AS UST seeks to set up extension campuses in various areas locally and globally, a Catholic university may be built in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Rev. Fr. Edmund Nantes, O.P., Philippine Prior Provincial and Vice Grand Chancellor of UST, told the Varsitarian that the Catholic Church is planning to put up a University at least 50 hectares in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa in Africa, in response to the request of the Assembly of Catholic bishops of Ethiopia.

Light in the darkness

According to Nantes, the Catholic Church would like to make its presence felt in a country where 44 per cent of its population live below the national poverty line.

Over 85 per cent of Ethiopians are subsistence farmers, life expectancy is 45 years, and an estimated 1.5 million Ethiopians are living with HIV/AIDs, the fifth largest affected population in Africa. Food security is also a major challenge as 13 million people required food aid since 2003.

“To address this problem, we would initiate projects that would help develop the countries’ social and economic welfare,” Nantes said. “And education is one of the main vehicles to push human development and progress.”

However, he also stressed the need to spread and enhance the Catholic faith in the area.

At present, the country has a population of 70.7 million where 35 to 40% are Orthodox Christians, 45 to 50 per cent are Islams, 12% are animists, and 3 to 8 per cent belong to other religions. Among them, only one per cent or 7,700, are Christians

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“This is also the reason why the Holy See is interested (in the project),” Nantes said. “A very poor country with diverse religions and a weak Catholic entity presents an excellent opportunity for the church to engage in interfaith dialogues and provide education.”

Nantes explained that the church, at present, is not that much inclined on converting people to Christians but more on understanding other faiths.

“We won’t be catering exclusively to Catholics. So once we have set up a University there, we begin having dialogues with other religions and maybe collaborate with them in projects that would uplift the conditions of man,” Nantes said.

“Of course as Dominicans, integral to our mission is evangelization. And if ever there are conversions, they would be ‘by-products’ of this project,” Nantes added.

He also said other international institutions such as the Italian Episcopal conference and the Dominican Province of Columbia are also interested in the project.

Resolving legal issues

Despite the numerous plans, Nantes said no concrete decisions can be made as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Addis Ababa has not given them the go-signal yet.

“The government does not recognize the proposed University because it has no ‘formal relations’ with the Assembly of the Catholic Archbishops of Ethiopia,” Nantes said. “But the Assembly believes that by establishing a University there, they would be ‘indirectly’ recognized.”

Nantes also noted the possibility of the University being called UST.

“UST is the oldest catholic University in Asia. So it could be taken into consideration,” Nantes said “Although I am not aware of the proposed name of the school, it may be like UST.”

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Based on the report by Rev. Fr. Ernesto Lapitan Jr., O.P. to the General Chapter of Diffinitors, the project began after house in Ethiopia, under the jurisdiction of the Master of the Order, was put up by the Catholic church. Four Filipino friars were assigned there- then UST Rector Rev. Fr. Norberto Castillo, Lapitan, Rev. Fr. Jose Rizal Dimapilis, and Rev. Fr. Rogelio Alarcon – and were given the request Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia to put up the school in 2003.

According to Nantes, because there is only little development, only Alarcon and Dimapili are currently in Ethiopia. However, they are already starting to establish the Dominican presence.

“They are regularly holding retreats and conferences in the seminaries and in some dioceses there,” Nantes said. “This could be a good start for us. And since the Vatican has expressed interest in the project, this could mean a new hope and a new beginning for us and the needy people there.”

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