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At Large
400 days to 400 years

By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:03:00 12/17/2009

Filed Under: Education, University, Religions

GIVE or take a few days, today marks the start of the countdown??400 days to 400 years??before the University of Santo Tomas celebrates its Quadricentennial, its 400th anniversary, in 2011.

Founded in 1611, UST is Asia?s oldest university and, in terms of student population in one campus, the largest Catholic university in the world. UST?s 400th year is thus not just a celebration for the Dominican Order which has administered the university from the start, or for its faculty, students and alumni, but for the entire country. The University of Sto. Tomas, asserts Rector Fr. Rolando dela Rosa, O.P., ?is a heritage of all Filipinos.?

The celebrations, starting from today to Jan. 28, 2011, will be centered on the UST campus, a 21.5-hectare property in the Sampaloc district, with the main entrance along Espaa Avenue and bounded by streets named after Dominican friars, prominent Spaniards and characters out of ?Don Quixote.? Most Filipinos, even those who have never set foot on the UST campus, recognize by sight the university?s iconic structures: the Arch of the Centuries, which greets everyone entering through the Espaa gates and which was the original entryway when the university was still in Intramuros; the statue of Bishop Miguel de Benavides, O.P., the third archbishop of Manila who founded UST through a modest personal bequest creating a ?seminary college? to prepare young men for the priesthood; and the Main Building.

The last is an imposing stone structure that holds the distinction of being the first earthquake-resistant building in the Philippines (with a ?floating? foundation that allows it to dissipate the energy created by a tremor). During World War II, the building was converted by Japanese forces into an internment camp for allied prisoners, one of only two instances in its 400-year history when classes were disrupted for a significant length of time.

* * *

TO MARK its 400th anniversary, UST is embarking on a long list of activities both here and abroad. To Father Dela Rosa, the ?centerpiece project? is called ?Simbayan 400,? which stands for ?Tomasino para sa Simbahan at Bayan (Thomasians for Church and Country).?

Starting in January next year, ?Simbayan 400? consolidates Thomasian efforts to develop communities in some 400 Gawad Kalinga villages funded or built by UST students, faculty or alumni. ?It will be development in a holistic manner,? says Father Dela Rosa, and will involve Thomasians in four main areas: site planning and development; livelihood generation; education for peace and values formation; and health. Faculty, students and alumni of different faculties and colleges of UST will be tapped to lend their expertise and experience, from engineering to commerce; education, arts and letters and fine arts; and nursing, medicine, pharmacy and sciences.

Another major project is an exhibit called ?Lumina Pandit,? meaning, spreading the light. Organized by the UST Miguel de Benavides Library, the exhibit will showcase the precious and significant collection of books, documents and other historical treasures the university library has accumulated through four centuries.

Fr. Angel Aparicio, O.P., prefect for libraries, is most excited about displaying one of only three remaining original copies of ?Doctrina Christiana,? the first book printed in the Philippines, a rare copy of a book by Copernicus, and other rare documents. Among the last are the academic records of the fathers of our nation (since UST served as the country?s ?department of education? until the inauguration of the first republic), four presidents, six Supreme Court justices and many other outstanding alumni of UST.

* * *

A WHOLE slew of other activities will punctuate both the year-long run-up to the 2011 launching rites as well as the year-long celebration.

Among these are projects ?for the books,? the Guinness Book of World Records, to be exact. These include the planned ?world?s longest living Rosary? in February next year, which will involve some 42,000 students reciting the Holy Rosary together as they assemble in the UST campus and surrounding streets. They also hope to assemble the world?s biggest choral performance, with some 40,000 voices performing the ?Ode to Joy? at the Quadricentennial Closing rites.

Also in the works: the unveiling of a ?Tetra-global? monument, representing the universal reach of the Thomasian community with figures representing the various stakeholders: a Dominican priest, a professor, and one male and one female student (modeled by two alumni in show business?Piolo Pascual and Charlene Gonzales-Muhlach). There will also be a ?grand celebratory parade? from the Luneta to UST, a replication of the 1911 celebration. Then, at the instance of fine arts graduates, there will be a ?Grand Thomasian Fashion Fair,? as well as a Search and Selection for ?Mr. and Ms. Quadricentennial.? The Conservatory of Music, with some alumni, will also stage several operas at the CCP, while an operetta on the life of Benavides is being written. The Class of 2011 will be immortalized, too, their names included in a time capsule to be buried beneath a marker at the entrance.

* * *

THE BIGGEST news, of course, is the hoped-for visit of Pope Benedict XVI in time for the launching of the Quadricentennial Year. The university has already written the Vatican about this, but so far there have been no firm confirmations.

And since UST is a ?Royal and Pontifical? university, King Juan Carlos of Spain has likewise been invited, and prospects for his visit look good. In all, it will be a most exciting 400 days until the UST family?including this alumna? celebrate a milestone not just for the institution along Espaa, but for the country as well.

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