The annual Saint Thomas Aquinas International Forum (STAF) organized by the Institute of Religion through the Professional Advancement and Research Committee (PROARC), was held on April 29 and 30, 2023 at the Dr. George S.K. Ty Hall. The forum gathered theologians, scholars, and Catholic educators in the country and in neighboring Asian nations to tackle current and emerging theological questions to respond to the call of Pope Francis in 2019 on the Global Compact on Education.
The theme of this year’s conference “Catholic Education, Cultures, and Religions: A Post Pandemic Conversation,” focused on the Pope’s challenge to create a network of educational villages for a renewed commitment to education. UST together with LUMSA (Libera Università degli Studi Maria Ss. Assunta) University in Rome were tasked by the Vatican’s Dicastery of Culture and Education to explore possibilities on Culture and Religion in relation to education. The Hy-flex forum had 230 educators from the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, and Italy as participants. It was co-organized by the Instituto Universitario Sophia in Florence, Italy.
In his opening remarks, UST Rector Very Rev. Fr. Richard G. Ang, O.P., Ph.D., stressed the importance of preserving the Catholic identity in order to make an effective dialogue with cultures and religions. The keynote address delivered by the Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Culture and Education His Eminence Jose Tolentino Cardinal de Mendonça, complemented the Holy Father’s vision of education by reproposing to Catholic Educators the option of pedagogies founded on ‘humane rationality’ that is always in search of the truth while remaining open to dialogue. The Prefect highlighted the centrality of the human person made in the image and likeness of God and not as a desensitized product of a consumerist society.
The plenary speakers included the Philippiniana Sacra Editor Rev. Fr. Jesús Miranda, Jr., O.P., who expounded on the topic of Interreligious and Intercultural Exchange on Catholic Education; Sophia University Acting Rector Dr. Declan O’Byrne, who dwelt on the Interreligious and Intercultural Exchange in the Global Village that presented the struggles of compartmentalized paradigms of cultures in relation to the insights constructed by high speed technological advancements; and LUMSA’s Human Sciences Chairperson Dr. Maria Cinque, who cited prospects and challenges in Catholic Education in the Digiverse which repeated the call of Pope Francis to be responsible citizens of the digital space.
Following the plenary sessions, a Roundtable Discussion that included UST Vice Rector for Academic Affairs Prof. Cheryl Peralta, DrPH; Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Sophia University Dr. Roberto Catalano; Global Compact on Education Member-Promoter Dr. Carina Rossa, and Ateneo de Manila University Theology Department Chairperson Dr. Ruben Mendoza, offered points for discernment on current situations faced by Catholic Education. They proposed avenues on how to bridge the present-day challenges in molding future catalysts and leaders of the world who in turn will be credible bearers of the light of truth.
The forum concluded with closing remarks from the Vice Rector for Religious Affairs, Rev. Fr. Pablo Tiong, O.P. He entrusted the cause of continuing relevance and advancement of Catholic education to the care of UST’s Patron St. Thomas Aquinas, whose 700th anniversary of canonization will be celebrated on March 7, 2024.