By Fr. S. K. Digal
UST is conducive to the spiritual nourishment of its students, say many foreign students.
“UST offers ample opportunities to strengthen students’ religious faith based on Catholic values,” Priti Ghimire, president of International Students Association (ISA), told the Varsitarian.
The academic and non-academic programs and activities that are held throughout the school year contribute to the enhancement of students’ religious beliefs and convictions, Ghimiri, a Hindu from Nepal, said. Her father is a Hindu and her mother is Catholic. She attends Sunday Masses and does all Catholic religious practices with her mom, yet she remains Hindu. All this have shaped her formation, she said.
The blend of two religious traditions from her parents, her exposure to Catholic higher education, besides her high school education in a convent-run institution, have enable her to deepen her spirituality daily, the ISA president said.
Ghimiri, a fourth-year BS Biology student from the College of Science, recalled she had to study theology as a prerequisite. She said she enjoyed the subject since the teacher made it very practical rather than academic.
For Suraj Aswani, secretary of ISA, a fourth-year Nursing student from India, UST, being a Catholic center of learning, encourages him to imbibe Catholic values.
Like his fellow Catholic peers, he attends Mass on Sundays and holidays of obligation with great devotion. During Lent, he too abstains from eating meat.
But Aswani’s parents are both Hindu.
What impress Aswani and Ghimiri most is that UST does not impose Catholic traditions on non-Christian students. Rather, they said UST is open to other religious traditions.
Rowena Castro, coordinator of ISA, said the University cultivates Catholic values without however making non-Christian students feel left out. Besides, UST teaches Catholics to revere and respect other religions.
At one time, Castro said, a Muslim undergraduate student wanted to wear the Muslim black “burka” over the university’s white uniform in classes. The student was allowed to do so, as long as it did not violate or affect the University’s code of conduct and policies, Castro explained.
Yven Wei Chen (Winnie), a Protestant from Taiwan studying at the College of Fine arts and Design, said her stint in UST has made her learn more about the Catholic Church. “Being in UST, I know more about Catholic faith and teaching, for which I am deeply grateful to the institution, without which it would not have been possible.”
The environment of UST, its extra-curricular programs, faculty staff, and non-academic members manifest Catholic values and teachings that rub off on students through interaction on and off campus, Chen said.
As part of any study, students are required to attend Mass as a class at least once; they are also required to attend the annual retreat.
During a retreat in the past, Chen recalled that she and her classmates shared life stories and experiences with one another. “That retreat experience helped me to learn how to deal with life’s challenges and deepen the Catholic faith that I learnt,” she said.
For Ghimiri what is most impressive is that she finds ample occasions to interiorize UST’s “3Cs” (Compassion, Competent and Commitment). These three words are part of UST’s mission statement.
According to her, these are universal truths that are present in all religions. “But it is in UST during my study that I experienced to imbibe them in my life as a student,” Ghimiri said.
But a third-year Music student from India, who requested anonymity, said it was hard to see how UST could help deepen religious faith as students are busy with academics and extracurricular activities.
Meanwhile, Hendra Nurjadin, MD, an internal medicine residency student from Indonesia, viewed UST Hospital services as a concrete expression of Church’s “preferential option for the poor.”
He said the UST Hospital caters to both rich and poor, as quality healthcare service is made affordable to all. The same standards, facilities, and service are maintained for both the “haves and the have-nots,” said Nurkadin.
“What pleases me most is the Hospital it teaches us to be pro-poor, giving same health services to the poor, while attending to the rich as well,” Nurjadin said.
Asst Prof. Myra P. de Leon, faculty adviser of ISA, said she has observed a strengthening of the personal faith and spirituality of foreign students, who come from various religious backgrounds.
The Campus Ministry should organize programs to cater to the needs of foreign students, such as retreats and recollections, she suggested.
Castro for her part suggested inter-religious dialogues between foreign students and others.
During the second semester of last school year, there were 324 foreign students from 25 nations. They were Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Christians, and others. There were 91 Chinese and 89 Koreans.
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