The Institute of Spirituality in Asia (ISA) held the 16th Spirituality Forum on August 3-5, 2016 at the Mother Anne de Tilly Hall of the St. Paul University, New Manila, Quezon City. Conference theme was “Celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy in Spirituality and Health.”
In his message, Prior Provincial Fr. Christian Buenafe, O.Carm, Ph.D, quoted Pope Francis’ Misericordiae Vultus and said, “Health is a state where one enjoys mercy, for `mercy is the bridge that connects God and man opening our heart to a hope of being loved forever.’ As we come to celebrate our life in health, let us open our hearts and fill each other’s presence and giftedness with God’s mercy.”
Almost 150 participants, including one each from Indonesia, Germany and Hawaii filled the venue to its seating capacity. They were welcomed by ISA Executive and Academic Director Fr. Rico Ponce, O.Carm,Ph.D. who explained the conference theme.
He said “Medical studies have confirmed that spirituality can have a profound effect on mental and physical states. When people face tough situations, including health problems, they can fight feelings of helplessness with the help of religious beliefs and practices.”
Keynote speaker Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan noted how Jesus invites everyone in Matthew 7:7 to ask, seek and knock – to ASK on God’s door of mercy “to ask for our hearts to be changed and renewed, to seek to forgive and be forgiven, to love and be loved, and to knock and courageously respond to live a life that is holy, pleasing and acceptable to God.”
For his talk Dr. Tan drew on his experience as a rural physician, as a health and nutrition program officer of UNICEF, as a consultant to international health agencies, as a professor in his alma mater the University of the Philippines, as an author of eight books, as a radio program host, as the Chair of Health Futures Foundation and as a Secretary of Health.
Dr. Tan quoted from the Bible and said that God heals today through his Holy Spirit. He shared what he called laws on giving and receiving: “Share God’s healing mercy with others – that his love, mercy and compassion can be experienced through you.”
He also asked the audience to remember this formula for SELF 1.0 and 2.0: Sleep as well as Stillness; Exercise as well as Embrace; Love as well as Laughter; and Forgiveness as well as Friendship.
Dr. Tan added, “Remember the SELF but also turn to the #1 healer – Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We can glorify God by taking care of our bodies, he said – for example, by using natural foods “which God has blessed us as our everyday medicine”. Here he cited fruits which are abundant in the country and which prevent and heal illnesses – namely, the pineapple and papaya.
Dr. Tan also gave the documented benefits of what he called the best vegetable in the country (malunggay or Moringga oleifera) as well as the best stem, spice, grass and palm (the coconut). Plant a local tree, he urged everyone at the end of his talk.
The second topic was “Spirituality and Human Development” with Dr. Ernest Francis Nora, M.D.; the Medical Director of BIOSAFE, as speaker. He presented the biological foundations of health, the risks of cigarette smoking, and the dangers from stress.
For “Spirituality and Pastoral Care-giving”, the speaker was Fr. Rodolfo Vicente Cancino, Jr. M.I. He is a Camillian priest-doctor who is also Executive Secretary, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Commission on Health Care.
Calling HIV/AIDS a silent scourge, Fr. Cancino shared his experience of meeting a former prostituted woman who eventually dies at the government’s facility for people living with the HIV virus.
He also analyzed the parable of the Good Samaritan who “stooped to help” a traditional enemy of his people. He called Jesus the ultimate model for a Good Samaritan.
The fourth speaker was Dr. Grace Nono, Ph.D., whose award-winning book “Song of the Babaylan” had been published by ISA. She is also an ethnomusicologist and the president of TAO Foundation. In her talk on “Indigenous Healing and Spirituality” she traced the historical records on pre-Spanish priest/priestesses-healers-diviners- intercessors with the natural and supernatural worlds.
Dr. Nono recalled witnessing a healing session for a member of an indigenous group who had been suffering from pain in his leg, She believes that nature-based spiritual healers continue to guide, enrich and blend with their communities as well as with Christianity, Islam, the government and health and development workers.
The last topic was “Spirituality of Aging and Dying”. Here, Sr. Ma Corazon Manalo, D.C. – who is a Superintendent of the Education Ministry of the Daughters of Charity Schools in the Philippines – presented the different schools of thought on senescence and eventual death. She also shared her ways of staying young: “Read books and be happy and ready to give them away, for one.”
Sr. Manalo cited her struggle against debilitating diseases, and provoked laughter about praying, ”Lord, let me clear my room first” – but she triggered a discussion on counseling of the elderly to let go of life.
The points raised by the five speakers elicited comments from the ISA International Academic Advisory Board (IAAB) on the last afternoon of the forum.
The members present were Dr. Alfredo Co, eminent Sinologist and expert on Buddhism and other Eastern religions who pointed out the common thread of the complexity of mind, body and spirit; theologian Fr. Daniel Franklin Pilario, CM,; who underscored the ` instrumentalization’ of Scripture by gurus of health and wellness; Fr.Eliseo Mercado, Jr. OMI, who blended his triple `brokenness of body’ into thoughts on going to the light;’; and Sr. Anicia Co, RVM, Ph.D, who lauded Sr. Manalo for putting dying in context.
The forum closed with a video tribute to Fr. Matthias Timmermans, O. Carm, ,founding member of the ISA Board of Trustees, who died on June 28, 2016 in Boxmeer, the Netherlands.
Fr. Tjeu’ will be remembered for supporting ISA to develop a distinct character as a research institute in Asia. A posthumous plaque of appreciation was given to Fr. Tjeu recognizing his significant role in the conception, birthing, growth and development of ISA. It was signed by Fr. Christian Buenafe, prior provincial of the Carmelites in the Philippines and chairman of ISA Board of Trustees and by Fr. Rico P. Ponce, O. Carm, executive director of ISA. Fr. Bernard Roosendaal, O.Carm. received the plaque in behalf of Fr. Tjeu Timmermans.