As a culmination of the Ambag retreat series that began in 2010, the University of Santo Tomas held a university-wide retreat from April 27 to 29, 2022. With the theme “Eukaristiya: Biniyayaan Upang Maging Biyaya (Eucharist: Gifted to Give),” this year’s retreat was open to all members of the Thomasian community, including the campus security officers and housekeeping staff, through hybrid modality of Facebook Live streaming and in-person attendance distributed among different buildings.
UST Vice-Rector for Religious Affairs Rev. Fr. Pablo T. Tiong, O.P., encouraged participants to heed the call of God for our hearts to be an ‘Ambag’ (humble contribution).
“We can be a blessing to each one of us, because in the Eucharist – unworthy, sinful, and lacking as we are – we still join Christ, and Christ keeps us with Him in the mystery, theology, and most profound meaning of the Mass: we offer ourselves only through Jesus,” shared Fr. Tiong during the perspective setting.
UST Chancellor and the Master of the Order of Preachers Very Rev. Fr. Gerard Francisco Timoner, III, O.P., who himself was previously one of the organizers of previous University retreats, graced this year’s Ambag and said, “Brothers and sisters, I am one with you in prayer, that in this holy retreat we will rediscover the loving presence of Jesus within us and among us. Through the Gospel and the Eucharist, which is the abiding Sacrament of God’s presence among us. We are not alone. As St. Augustine assured us, God is closer to us than we, to ourselves.”
The first day, with the theme “Taken,” began with the Enthronement of the Cross and the Pilgrim Image of Our Lady of Manaoag led by UST-Secretary-General Rev. Fr. Louie R. Coronel, O.P., EHL, and included a Eucharistic Celebration with UST Rector Very Rev. Fr. Richard G. Ang, O.P., Ph.D., as the main presider.
In his Day 1 homily, the Father Rector underscored the retreat theme and reminded the community that joy can be found if sought and recognized by choice. “One, our being and our well-being are free gifts. We should be grateful for being alive and physically fit. Two, our family and loved ones are blessings. We should be appreciative that we have them at our backs even during our lowest moments. Three, our University community is a present, we should be thankful for the diversity, camaraderie, warmth and everything in between. The best things in life are free. We have been gifted for a very good reason. God gave us blessings to transform us to become blessings to one another, so these gifts should lead us to generosity.”
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan and CBCP Commission for Seminaries Chair His Excellency Most Rev. Socrates Villegas, O.P., D.D., served as the conference speaker.
Using the taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing of the bread as an allegory for the Lord choosing and continuing to choose us to serve Him in spite of sin and wickedness, Archbishop Villegas said, “The Lord chose us for greatness, even if we were so little and crooked, but the road to greatness is the road of woundedness in serving and loving. You are the bread: taken, from your crooked story to the wounded story that will unfold later on. Let this choice of the Lord lead you to greater encouragement. Do not look at your crooked past, but rather look at the one who has loved you in spite of who you are.”
To conclude the first day, the community participated in the Veneration of the Cross, the Liturgy of Lament, and Vigil of Tears, where UST Vice-Chancellor and the Prior Provincial of the Dominican Province of the Philippines Very Rev. Fr. Filemon I. dela Cruz Jr., O.P., commemorated the Thomasians who have passed away and returned to the Lord’s embrace during the pandemic.
Blessed and Broken
After the morning rosary on Day 2, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines His Excellency Most Rev. Charles John Brown, KC*HS, served as main presider of the Holy Mass.
In his homily, Most Rev. Brown urged the community at large, “We need to live the truth, and be children of the truth. If we live the truth fully, we will progressively become more and more children of light. We will know Jesus more fully if we respect the truth, if we love the truth, if we combat falsehood. […] We Christians believe in the importance of truth because Jesus tells us that whoever lives the truth will come to the light – the light which is Him. [The UST motto] is Veritas in Caritate. So love the truth.”
After the Mass, the National Catechetical Study 2021 (NCS) turned over its seven-volume output in celebration of the 500th Year of Christianity in the Philippines. The NCS is a five-year collaboration between UST’s Research Center for Social Sciences and Education and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines – Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education. The seven-volume output was turned over as part of the Pastoral Action Research and Intervention (PARI) Project. It consists of four catechetical modules and three research-based outputs, namely, a book of research poems, a handbook on Catechetical Ministry, and a research monograph.
Project Lead Prof. Clarence Batan, Ph.D., of the Faculty of Arts and Letters and Research Center for Social Sciences and Education (RCSSED) presented copies of the books to the Apostolic Nuncio, the Master of the Order, and Filipino bishops, including Most Rev. Roberto Mallari, D.D., Chair of the CBCP-ECCCE, who were present on the second day of the retreat.
Professor Emeritus of the UST Ecclesiatical Faculties and former Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy Rev. Fr. Enrico D. Gonzales, O.P., served as the second conference speaker. He focused on the topic of Thanksgiving.
“We will never be complete as a human person if we are not grateful. Eucharist or Thanksgiving is not only good for our sanctity, but also good for our sanity. The completion of a human person is attitude, it is character that should be permeated with gratefulness. We learn it every day in attending the celebration of the Holy Eucharist,” reminded Fr. Gonzales.
UST Vice-Rector for Finance Rev. Fr. Roberto Luanzon, Jr., O.P., led the Via Lucis on Day 3 of the retreat, which included prayers, songs, and stories of light and hope.
CBCP President His Eminence Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio David, D.D, Bishop of Kalookan, served as the third conference speaker. He highlighted the Last Supper, where “Jesus turned a Meal of Betrayal into a Meal of Forgiveness. When he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to [the Apostles], when he said ‘This is my body,’ it was his way of saying ‘I am the Lamb by whose blood you will be saved. I will give my life for love of you.’ [Jesus had] given the Passover meal a new meaning by taking the place of the Lamb [for he] became the giver and the gift.”
To conclude the Ambag 500 Retreat, Very Rev. Fr. Filemon I. dela Cruz Jr., O.P., presided over the Holy Mass, where he emphasized that what the University seeks to develop in its community through the three-day event is a relationship anchored in Christ. He said in Filipino, “You are part of the University. Thus, you are part of His Mission, and we are all a collective image of the Eucharist. In the coming days, I hope we can continue to live the spirit of the Eucharist.”
The three-day retreat proceedings can be viewed through the official Facebook page of UST.