The University of Santo Tomas formally opened the Academic Year 2019-2020 with the traditional Mass of the Holy Spirit at the UST Santísimo Rosario Parish Church (UST Chapel) at 9:00 a.m. on August 1, 2019.
Incoming Chair of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Episcopal Commission on Youth and Bishop of Daet Most Rev. Rex Andrew C. Alarcon, D.D., was the main presider of the opening mass that was concelebrated with the Dominican Fathers and attended by the Thomasian community.
In his homily, Bishop Alarcon reminded the Thomasians that despite the innumerable advantages of living in the age of information, having access to “multiple, varied, diverse, plural [information can] also lead to confusion, ambiguity, and complexity.”
“We even face the difficulty of ascertaining which is true and which is fake. We live in a multiplicity of culture. We are aware of the differences of our viewpoints and approaches, there is divergence in our departmental culture, but we are called to work interdependently,” he said.
Bishop Alarcon urged the faithful to find unity in shared humanity despite differences in viewpoints and approaches, and in this dawn of the fourth industrial revolution, he expressed his desire for the community to see the need to get in touch with our common humanity, recognize the complexity around us, and find hope in the possibility of working together. He emphasized that “Our differences, our varied strengths, are an invitation to work together.”
Despite the concerns brought about by advances in the twenty-first century, the Bishop preached on hope. He spoke of the “new windows and doors that allow us to confront new realities and offer new solutions, and the need to begin with courage and trust, and not simply in our human capacities, but in the genius and generosity of He who fashioned us in His image and likeness.”
Bishop Alarcon studied Theology at the University of Santo Tomas and obtained his licentiate in Church History at the Gregorian University in Rome. He considered the chance to preside in the opening mass as a homecoming and a chance to see his former mentors among the Dominican priests who concelebrated the Mass with him.
The Eucharistic Celebration at UST, more popularly known as Misa de Apertura among Thomasians, was immediately followed by the Discurso de Apertura, an academic lecture which is traditionally delivered before faculty members and students of the University. The Discurso de Apertura was first delivered in 1866 and has since been delivered by Thomasian academic leaders in their areas of expertise.
Discurso de Apertura
UST Faculty of Medicine and Surgery Professor Maria Minerva P. Calimag, M.D., Ph.D., delivered the 2019 Discurso de Apertura on “Research and the Social Agenda: The Tale of Two Rivers.”
A multi-awarded researcher, medical doctor Calimag emphasized in her academic lecture that as large consumers of energy and water, healthcare activities have a significant negative climate impact. Even as modern medicine heals individual persons, production, disposable life cycle, and acquisition of medical equipment, materials, food, medicines, and other consumable goods are the health sector element with the largest carbon footprint.
Calimag cited an example within her own field of anesthesiology. Despite the benefits of pain management, “In a 20-year timeframe, the widely used inhaled anesthetic gas nitrous oxide, and the halogenated hydrofluorocarbons anesthetic vapors isoflurane, desoflurane, and sevoflurane have global warming potentials hundreds of times higher than carbon dioxide. It was estimated that the annual global climate impact of anesthetic agents, as equivalent to carbon dioxide emissions from 1 million cars.”
It has been her advocacy to talk about climate change in order to preserve health and ensure food security. In helping to make the planet a better place for all, Calimag said that she endorses the salutogenic approach whereby “people can become healthier when they view life as comprehensible, manageable and meaningful.”
Calimag said that personal and planetary health are fundamentally interconnected. Since the root causes of ill health in individuals parallel the root causes of the converging crises that are affecting the ailing planet, she further explained that, “health cannot be sustained without addressing what is needed throughout the interconnected system of our lives – ourselves as individuals, our physical health, psychological health, relationships with our family, communities, and the environment.”
Having taught in the University for more than 30 years, Calimag, whose children are also in the field of medicine, expressed her pride in UST’s compassionate legacy, saying “We at the University of Santo Tomas train future leaders who will continue to nurture our society into a vibrant future. We are action researchers. We encourage inclusivity and we continue to work on studies that create opportunities to promote healthy behaviors and safety.”
Calimag is the former President of the Philippine Medical Association (2014-2016). She obtained her Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Santo Tomas in 1981, and her doctoral degree in Educational Management and Leadership from the same University in 2011. In 2010, she received the International Award for Excellence in Developing Countries for Basic Science by the International Association for the Study of Pain. In 2017, she was granted the Outstanding Book Award from the National Academy of Science and Technology as one of the authors of the “Encyclopedia of Common Medicinal Plants in the Philippines, volume 1,” an award shared with UST Vice Rector for Research and Innovation Prof. Maribel Nonato, Ph.D., who is also a co-author.