CYNICS may think that religious organizations on campus are drab and boring, out of date and on the wane. But University’s Student Religious Organizations (SROs) will prove them wrong.

Despite the competition posed by non-religious campus groups, SROs continue to attract members.

“Student religious organizations in the University are performing well. Thanks to their leaders who are committed to their work and the many eager members in their ranks,” Center for Campus Ministry director Fr. Ramon Salibay, O.P., told the Varsitarian.

Buoyed by the intra-campus dynamics of religious expression, the UST Pax Romana Central Unit, Marian Evangelization Community (MEC), and CFC-Youth for Christ are convinced that youth empowerment in the University should go hand in hand with the core Thomasian values of compassion, competence, and commitment.

According to Pax Romana central president Jesus Emmanuel Baang, transcending the praise-and-worship makeup of a typical religious organization is the key to maintaining its campus significance.

“Pax Romana aims at bridging the gap between UST and the outside world,” Baang said. “Our role is to become proponents of a healthy society that respects the value of life and human dignity.”

With the Institute of Tourism and Hospitality Management and the AMV-College of Accountancy as its two new college units, Pax Romana now has 11 chapters. The UST Pax Romana chapter is recognized by the International Pax organization through the International Movement for Catholic Students and the United Nations.

The organization has also tied up with SOS-Alabang, an international organization that provides shelters for orphans and abandoned children. It now has eight houses that shelter 10-12 children each, with an “SOS mother” per house who provides the basic needs of the children, including food, shelter, clothing, and education.

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“It is heart-warming that we are contributing to the development of the children who have no families through small yet meaningful ways,” Baang, a two-time president of the University’s oldest religious organization, said.

Baang said he believes Pax Romana molded the character of its wards, not just from dole-outs.

“We’ve got a lot of positive feedbacks because of the comely approach we used to connect with the children,” Baang said. “From the very beginning, we knew that helping people should not rest solely on giving dole-outs but on accompanying them in times of misery and hardship.”

Music of faith

Formed in 1992 at the Conservatory of Music, MEC began as a choir that hardly performed for religious and social functions, until tapped by the Institute of Religion to conduct student “animation” programs during recollections.

MEC’s animation sorties involve song numbers that depict God’s role in molding lives.

“At first, MEC was just an ordinary choir group. But because of its commitment to serve God, the choir began having regular serving-cum-performing stints during Holy Masses at the Santissimo Rosario Parish,” MEC president Randy Restauro said.

With its regular performances, MEC has attracted student church-goers to join the organization. The group also provides music tutorials to basic students.

MEC organized a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary at Manaoag Church, Pangasinan last October.

“Even though we hardly see each other daily because of conflicting academic schedules, our faith in God and good will to one another serve as our greatest reason in advocating and embodying the ideals of our organization,” Rastauro said.

From conviction to action

Like Pax Romana, UST-YFC traces its roots to an international society that aims to motivate the youth to become vanguards of the Christian faith world-wide. Composed of young men and women aged 13-21, YFC is the youth arm of the international charismatic group Couples for Christ (CFC).

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“Conducting worship and prayer meetings at the Tinoko Park is UST-YFC’s way of professing its faith. But our responsibility does not end there,” YFC president Von Villanueva said. “We also promote moral values by integrating them to our daily life. This is our way of setting our convictions into actions.”

CFC-YFC joins social projects like Gawad Kalinga, which builds houses for the poor, and LAYA, which promotes the culture of life among the youth. It also organizes youth camps that engage both members and non-members in a climate of friendship and spiritual affirmation.

“There is the Discovery Camp that helps YFC members raise their level of spiritual awareness, and the Youth Camp that provides the rite of passage for aspiring members,” Villanueva said. Since YFC is a noted religious organization outside the University, its UST chapter also acknowledges students who are already members of community or parish-based YFC outfits, locally and internationally.

“By recognizing them, UST-YFC enables its members to widen its network and cultivate an atmosphere of cooperation among local and international (YFC) units,” Villanueva said.

Like its mother organization, Couples for Christ, UST-YFC observes a “household” or “cell group” scheme within a unit’s organizational premises, where an assigned leader monitors the spiritual, social and moral well-being of his members.

“It is like shepherding the flock similar to what Christ does to us everyday. We may encounter problems in sustaining the growth of the unit but our eagerness to make a difference never ceases to motivate us every now and then,” Villanueva, who has been with YFC since 2003, said.

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Source of pride

Held together by the CCM, SROs are envisioned by the University to be the front-runners of Thomasian self-development.

A 2002 survey by the Episcopal Commission on Youth under the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has found out that 45 per cent of young Filipinos have a nominal understanding of the Catholic faith.

According to the study, majority of Filipino youths aged 13-39 receive “poor catechetical foundation at home, in church and from the community,” whereas only 64.5 percent hardly believed in the omnipresence of one great God.

Moreover, the EYC-CBCP has described as “less mature” those respondents who perceive God as parent (33.1 per cent) or provider (29.7 per cent) than those who regard Him as a friend (19.6 per cent).

This is where the redeeming power of SROs enters the social picture. Armed with the zeal of divine persuasion, SROs help its members re-discover the true significance of the Christian faith in our lives, one which unites the communal and personal facets of Thomasian religiosity.

“We would like to help improve Thomasian spirituality among non-academic personnel, faculty members, and even school administrators through the unwavering commitment of SROs in their respected endeavors,” Salibay said.

Values inculcated by SROs to their members can also be a source of Thomasian pride, according to Salibay.

“If members of every SRO will continue to uphold their good traits, even after the leave the University, their SRO experience can be considered as an additional moral advantage to them,” Salibay said.

Moral integrity, grounded on social service, is the key toward conquering religious apathy. This, Salibay deems, is the precursor of authentic Thomasian faith. Anthony Andrew G. Divinagracia and Nathaniel R. Melican

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