Zenon Cardinal Grocholeweski, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, is greeted by Ambassador Joaquin Daniel Otero of Argentina and Ambassador Roberto Mayorga of Chile at the Santisimo Rosario Parish Church during the opening of the 10th biennial conference of the International Council of the Universities of St. Thomas Aquinas last January 26. Photo by Paul Allyson R. Quiambao

OFFICIALS of universities named after St. Thomas Aquinas and those adhering to Thomistic ideals met in the University to reaffirm their lifelong commitment to fostering Catholic principles as one interconnected body.

Twenty-five Catholic institutions of higher learning from 18 countries around the globe, represented by 43 local and foreign delegates, converged in the 10th biennial conference of the International Council of the Universities of St. Thomas Aquinas (Icusta) last January 26 at the Santisimo Rosario Parish Church.

The council, headed by Fr. Rolando de la Rosa, O.P., Rector of the University, discussed strategic ways for member-universities to respond to the challenge of keeping a public life with Catholic principles.

Manifesto of commitment

Recognizing the challenges posed by the deepening secular and resistant environment, the members of Icusta remained optimistic of “making belief work in an unbelieving world.”

“The odds may be overwhelming, but we’re not cowed nor are we resigned. We believe that the Christian message is credible and has something important to say in today’s society,” stated the Icusta Manifesto of Commitment.

In the three-day convention, members of the Icusta reviewed their respective institutional visions and missions, policies and practices, and curricula and special advocacies to intensify their campaign of injecting Christian principles among students and in public discourses.

They cited with dismay that peoples from different countries, continents, and cultures appear to be resistant to faith and discipline promoted by Christian and Thomistic philosophies.

“In environments where the Church is a minority, we view with concern the gross ignorance of today’s society about anything remotely connected with Christianity, or any religion for that matter, which often elicits antipathy, if not hostility, to efforts by the Church to infuse Christian principles,” stated the manifesto.

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Delegates were divided into groups to allow the sharing of different experiences and insights about extant issues on the academic and, at the same time, social character of a Catholic university, and to derive appropriate approaches and courses of actions.

The first group identified daunting problems that hinder the spiritual formation of students of distinct social milieus such as the dichotomy between Catholic principles and the dominant secular life, the students’ indifference to religion especially in non-Catholic and progressive societies, and the tension between Church and State.

They also noted that while Christian teachings are explicitly expressed in school documents and degree courses, putting them into practice among students remains to be a vital problem.

As a response, member-schools agreed to heighten formation programs for students, faculty members, and non-teaching personnel to create a campus resonating with Catholic rites and rituals.

They also advised that exposure and immersion programs be increased in marginalized communities to boost students’ participation in achieving social justice.

Given the diversity of the members’ socio-political environments, recommendations on initiating an active network between Icusta schools were made.

With its goal of making an impact that will cross disciplinal, geographical, and even generational borders, Icusta members agreed that collaborative researches and on-line programs and courses on St. Thomas Aquinas and other professional subjects be made available to all Icusta members. Student exchange programs will also be encouraged.

Dissemination and exchange of information will be made frequent through on-line newsletters and e-journals on Catholic education, where joint public statements and advocacies on common social issues will also be posted.

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Funds will be provided to support global initiatives and projects of Icusta institutions, and an “Icusta Secretariat” will be established to make an inventory of current projects.

This was the second time UST hosted the conference. The first time was in 1997.

This year’s meet was opened with a Concelebrated Mass at the Santissimo Rosario Parish led by Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, and a short keynote address by President Benigno Aquino III.

Icusta is a federation of Catholic universities that may or may not be named after St. Thomas Aquinas, the universal patron of Catholic schools, but which takes after his Thomistic philosophy that attempts to synthesize faith and science, religion and reason.

Over all, Icusta schools are in nearly all the major continents (Europe, Asia, Africa, Americas, and Australia-Oceania), with at least 150,000 students. UST alone has 45,000 students.

Icusta members are the Universidad Catolica de Angola; Pontifica Universidad Catolica Argentina; Universidad Fasta de Fraternidad de Agrupaciones Santo Tomas de Aquino in Argentina; Australian Catholic University; St. Thomas University-Fredericton in New Brunswick, Canada; Universidad Santo Tomas in Santiago, Chile; Pontifica Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra in the Dominican Republic; Ethiopian Catholic University of St. Thomas Aquinas; Institut Catholic d’Etudes Superieures in La Roche-sur-Yon Cedex, France; Universitas Katolic Santo Thomas Sumatera Utara in Sumatra, Indonesia; Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Ireland; St. Catherine University in Ehime, Japan; St. Thomas University in Osaka, Japan; UST Mozambique; Catholic University of Nigeria; Pontifica Universidad Catolica del Peru; Aquinas University in Bicol; UST Manila; Universidad Abat Oliba CEU in Barcelona, Spain; Universidad San Pablo CEU in Madrid; and Aquinas College in California, Ohio Dominic University, and University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, all in the United States.

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