Twenty-five years ago, Focolare Movement Founder and Servant of God, Chiara Lubich, was conferred with an honorary doctorate in Sacred Theology by the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas upon the unanimous petition of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
Being the only woman and layperson to receive this honor in the 411-year history of UST, the conferment of the honorary degree was a recognition of Chiara Lubich’s lifelong work of introducing, living, and spreading a charism of love and unity to help build a more united world.
To commemorate this momentous event, the University of Santo Tomas and the Focolare Movement have lined up a year-long series of events and activities, which began with the program on March 12, 2023. Titled “Chiara: Apostle of Dialogue,” the day’s activities was also held in remembrance of Chiara Lubich’s 15th death anniversary (March 14), and will celebrate the 80th anniversary of her consecration to God, which also serves as the 80th founding anniversary of the Focolare Movement.
In his message, UST Rector Very Rev. Fr. Richard G. Ang, O.P., Ph.D., highlighted Chiara Lubich’s vision of a united world and “the bond of partnership and co-responsibility to work together in evangelizing the youth” between UST and the Focolare. The University has student organizations, both in the basic education and tertiary levels, who live out and propagate the charism of unity inspired by Chiara Lubich. There are also collaborations with the Focolare on various levels, especially in the area of dialogue with other Christian churches and world religions.
The day also included messages from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines President His Excellency Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio David, D.D., former UST Rector Rev. Fr. Rolando V. de la Rosa O.P., who originally conferred the degree to Chiara Lubich in 1997, and Focolare Movement President Margaret Karram. Focolare Zone Delegates of the Indian Subcontinent and the Philippines, Fr. Andrew Camilleri and Cherrylane Menezes, reflected on the theme.
A Eucharistic Celebration was presided over by His Excellency Most Rev. Charles J. Brown, D.D., the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, at the UST Medicine Auditorium, the same place where Chiara Lubich received her Honoris causa degree. It was live streamed through the official Facebook page of Focolare Movement Philippines.
“Here we are, 25 years later, to reflect on that moment and to give thanks in a special way for the amazing charism that Chiara Lubich has given to the Church. We honor her this afternoon as an apostle of dialogue,” said Archbishop Brown.
“The manner in which [Chiara Lubich’s] holy light has impacted the world, including the Philippines through the Focolare Movement, is something I can personally attest to. She can serve as one of the best sources of inspiration for what Pope Francis calls ‘the need for greater synodality in the Church,’” Bishop David said, adding that “As a woman and as a layperson, she lived out the synodal principles of participation and mission, grounded in communion of mind, heart, and soul, in the God, who is Love made known to us in Jesus Christ.”
Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos, Bishop Leopoldo Jaucian of Bangued, Bishop Roberto Mallari of San Jose, and Bishop-Emeritus Deogracias Iñiguez of Kalookan, were among those who concelebrated the Mass. There were also delegations from various Christian churches and representatives from the different world religions, whose presence embodied Chiara Lubich’s call to universal love.
Fr. de la Rosa discussed what the faithful can do to continue Chiara Lubich’s legacy, particularly in the Philippine context. Among the lessons shared was that “Numerical visibility does not necessarily translate into presence, for many of us are like ostriches, hiding our heads in the sand when there are challenges confronting us,” said Fr. de la Rosa about the 86 million Catholics who comprise over 82% of the Filipino population, emphasizing that the faithful should be “Upstanders – one who stands up for what is true and good, one who stands up to create the necessary changes in himself and others. When God changes something in you, it is because he wants you to change others also, so make your presence felt.”
An exhibit on Chiara Lubich’s life and the works of the Focolare, as well as a barrio fiesta program, followed at the Practice Gymnasium. The whole day event marks the start of a year-long string of activities celebrating the bond between the University and the Focolare. Next in line is an international conference organized by the UST Institute of Religion in partnership with Sophia University and LUMSA University with the theme ”On Catholic Education, Cultures and Religions: A Post-Pandemic Conversation”, which will be held from April 28 to 29, 2023.