In the context to the CTEWC exchange program, I was able in September-October to spend 6 weeks of teaching, lecturing, tutoring and research at De La Salle University in Manila, Philippines. It took my local contacts in the persons of Agnes Brazal and Rito Baring a serious effort to get the application being approved by the University, but once I was there the admin part went very smooth and for the rest of the time, there were no surprises. Having a room in a condominium right next to the campus on Taft Avenue and a small office of my own with PC and printer in the vicinity of the TRED (Theology and Religious Education Departement) secretariat turned out to be a real blessing. And this part of Manila – just as probably everywhere else in the Philippines - offered many options for daily shopping and obtaining good and cheap meals.
My first task at DLSU was to teach: planned were a course on intercultural ethics and a class/seminar on moral methodology. Unfortunately, the first didn’t materialize but for the second, 9 very dedicated students were prepared to break their heads over “Living the Truth – A Theory of Action” by Klaus Demmer. I promised them ‘blood, sweat and tears’ but also a great reward… and both turned out to be true! It was very satisfactory for a teacher like me to see how the students one by one were getting into the theological hermeneutics as developed by Demmer and how they in their concluding presentations wrested with it, but they succeeded.
A second task consisted in giving three academic lectures: “Hegemonic Masculinities”; “Ethics of Care”; “Secularization” – they were well attended and also sparked some further discussion. Next to these, I was also lecturing in the religious education program where I gave a class on “Catholic Social Teaching 101” in which I managed to get the attention of the 17-18 years old who are the majority of the senior college students (around 250 in total). A second lecture for this group on “Amoris Laetitia” was cancelled because on that very day DLSU was closed in view of super-typhoon Haima and the possible massive rain and wind it might bring to Manila (in the end, it was not that bad – luckily).
During my stay, I was also invited on Wednesday October 5 to facilitate a seminar on “Gender justice” and give a lecture on “Amoris Laetitia” at the SJ Ateneo University of Manila situated in the north of Metro Manila and this also exposed me to the almost permanent traffic congestion from which this collection of cities suffers. The very dense traffic is also the main cause for the pollution which on days without wind becomes very difficult to bear. Add to this temperatures above 30°C and a humidity between 85% and 99%: I got my fair share of being in a tropical country! The seminar at Ateneo went well and as for the lecture: the room had 400 seats but students and even faculty were sitting on the stairs and standing at the sides – quite impressive. The talk was followed by a serious time for discussion which left all of us with a feeling of satisfaction and with some the dedication to get deeper into studying Amoris Laetitia. For me personally, there was also the joy of meeting with one of my former professors from the Catholic University of Leuven, Georges De Schrijver SJ who was recovering from an infection but only needed rest before he would resume his teaching at Ateneo. It was a heart breaking shock to learn on Friday morning that he passed away and the only consolation was being present at both the funeral mass and the interment – he had asked to be buried in the Philippines where he rests at the Jesuit graveyard of Manila: RIP father Georges.
At DLSU, I was also invited to give a lecture for faculty and students of the philosophy department on “The Islamic Headscarf”: again the room was not big enough and the Q&A had to be cut of… it ended by the famous phrase: please come again!
The third part of my tasks was to be a resource person for papers that were in the process of being prepared by students and junior staff. After two meetings with 10-12 participants, we continued with a more person-to-person approach and again having this office at my disposition was most useful! Arrangements were also made to continue this tutoring for a couple of students after my return home – and they do continue.
Finally, there was the project of writing an article together with members of the staff on ‘social order’ as it is perceived by students in terms of what they think would be the ideal situation and how this differs from the actual situation. The first part of this in terms of the setting up and the formulation of a questionnaire was finished during my stay; the article itself is work in progress. It was also agreed that my lecture on “Ethics of Care” will be offered for publication in the newly established DLSU Journal of Theology and Religious Education.
Next to these various ‘official tasks’, it was a joy to participate in some events at DLSU: the festive opening of the academic year, a staff meeting of TRED, the celebration of outstanding scholars, a graduation ceremony… At all occasions – and others such as birthdays or saying farewell – Pinoys make sure there is something to eat and this sharing is at the core of what struck me from day 1: hospitality in capital letters – SALAMAT PO!
In the final week, I travelled to the south and was hosted in Cebu by San Carlos University and in Tagbilaran on the island of Bohol by Holy Name University, both under the leadership of SVD. This also added to my ‘cultural exposure’ which was already very present in Manila but now got the addition of visiting in Cebu the rightly famous Jesuit House of 1730 and in Bohol the fascinating ‘Chocolate Hills’ (a real treat for a Belgian…!).
Conclusion? Nope – one cannot do justice to 7 extraordinary weeks in a few lines: do I add my conversations with street children, being crushed on the packed Light Rail Transit or getting scared in a Tricycle (I did not try JeepNeys), being baffled by the contrast between the beauty of Bonifacio Global City and the appalling poverty of the nearby shanty shelters, …? It was a grace and a blessing, including the thorny sides. And I learned about bahala na.