St. John’s University celebrated its first Vincentian Convocation in two years by honoring people and organizations that embodied this year’s Founder’s Week theme: “Be Vincentian, Work for Justice.” The Convocation, held on September 23 at St. Thomas More Church, serves as the capstone celebration for Founder’s Week, which honors the life and legacy of St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Congregation of the Mission, and culminates in his feast day.
Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President of St. John’s, noted that he was presiding over his first Vincentian Convocation. Overwhelmed by the humility and Vincentian spirit evidenced by the honorees, he said, “I can’t tell you how humbled and blessed I am to be here,” eschewing his prepared remarks.
The following awards were presented.
During the Convocation, the annual Vincentian Chair of Social Justice Lecture, also titled, “Be Vincentian: Work for Justice,” was delivered by Rev. Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M., Ph.D., S.T.D., Former Dean, St. Vincent School of Theology, Adamson University; holder of the 2021 –22 Vincentian Chair of Social Justice; and Visiting Professor, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Fr. Pilario’s talk contained a special emphasis on the extrajudicial killings being carried out by government officials in his home country of the Philippines.
Fr. Pilario noted that the quote, “If you want peace, work for justice,” comes from Pope Paul VI, who spoke those words on the World Day of Peace in January 1972. He explained that the Pope’s words were spoken in the context of the arms race during the Cold War.
“The Church knows that peace is beyond just maintaining the delicate balance of world power,” Fr. Pilario explained. “Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, also means achieving justice and equality for all.”
He stressed that the main cause of violence is discrimination and inequality. “These contrasts are so glaring: some throw out tons of food, while others eat our leftovers in the garbage dump. Some multinational companies enrich themselves by the billions through extracting minerals in some distant country, while their indigenous inhabitants are killed because they resisted. Some have the luxury to refuse COVID-19 vaccines, while many others do not have access, even if they badly want it, because their whole communities are dying.”
Fr. Pilario related that since President Rodrigo Roa Duterte of the Philippines assumed power in 2016, he launched a war on drugs—but rather than support those addicted, police began barging into small shanties of the poor, shooting young men whom they suspected to be drug addicts. Estimates are that more than 30,000 people have been killed in the last five years.
“A young widow confided to me, ‘If we only had a sturdier home, the police could not have easily come in. They could not have easily killed my husband.’ Not to have a home is already a violation of human dignity. In her case, it is a violation of human life. It is good news for this academic community therefore to celebrate people who help make life more or less equal for everyone.”
He added, “Peace is not only the fruit of justice; it is also the fruit of love. There is no way to separate the two. On the one hand, the work of charity must be done rightly—with fairness and justice. On the other hand, the struggle for justice must be done lovingly—with kindness and tenderness.”
He stressed that being part of a global network of Vincentian universities and ministries, and the international collaborative learning that flows from that experience, is critical. “As you accorded me hospitality here, I also welcome you to do teaching, academic service-learning, and research on my side of the world. In the process, our collaborative research can also take stock of how violence is reproduced on a different ground, with a different face, from a different lens—hoping that we can see the interconnectedness of victimization and generate more inclusive and liberating solutions.
“As Vincentians, we are asked to immerse ourselves regularly in the experiences of poor communities, and allow their everyday practices of survival to interrogate the canons of our disciplinary specializations, and disturb our otherwise routine lives. Let the poor and their experiences challenge the limits of our own national or personal enclosures. Let the perspective of the victims be our own optic—as we navigate our professions, as we do our ministries, and as we live our lives.”
“Fr. Pilario takes seriously the call of St. Vincent to be attentive to the needs of the marginalized among us,” said Rev. Patrick J. Griffin, C.M., Executive Director, Vincentian Center for Church and Society. “He has taught, written, and acted with social justice as his guiding principle. At St. John’s, we can be more familiar with issues dealing with our country and Europe, and we are accustomed to a particular way of looking at these matters. Fr. Pilario can open our eyes to a wider world and offer an Asian emphasis on matters that concern us all.”