Appreciating and Honoring Chiara Lubich: The Apostle of Dialogue

by Genevieve Balance Kupang

The above painting of the radiant and joyful Chiara Lubich signifies the congregations’ ecstatic celebratory consciousness that day when we commemorated the Silver Anniversary of the Awarding by the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas (UST), to the Servant of God, Chiara Lubich, the Doctorate (Honoris Causa) in Sacred Theology (SThD). For the first time and backed by the unanimous endorsement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Chiara Lubich was the first woman, and the first layperson to receive the Honorary SThD. It was a milestone in the then 386 years of UST history. She was only the ninth person to be awarded this honor.

The joy of being graced by the presence of those who love Chiara Lubich: The UST Community, the members of the Focolare Movement, and guests with H.E. Most Rev. Charles J. Brown, Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop José Serofia Palma, D.D., STD, Cebu’s Archbishop, Rev. Fr. Richard G. Ang, O.P., Rector, UST, Rev. Fr. Pablo Tiong, O.P., V. Rector, Religious Affairs, Rev. Fr. Rolando Dela Rosa, O.P., Prof Sacred Theology, Ms. Cherylanne Menezes & Rev. Fr. Andrew Camilleri. Photo credit: Focolare.

It is good to look back to that beautiful ceremony of the conferment and celebration 25 years ago. According to the University Rector Rev. Fr. Rolando Dela Rosa, O.P. (1997), “The Honoris Causa in Sacred Theology at UST was bestowed to only eight distinguished personages: six were Cardinals, one Bishop, and one Priest. All these men are known not only for their theological erudition but for their sanctity. For indeed theology is supposed to make us not only know God but to love him. And if, as St. Thomas says, we become what we love, then theology must also make us God-like, in short, saints! I see some of you smiling. And that is understandable because today, very few of us, take sanctity, seriously.”

“Sanctity appears to be something out of this world, or a quality of the dear departed. In our world where the saint is placed on altars, prayed to, and sometimes adored, but seldom loved, Chiara Lubich offers us a down-to-earth version of holiness. If we read through the biography of Chiara, we enter a new world where our frail humanity becomes an instrument of grace, the ordinary fusing with the extraordinary, the visible mingling closely with the invisible, and so much love and peace flow out of the pages that our fear of sanctity recedes and instead comes the nagging challenge, why not I? Indeed, the presence of a whole person, a holy person, makes us ask that question with buried undertones of fear, indifference, and anxiety, why not I? Or better yet, why can’t I? Why can’t I be like Chiara Lubich? Why can’t I not seriously take the demands of my faith? I believe it is not because we do not know God enough. The honest answer remains, we do not love God and our neighbor enough… I hope Chiara Lubich’s presence in our midst reminds us of that adventure to holiness, to newness, to becoming God’s living hearth in our homes, schools, office, and every place where we find ourselves…”

Again, this year’s 25th-anniversary commemoration is a clear recognition of the unique role of the laity and women in the Church, but also the excellent personality of Chiara Lubich herself as expressed by Fr. De La Rosa.

Last March 12, 2023, the Medicine Auditorium of UST, was packed with jubilant members of the Focolare Movement, the UST Community, the Uniharmony Partners Manila, Manila Church Peoples Ecumenical Forum, invited guests from all over the Philippines with special participation from other countries like Ms. Margaret Karram, the Focolare Movement’s president who is based in Italy.

In between the inspiring musical rendition and testimonies, the program showcased the living out and living in depth of the work of the Holy Spirit through the Charism of Unity, in the life and work of Chiara Lubich. Rev. Fr. Pablo Tiong, O.P., V. Rector, Religious Affairs welcomed those celebrating with his Address followed by the Rev. Fr. Richard G. Ang, O.P., Rector, UST with his Opening Address. Ms. Margaret Karram, President, Focolare Movement warmly greeted everyone via her recorded video.

It was also nostalgic and meaningful to listen to the discourse of the then University Rector Rev. Fr. Rolando Dela Rosa, O.P., Professor of Sacred Theology, on the 25th Anniversary of the Honoris Causa Conferment. He was the key figure in conferring the honor to Ms. Chiara Lubich. Ms. Cherylanne Menezes & Rev. Fr. Andrew Camilleri, both Co-Delegates of the Focolare expounded on Chiara Lubich and the Focolare Movement. This was followed by the meaningful message of H.E. Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio David, the CBCP President. The morning was capped with the Eucharistic celebration concelebrated by H.E. Most Rev. Charles J. Brown, Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop José Serofia Palma, D.D., STD, the Archbishop of Cebu, Bishop, and other brother priests.

After the sumptuous lunch, and fellowship, was the Barrio Fiesta that was held at the UST Covered Court and the viewing of the Arts Exhibit dubbed “The World Bespeckled by Light.” I quote here what the Exhibit Team wrote in their introduction:

“We learned a way of life that has brought about a transformation within and among us, based on the Gospel. It has been bringing about the sanctity of the masses which is a mysticism in these modern times, and we now want to trace the golden thread of how her ideal of Unity has impacted our lives and society.

The exhibit celebrates through art a meditation of Chiara, “The Attraction of Modern Times,” which, is divided into four parts, each one is interpreted and fleshed out by various social expressions and practical applications.

The world has been invaded by love: we have been transformed by God’s grace and we each have the great responsibility to bear witness that heaven can be on earth. The social expressions presented here are just some of the concrete applications locally, which are also present there where the seed of the ideal of unity has been planted.

It is Chiara’s legacy that we all try to live.”

Chiara’s admirer, a member of the exhibit team, and artist Joanne Cariaso-Gacayan, 52 yo, shared what inspired her to paint some of the artworks you see here. She expressed that she was blessed to have known Chiara through her mother who is a long-time member of the movement. She was also inspired by this line “If one day people stop talking about God, then God will speak through the arts.” Thus, her artworks speak of the beauty of God, the embodiment of the teachings of Chiara, and express the task to let our light shine despite challenges. She added that every painting gives a story of how Chiara continues to inspire to this day, to live out the ideal of communion and the art of loving. Below are her works that were a portion of the four-part exhibit.

Credit: Joanne Cariaso-Gacayan

For you to have a glimpse of that historic moment in 1997 when Chiara was present to receive that honor and deliver her message, I invite you to watch this link watch/?v=77541783 6893159, “The 1997 UST conferment of the honorary degree Doctor of Sacred Theology upon now-Servant of God Chiara Lubich.”

About the author:

Genevieve Balance Kupang (Genie) is an anthropologist, consultant, researcher, a peace educator, interreligious dialogue practitioner, and resource person with a career in the academe and NGO.


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