Community in Times of Confinement

By Rev. Fr. Angel A. Aparicio, OP
UST FMS Regent

This is a time when we have been confined in our own shell, be it our home, our cell, our self. We have tried to protect ourselves from an invisible agent by keeping away from our fellow human beings. Six long months already. Gatherings at stadiums, churches, parks, etc., have been prohibited, if not sanctioned with fines. Classes in the University have been disrupted and then resumed on line. Communication between us and our stakeholders has been very fragmentary, or as my students would tell me, choppy, choppy, choppy.

This has prompted us to revisit some of our notions, what binds us together as human beings, as members of an institution, society, nation. Community is defined as people living in one place, district of country, considered as a whole; a group of persons having the same religion, race, occupation, etc. or common interests; condition of sharing, having things in common, being alike in some way.

It has become a kind of mantra for the Regent of FMS to reiterate that we are a community. Are we a community? Is the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery a community? What unites us, besides an MD received from UST? Can we, the stakeholders, administrators, graduate alumni, present medical students call USTFMS a community?

Words are like automobile tires. They roll smoothly at first, gripping the mental surface and conveying the load of meaning. Eventually and inevitably, however, excessive use wears them down to the point where they are uncertain and unsafe in the traffic of verbal communication. Then a decision has to be made, whether to reject and replace them or to have them re-treated.

What do we do then with our vision of the Faculty of Medicine … as a community? Do we keep it, do we throw it away, do we rehash it?

Disappointment with unfulfilled promises has led to the call for the revival of bonds as a basis for a Thomasian medical community. New values or the lack of them, on the other hand, pulsate for dropping the word community altogether. While the community is in a sense, an expression of the search for something destroyed by modernity, one could not always dream of recovering a past that perhaps never existed.

UST Faculty of Medicine and Surgery has formulated its vision and mission. We have set our objectives and defined our core values, but unless these very general terms are to float away, like gas-filled balloons making a pretty spectacle but leaving no tangible substance, there must be described some concrete and specific components of the community. In this reflection, I will limit myself to three: belonging, sharing, and wholeness.

Belonging: If a community needs to exist, to give meaning to our lives as students, faculty members, administrators, alumni, etc., it must be an expression of our modern values and of a condition that is central to the experience of life today, which is not only the experience of confinement, no matter how long this has or may still be but the experience of living in an insecure world. Our interests vary, our practice is so specialized that we seem to belong to different professions altogether. We move in very different environments, or even in different countries.

The contemporary community may be understood as a communication community based on new kinds of belonging. In this sense, community as belonging is constructed in communicative processes wherever they occur, be it in institutional contexts, social networking sites, or political movements. Today, global forms of communication are offering many opportunities for the construction of the community. This leads to an understanding of the community that is neither a form of social integration nor a form of meaning, but an open-ended system of communication about belonging. Will this confinement not be an opportunity to harness all this?

Sharing: The gift without the giver may be bare, but the gift without the receiver is no longer a gift. The financial transactions between the students and the school, the school and the teachers, leave us with at times the bitter experience that nothing is a gift. We pay or are paid for all and everything we do.

Are we converting our existence into a business? Are we allowing ourselves to be poisoned and to poison our relationships by the fact that we put a price on all our services?

The main objective of the creation of the Regent scholarship is precisely to persuade our stakeholders and to convince ourselves that not all is money in the struggle to become a physician.

What a joy, to have been able to accomplish our dream of 20 Regent scholarships by the time our faculty will celebrate its 150 years of existence. Our thanks go to those who made it possible, as we encourage more benefactors.

Wholeness: This is the testimony of one of our present Regent’s scholars:

My first year of med school may not be as smooth-sailing as I thought it would be, but it allowed me to appreciate my dream and what I do from a different perspective. Before I entered the Faculty, being a doctor was a childhood dream I wanted to pursue, but after a year in this institution, I realized that the world I wanted to be a part of is much bigger. I grew a sense of love and appreciation for the craft, the science, and the art of medicine. As I approach the next chapter, I could not be more excited to be challenged, to have more sleepless nights, to have loads of homework and quizzes, and most especially, to learn from the best doctors/professors and further improve myself. I am ready to broaden my perspective of the world, my understanding of the human body, and my definition of what a doctor truly is. (Patricia Joyce G. Si, AFI Scholar).

The sharing of Patricia with our readers shows not only her gratitude but also the kind of person she is and the kind of doctor she will be. We pray that by her responsible acceptance of God’s talents she will grow to be a great Thomasian doctor, a good follower of the great physician, our Lord Jesus Christ.

What a gift of a scholar. Congratulations!

And this brings me to conclude that there is hope. Yes, we are a community, a Thomasian community. We are the USTFMS community not only in times of confinement but henceforward. It is our love for our profession, nurtured by our Alma Mater, consolidated by the feelings of belonging, sharing, and wholeness. In the words of Jean-Luc Nancy, Community is what takes place through others and for others. This confinement has dawned on us the conviction that perhaps we ought not to parrot old mantras. However, this is a time to remember in gratitude, to share in solidarity and build-up, as what Pope Francis says, on the rock of common good.