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Vol. XX, No. 08 April 20, 2016
EARTHQUAKE IN EQUADOR
[Second statement: April 17th, in the evening]
Dear Jesuits, friends and collaborators,
On April 16, at 7 p.m., we experienced an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was located in the Northwest coast of Ecuador, 400 km from Quito.
We are grateful to God that our communities on the coast: Portoviejo, Manta and Guayaquil are all ok, they had no material damage. Similarly too, most of the communities of the Province did not suffer major damage. The premises of PUCE-MANABI (Chone, Bahía de Caráquez and Portoviejo) suffered some damage, though. Also affected is the building housing the Centro de Promoción Social Río Manta, where the outside walls cracked and some internal walls collapsed.
The most affected settlements are Pedernales and Muisne. 17 km from Pedernales, in Cañaveral community, there is a popular school and some cottages of the Colegio San Gabriel. The cottages are now being used as shelter for the neighbors.
According to the official news, there are more than 230 dead, more than 1,500 injured and hundreds of people missing.
Signs of solidarity from our communities and works, organisations, institutions and particular persons have been very significant. Thank you to all! We will keep supporting and praying for the victims of this tragedy.
We commend the nation to the Lord and to Our Lady of Sorrows.
Thanks for your solidarity.
Fr. Gilberto Freire, S.J.
(Provincial of Equador)
Conversations with Father General
Poverty and Solidarity
Looking at the worldwide Society, it can sometimes seem that some of ours are living with the poor, while others live with little or no direct contact with them. What would you say to a Jesuit who has little contact with the poor?
R. I would say to him that he is missing something or, at least, a great opportunity. The poor teach us something unique about humanity and the true value of "being" over "having," the criteria for true friendships, and the like. In the same way, they teach us something of the Gospel, which otherwise we cannot learn, unless we are very advanced in the way of the Lord, which no one can consider himself to be. No one can be forced to lead a life that we can consider ideal. As my predecessor, Father Pedro Arrupe said to a group of Jesuits, "In the Society all are called to work for the poor; Some (a good group) are called to work like the poor; and a few are called to work with the poor". It is important to maintain the dynamic relationship among All, Some and A few. This respects everyone's choice and is open to the variety of each one's response to the call from the Lord.
Early in his pontificate, Pope Francis said he wanted a "church that is poor and for the poor." Could we say the same about the Society?
R. Without any doubt and even more so. After all, we have a vow of poverty that has to mean something in today's world. The difficulties of making it real do not take away the fact that the vow is not an individual choice, but a way of life of the whole Order.
Sometimes Jesuits may fear working with the poor--as if it is a sort of special vocation that they do not share. What would you say to a Jesuit who feels this way? How best can we be in solidarity with the poor in our contemporary world?
R. It is very difficult to be in solidarity with anybody if we do not know him and his life or problems. Solidarity implies a kind of nearness that is affective and affectionate. It is something like what the general Uriah did when David wanted to hide his own sin. The general refused to go to his own home and wife, out of solidarity with his soldiers. A Jesuit, friend of mine, said that he wished that the Jesuits would, at least, reach the level of spirituality of this great pagan of the Bible.
Obedience - Will of God and Process
Before you became Superior General, what was your lived experience of obedience?
R. It was the ordinary experience of all Jesuits. You grow in the desire to find and do the Will of God, and the Superior of the Province or of your Community becomes the mediator. So, for instance, Father General Janssens asked for volunteers for different missions, I offered myself as such, and I was sent to Japan. Nothing in this process is different from what is expected of every Jesuit.
For most Jesuits obedience consists in doing their day-to-day jobs. Is there a way that they can find that experience life giving, rather than simply a chore?
R. It all depends on the attitude, the heart with which you do your mission, or your job, or the chores that go with it. What gives life is not the job or the chores, but the Lord, who calls us to his service. This is the key for our discernment, and our freedom, even in the midst of the most difficult obedience. When I was young, I once heard a Jesuit say, "In our younger years the most difficult vow might be chastity, but in our more mature years it is Obedience".
Maybe the answer to this and other questions is that we revise the process of obedience. That we restore the "search;" that we refuse to make God's will mechanical and automatic and that we involve ourselves in the search for it. Importantly, I have to know that the Superior and I are moving to the same goal, which is the Will of God in mission. What really matters is not my will or the development of my limited talents but the service of souls, as we, the body of the Society, commit ourselves to this service in the Church.
Many people outside the Jesuits are puzzled about our brand of obedience. Can you explain to them how God's will works through our governance?
R. As I just said, nobody can claim to know the Will of God with certainty. We are all searchers and we are always supposed to discern where the Will of God is. This is so serious that Saint Ignatius came to consider that, if the subject has very good and serious reasons why a concrete order of the Superior might not be the Will of God, because of its negative consequences, he is obliged to propose a "representation", that is, arguments against the order, so that the Superior might reconsider it or not, knowing all the consequences. The key, therefore, rests in the fact that all the Jesuits are involved in the search for the Will of God. It is more difficult to "represent" than to accept orders that make no sense; or simply said; it is easier to complain than to contribute.