SR MA DELIA CORONEL OF THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY
FR FRANCISCO DEMETRIO SJ AWARD FOR CULTURE AND THE ARTS
(Represented by Provincial Superior Sr Amelia G David ICM)
XAVIER UNIVERSITY - ATENEO DE CAGAYAN
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY
30 MARCH 2017
Most Reverend Antonio J Ledesma, Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, Reverend Fr Roberto Yap, President of Xavier University, the chairman and members of the Board of Trustees, the administration and faculty of Xavier University, the members of the graduating class, ladies and gentlemen:
In the name of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, otherwise known as the ICM Sisters, allow me to thank the Board of Trustees, through Fr Roberto Yap, president of the university, and all those who made this award possible for our sister, Ma Delia Coronel. We are truly grateful for this recognition of the labor of love she made while she was missioned to the Marawi State University in Lanao del Sur. I wish to acknowledge the many co-workers, the translators, and all the people who made this great work of literature possible, including the Toyota Foundation, who financed the publication of the books. This award is also recognition of their contribution for the preservation of the culture of the Maranaos.
“Humans require stories that are expressed in our cultures so we can find our way forward. They enable us to know what is important to do, what is important to avoid, who are we, what are we, what are we about here. They situate us in the world in a way that gives us a fundamental meaning and direction,” Brianne Swimme once said.
Sr Delia received her basic education in our ICM school in San Fernando City in La Union and then proceeded to the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Although we can credit these influences in her growing years for the contributions that she will give later in her life, I would rather say however that in Sr Delia, all these forces combined to produce in her a response to a call. It is a call that would propel her to the unique response that is her life — religious-missionary, writer-scholar, witness.
Sr Delia joined the ICM sisters in 1950. On May 12 this year she will celebrate 64 years of religious life as an ICM. She had been a teacher and school administrator but her attraction and passion has always been on Philippine culture. She published a book, "Stories and Legends from Filipino Folklore," a few years after her final vows. The book is a collection of Filipino folktales written in a literary form and it is still found in over a hundred libraries in the USA, England, Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia, I am told. As a dedicated educator, her students remember her fondly for her skills in communication and research, and her love for Philippine culture, which they imbibed. Always ready to give of herself, she also served as Superintendent of Diocesan Schools for the Prelature of Marawi during most of her stay there. She had been assigned in several ICM communities: From Tagudin, Ilocos Sur in the North, to STC Cebu in the Visayas, but it was her work in Marawi City in Lanao, particularly in Marawi State University, that would leave a definitive mark in her life.
Sr Delia’s experiences, training and skills accumulated through the years have certainly prepared her to embark on a huge undertaking like the Darangen but there is more. Sr Delia brought in, the focused energy and attention of the consecrated woman, one whose fire and passion was singular devotion to God.
She entered the holy ground of Marawi City as a missionary, recognizing the Divine that has been there for eons at work as the mountains, the lake and the land was formed. She approached the beautiful and proud Maranao people with reverence. She encountered the Holy in them and as a missionary, challenged them when needed. Bonds of deep friendship were forged between them that serve as a beacon of light in our deeply divided society today. She could give much of herself and turn over her life to the cause of building bridges of relationships and that rare opportunity of holding in her heart and mind the treasure that is Darangen because she had left all and given her life to God.
The unique call to devote her life to the Darangen project came after she completed her doctorate in literature in the early 70s. That was a tumultuous time in our history with many similarities to our time now. It was a time marked with confusion, fear, and violence. The Moro National Liberation Front was already born and tensions that often escalated into armed conflict were frequent.
In 1978, Sr Delia was kidnapped from Marawi City with two other FMM sisters by armed Muslim elements. True to her journalistic formation, Sr Delia soon found herself interviewing her captors to understand their grievances and motives. They were released after two weeks and soon after that she wrote an account of her days in captivity, shedding light on the complex nature of the situation in Mindanao.
Whereas it would be easy for us to picture the situation in a classic good versus evil scenario, Sr Delia, as one who lived the tenets of dialogue as a way of life, broke down the walls of differences and empathized with her captors. After some time she was back at her desk in the Folklore Division of the University Research Office of MSU to resume her work.
The Darangen of the Maranao people is one of the oldest and longest Philippine epic poetries. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is in classical Maranao language and is passed on orally and individually from one singer to his or her successor. Such a cultural treasure was truly worthy of being preserved but it would be a monumental task. Sr Delia worked with a team that researched, interviewed, documented, transcribed, and translated the Darangen for publishing. Unlike her previous book, however, this work strove to preserve the epic in its original form. Its translation in English provides us with a privileged window from which we can view and appreciate the richness of this truly remarkable and unique cultural heritage. She lived in Marawi City for decades as she embarked on this project. With an endowment from the Toyota Foundation, it was published in 8 volumes with a total of 27 books from 1986 to 1993 and is now preserved and available for you and the generations still to come. On November 25, 2005, the Darangen was proclaimed a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO. In this unique labor of love, Sr Delia found expression for the gifts and talents that God has given her. Her years of discipline and single-mindedness as a consecrated woman distilled into the focus and dedicated energy needed for the completion of the Darangen.
These days ... Sr Delia spends her days in prayer and relative anonymity in our retirement home in Quezon City. She is very happy and grateful for this recognition. The ICM Sisters celebrate with her. This award, however, does more. It sheds light on the stories we have and points us to a hopeful vision towards the future.
The times we live in call all of us to find a way forward. The anger, distrust, violence and division in our world need people who will live out peace, harmony, unity, and love. There is no other way if we are to survive as a people and as a species. Our ancestors knew this and so celebrated this wisdom in the stories they told and retold through the centuries.
Many people have been given to us to help us find our way — Jesus, whom we Christians believe as God’s incarnation, the Christ; Mohammed, who is a great prophet for our Muslim brothers and sisters; Buddha, the enlightened one who continues to inspire people all over the world with his teachings, and others. The lives and teachings of these personalities are enshrined in stories that are told and retold to us.
We are all invited now to turn to these great stories available to us, to try to get to the original sources, to look at them with fresh eyes, to translate them in our language now and to make them available to others by the witness of our lives. Stories have power. They have a life of their own. They are flickers of light in a dark night. Will you help light up the night with the light of your life?
The stories of the Darangen gave the Maranao people its identity and helped them to find their way and place in the world. But these stories are truly ours and all of humanity’s as well. Maybe it is time to listen to these stories once again to help us find our way out of the darkness that wraps our days and nights. Maybe we will be inspired with the courage, bravery and heroism of our ancestors from old and do likewise now. Sr Delia’s days and years were spent for the preservation of the stories of a people. She spent her life preserving and retelling what is true, good and beautiful in our people.
What stories will our Filipino people tell about us in the future? Will they be stories of light that triumphed over the darkness or will they be stories not worth remembering? As you leave these halls, the world is eager to hear your stories. Make your life story epic!
Thank you very much.∎