The University of Santo Tomas, Manila, recently held its Theology Week 2018 on Church and Communion. A good roster of speakers facilitated the different plenary sessions. One of our brothers from Saint Dominic Priory in Macau was among the distinguished speakers.

Brother Edmond Eh Kim Chew, OP, discussed the topic “Virtue Theory and Ecological Spirituality” within the general theme of the week Church and Communion: Theology & Expressions.

While other speakers discussed communion with God, communion with others, communion in the Church and the family, Brother Edmond reflected – within the theory of virtue – on our communion with nature, in particular with the animals. From the perspective of the Bible, theology and philosophy, our brother presented the example of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron of ecologists, and some insights of Pope Francis in his pace-setting Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ (May 24, 2015). Indeed, the Sacred Scriptures speak often of animals, of concrete animals – sheep, serpent, dove, dog, etc. – as examples of virtues for human beings. The speaker focused on the virtues of wisdom (sophia), prudence or practical wisdom (phronesis) and simplicity, by developing in particular the well-known saying of Jesus: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (cf. Mt 3:6). Brother Edmond underlined wisdom and the basic explanations given by St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and Pope Francis. One concrete idea which aroused the interest of the audience was this: Christ outsmarted the Pharisees and others by his wisdom, prudence, and sincerity. Moreover, He outsmarted Satan, too, by his victorious death on the Cross (Fathers of the Church).

Theo Week 2018 was organized by the Faculty of Sacred Theology, the Center for Religious Studies and Ethics, and the Institute of Religion – three units of the Dominican University of Santo Tomas, the Catholic, Pontifical and Royal University of the Philippines, founded in 1611.

Theo Week 2018 was held at function rooms of BGPOP (Buenaventura Garcia de Paredes of the Order of Preachers) Building and the Faculty of Theology auditorium and classes, on February 26 – March 2. It consisted of twelve plenary sessions and paper presentations by professors of the Institute of Religion and candidates for licentiate and doctorate in theology from the Faculty of Sacred Theology. The roster of speakers included Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, from Myanmar, Bishop Joseph Chusac from Thailand, Archbishops Agustinus Agus from Indonesia, and Bishop Teodoro Bacani from the Philippines, plus a good number of distinguished Dominicans from the Philippines and other Asian countries. The Theo Week 2018 attracted many participants – in all about four hundred. A good number of them were theology students – the majority, Dominican brothers and sisters.

One anecdote from Cardinal Bo, who gave the keynote lecture, became like a mantra or motive of the whole series of lectures of Theo Week 18. It was repeated and re-adapted by many speakers and masters of ceremonies throughout the week. There was a bishop who had to cross the seashore to go to his ministry. One day he saw three fishermen who rushes to him, and told him proudly and joyfully: “Bishop, we are Catholics.” The Bishop asked them: “Do you pray?  “Yes, every day.” “How do you pray?” With raised hands up to heaven, we say: “You Three are there; we three are here, have mercy on us.” The good Bishop told them that they should learn the Our Father, and taught it to them very patiently. Two weeks later, the bishop passed by the seashore again. He asked the three fishermen: “Do you pray the Our Father?” “No, Bishop, we forgot it.” The Bishop told them: “Your prayer is fine; it is also my prayer.” The four raised up their hands to heaven and prayed: “You Three are there; we four are here, have mercy on us.”

The UST Theo Week was inaugurated in the academic year 1999-2000. It is currently celebrated every two years. It has become a significant theological event in Manila in which the Christian faith is explained from the present reality and the reading of “the signs of the times.” The participants are invited not only to know their faith better but “to walk the talk,” that is this time, to be in communion with God, with neighbor, in the Church – and with animals, creatures of the universe with us human beings. We hear the call: “Be wise like serpents and innocent like children” – and authentic like Jesus.                                                          

Fausto Gómez Berlana, O.P.