Homily by Fr. Roberto C. Yap SJ, President of the Ateneo de Manila University, during the ASHS Mass of the Holy Spirit

August 18, 2020
Fr. Roberto C. Yap SJ, President of Ateneo de Manila University

This homily was given by Fr. Roberto C. Yap SJ, President of the Ateneo de Manila University, during the ASHS Mass of the Holy Spirit held earlier today (18 August 2020) at the ASHS Montserrat Chapel and streamed live via Facebook. Today is also the feast of St. Alberto Hurtado SJ.

Fr. Roberto C. Yap, SJ, delivers his homily during the Mass of the Holy Spirit

Today, the Ateneo Senior High School community celebrates the Mass of the Holy Spirit. The Mass of the Holy Spirit is a tradition among Jesuit academic institutions dating to 1548 in which the community gathers to thank God for the gifts of creation and salvation and to seek the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit in the coming school year. As we begin each academic year at the Ateneo, we celebrate the graciousness of God, the bountiful gifts given to this community, and the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit. This liturgy is a public commitment to our trust in God's Spirit as we discern and live out our mission and identity and go forth as members of the Ateneo family and partners in the Gospel.

Today is also the Feast of San Alberto Hurtado, a Jesuit saint from Chile. Allow me to share about his life as his vocation will surely inspire our Ateneo Senior High students as they begin School Year 2020-2021.

Throughout South America the name of Fr Alberto Hurtado is associated with El Hogar de Cristo, a Catholic charity that provides the homeless with a place to live. Alberto was born in Viña del Mar, Chile, on January 22, 1901, and though his parents may have been of old aristocratic families, they were without wealth and lived on a small estate. Alberto’s father died when Alberto was four, and his mother had to sell the farm for far less that it was worth in order to pay off the family’s heavy debts. She and her two sons then went to live with relatives. From an early age Alberto knew what it was to be poor and remembered how frequently the family had to move. When a scholarship had been offered him, he attended the Jesuit school in Santiago.

Though only in his early teens, Alberto grew concerned about the people who lived in the slum districts and, thus, he spent each Sunday afternoon helping them. When he graduated from St Ignatius high school in 1917, he thought of becoming a Jesuit, but his spiritual director, knowing his family’s financial condition, suggested that he postpone his entrance until his mother and younger brother were better situated. Alberto secured a job during the afternoons and evenings to help support the family and at the same time earned enough to begin the study of law at the Catholic University. The poor always remained close to Alberto, and though he was doing double duty – working and studying – he continued to spend his Sunday afternoons with them. In 1920 he interrupted his studies to enter military service and after his discharge returned to the university, where he graduated in August 1923. On the 14th of that month, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Chillán; he was twenty-two years old.

Alberto did his Jesuit formation in different countries. Novitiate and Humanities in Chile and Argentina. Philosophy in Spain. Theology in Ireland and in Belgium. He was ordained a priest in Belgium in 1933. In 1936, he returned to Chile after his Jesuit training.

On Fr Hurtado’s return to Santiago, he taught religion at St Ignatius and gave adult classes in pedagogy at the Catholic University. He was also in charge of the school’s sodality and involved its members in apostolic works, especially teaching catechism in the villages. Retreat work was also important to him. No matter how crowded his schedule, he managed to fit retreats into it. When the number of those requesting retreats grew, he built a retreat house next to the Jesuit novitiate and these retreats, in turn, resulted in vocations to the priesthood, diocesan and religious.

In 1941, Fr Hurtado was asked to become director of Catholic Action, first in the archdiocese and then on the national level. He kept the position until the end of 1944, when Providence led him to another important work. During a retreat he was giving in October 1944, he asked his audience to think of the many poor people in their city – men, women, youth, children, who were without a roof over their heads and were forced to spend the nights outdoors, in the rain and cold of winter. This remark so moved his audience that the retreatants responded by offering him donations for the poor. This was the beginning of El Hogar de Cristo. With the generous benefactions he received, Fr Hurtado opened a hospice for youth and then one for women and children in Santiago. Hogar means hearth or home, and thus the homeless poor were made welcome into the home of Christ. The hospices increased in number and they not only offered shelter for the night, but also helped rehabilitate people and taught them skills and Christian values.

Fr Hurtado visited the United States in 1945-1946 and while residing at the Jesuit community at Georgetown University, pursued courses in sociology at the Catholic University of America. While in the States he also studied the operation and management of Fr Flanagan’s Boys Town with the idea of adapting it to his own country. His last six years were devoted to the spread of these hospices, which were established in many Chilean cities, and today are found throughout South America. Between the years 1947 and 1950, Fr Hurtado also wrote three books: On Unions, Social Humanism, and The Christian Social Order. In 1951 he started a monthly periodical called, Mensaje (translated “Message”), devoted to explaining the Church’s social teaching.

Though by the end of 1951 Fr Hurtado was only fifty years old, his health began to fail. By the following May he was quite ill, and his physician thought some rest at the seashore would help him. But at the end of May the priest returned to Santiago, where it was finally discovered that he had pancreatic cancer. During his suffering the pain increased almost daily and he was heard to say, “I am content, O Lord, I am content.” He lingered until August 18, 1952 (68 years ago today), when as his Jesuit brothers surrounded his bed recommending him to God, this apostle of the poor returned to his Maker. When his body was taken to St Ignatius church, his many friends crowded the building to see their father for the last time. The funeral took place on the 20th with so large a crowd that many had to remain outside.

Fr Alberto Hurtado is vividly remembered for his charity and Christ-like love of the poor. He once wrote: “Christ roams through our streets in the person of so many of the suffering poor, sick and dispossessed and people thrown out of their miserable slums. Christ huddled under bridges, in the person of so many children who lack someone to call father, who have been deprived for many years, without a mother’s kiss on their foreheads…Christ is without a home!

Shouldn’t we want to give Him one, those of us who have the joy of a comfortable home, plenty of good food, the means to educate and assure the future of our children?”
He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 16, 1994. He was canonized on October 23, 2005, by Pope Benedict XVI.
As we celebrate the life of San Alberto Hurtado, we are reminded that Jesuit education aims to form men and women for and with others – persons who not only use their talents for the greater good, but who are also committed to standing in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and with all whose human dignity is ignored, imperiled, or diminished. Far from an abstract or overly idealistic goal, the promotion of justice in our world should compel us all to act justly in our daily lives – in our relationships and our work – so as to be able to rise and meet the many daunting challenges that undermine human dignity in our day and age.
San Alberto Hurtado, pray for Ateneo Senior High students that they become men and women for others.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of our Ateneo Senior High students and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall become true friends of the poor. Veni Sancte Spiritu. Halina, Banal na Espiritu! Come, Holy Spirit!