful for.

But in your midst, in LST and in the Filipino context in general, I also learned something more, something more profound, which honestly no theological school in Europe or elsewhere in the Western world could have taught me. I learned a deeply incarnated theology. Our professors repeatedly warned us that a theology which is merely academic cannot give us a real knowledge of God. I remember the many authentic persons that we were blessed to call our teachers here in the Philippines. I remember Cardinal Chito Tagle teaching us about Holy Orders and Marriage, giving the best of himself to us and trying to remember our individual names and stories, in spite of his being a very busy pastor of the Church. I remember our beloved Monsignor Vengco, who passed away just few days ago. I remember his competence and mercy in dealing with us students, and his passionate desire for a really inculturated Filipino liturgy. And I remember many other LST professors along with them. Not only for their knowledge and competence, but also for their deep humanity. From the depths of our hearts, thank you dear teachers.

But LST has also taught us that theology cannot only be taught inside the classroom; I met some of my best theology teachers outside the fence of the Ateneo campus. I remember Ate Kristy, a poor woman from Tandang Sora, giving me a lecture on faith and social justice, as she walked for 20 km just so she could avail of the little food and the listening ears which some of us Jesuit scholastics could offer her and her family during the never-ending lockdowns in Metro Manila. I remember Ate Myrna, smiling in her shanty in Barangay Old Balara, with her body mutilated by diabetes, thanking God amidst tears for all the gifts she felt she had received from Him. Her eyes made the reality of our eschatological hope more tangible than any academic lecture. To you, our teachers who taught us through your life of faith, we are deeply indebted.

Finally, I remember how much you taught me, my dear classmates, while studying and getting nervous together for exams, during many moments of fun and relaxation spent together, even in our sometimes frustrating online classes during this crazy and challenging last academic year. I remember how much I learned in our simple moments of sharing during our classes, or even while on break at the LST cafeteria. I remember most of all the dignity of your pain, and the hope which I always found in it, when many of us lost their beloved ones (fathers, mothers, friends) during these past years together, and particularly during this terrible Covid pandemic. Maraming salamat, classmates and batchmates.

I do believe that we are not the same persons who started their journey in LST four years ago

I do believe that we are not the same persons who started their journey in LST four years ago. Just recently a Jesuit friend of mine, listening to a homily which I delivered, told me, half-jokingly and half-seriously, referring to my previous training in civil law: you left your lawyer side in Manila. Now you speak with your heart. I was quite surprised by this remark. I took it as a great compliment, considering he doesn’t really like lawyers. But I also realized something deeper about what he said. I realized that something really happened here in the Philippines, here in LST, to me, and maybe to us all. We grew a heart more ready to love God’s People, a heart which is more priestly, more similar to the Heart of Jesus, even if of course, we humbly realize, we have still a long way to go. Through LST education and formation, we have become more incarnated, as God is.

As the Gospel teaches us, we can give only the love that we have received. I do believe that we received plenty of love from God and from one another during these years, and this love helps us also to love ourselves more, to reconcile with our own humanity, with the flesh of our fears, our shortcomings and limitations. Our gaze towards the world, towards others, even inwardly, towards ourselves, through the eyes of God, has become more real, that is to say, more merciful and understanding. That cannot be tested in any exam, but it is a grace we have received from our years together.

As for me, I feel that having studied in LST, having been with you and learned from you, has made me a better person and a better priest now. It is a great gift that I received from God and from you, and it is only now that I am so far away, that I realize it even more deeply. Thank you, my friends, for having evangelized me. As a newly ordained priest starting to work in the context of Western Christianity, rich in history, culture and buildings, but now often poor in hope and lacking in joy, I feel the challenge to be a small beacon kindled by the fire of Faith and Love that I found in your midst.

This is also my heartfelt wish for you all, my dear friends. We have freely received all this. It is now time to freely give. Let us become a fire that kindles other fires for the entire world. Let us become humble, incarnated, joyful evangelizers (as St. Paul VI used to say).

The very word “valedictory” bears the Latin root of “Vale”, meaning “ingat, take care and good bye”

The very word “valedictory” bears the Latin root of “Vale”, meaning “ingat, take care and good bye”. Mga kapatid, mag-ingat kayo. Take care all my dear friends, especially now that we are sent out to the world, to start our new missions, as priests, as religious, as lay people in love with Christ and with humanity. Let us never forget the Graces that have been given to us during these years, in knowledge, friendship and mutual love. I wholeheartedly hope that our paths will cross again, with God’s help.

Congratulations to you all for this great achievement, my fellow graduates, thank you again for this great time in which we grew together. May God bless us all as we are sent to the whole world to proclaim the joy of the Gospel, of a God incarnated in the depths of our world and of our very lives!

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