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Vol. XIV, N. 1 11 January 2010
Interview to Father General. On December 21st, just before leaving Zimbabwe, last stop of his third trip to Africa, Father General gave the following interview to Fr. Oskar Wermter. With the kind permission of Fr. Oskar, we are publishing it, for we believe the themes treated to be of interest to all.
1. Very familiar as you are with Asia, what strikes you as different in Africa, both in the Church and in society at large?
Let me start saying that one of the things I have learned in my Asian experience is to never trust first impressions. The main reason is that first impressions are the most conditioned by previous experience, expectations or prejudice. And the second thing is that it took me some time to realize that there is no Asia, an Asia we can speak about in one line of conversation. Asia is many countries, many cultures, many traditions, many histories and peoples. If Africa is still "one Africa" for me, it means that I do not yet understand it. I really hope that, as I grow in understanding Africa, I will come to the realization that there are many peoples, many languages, many traditions, many cultures... in Africa as well. And then comparisons become concrete and limited. I find it very hard - that is, impossible - to compare Asia and Africa. I would have to ask which Asia? And, which Africa?
2. There are going to be Secretaries for Dialogue with Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism, major world religions. How do you see dialogue with African Traditional Religion? And African contemporary religion (new religious movements, Indigenous Christian movements led by "prophets", Pentecostal groups, etc. etc.)?
I would like to mention only two points before I answer this question. The first is that, as you could see in my letter, these Secretaries for Dialogue with Religions will be resident in their own apostolic place. I think that it is important that Dialogue is taking place; that something moves at the base, where people are and live their Religions. And that it is important that we differentiate; dialogue with Buddhism is totally different from dialogue with Islam. In other words, if something happens at the level of the life of the Church and the Society, then we can think about coordinating similar initiatives or experiences. I would not like to start at the top with someone sitting on high without roots in the life of people. I truly hope that dialogue with the people takes place in depth, touching their religious roots. Then we can think of a Secretary.
This gives me the opening to make my second point. I really hope that Jesuits working with people can relate so deeply with them that there is a real dialogue of hearts between our men and the people we serve. And if there is such a dialogue, the religious roots of people's life will emerge and be part of our dialogue with them. It has been a biased view of European people, scholars included, to consider traditional religion as "less developed", "more primitive", "less sophisticated", etc. The fact is that it has permeated our whole life to such an extent that even modern European agnostics (self-defining often as the most elaborate secularists) continue to have latent or overt behaviour that is understandable only in categories of traditional religion. As a Japanese scholar once said, Europeans have always been and continue to be "animistic", even if they are reluctant to acknowledge it. Thus, I really hope that our men will take this dialogue seriously and will study traditional religions seriously, and will open avenues and possibilities for creative and deepening dialogue. Dialogue can help all of us because it helps us discover hidden meanings in our tradition and opens up possibilities of purification and growth that would remain unnoticed otherwise.
With these two remarks I can now address your question. I think the main thrust of our dialogue should not be with ideas or systems or concepts, but with people. Being person is being in dialogue. What matters is not the area of specialization we take; what really matters is people and in dialogue with them we come in touch with old and new religiosities, old and new fears, old and new ritual needs, old and new inner liberations. And if this is the case, then it is clear that we will need a far greater depth in our faith and a very wide training so that we can be of help to those with whom we dialogue.
3. "Inculturation" is the great catchword in African theology. Where do you think we should put the emphasis: on liturgy, ecclesiology, marriage and family, religious life, or statehood and governance (social justice)?
I do not think we can separate the issues so neatly. Inculturation, like any development in life or thinking that involves culture, does not happen by plan or theory. It happens when the people involved feel free to live and express themselves in the terms that best respond to their experience and the mental, or interactive frameworks within which they are most truly themselves. This applies to liturgy, ecclesiology, marriage, religious life and social justice. Culture is a reality that has a life of its own and keeps growing, changing, adapting and responding to new events and environmental changes. Inculturation is a way of living in the wider context of whatever makes human life human. Thus the encounter between culture and faith is ongoing, mutually influential, and, hopefully, a source of ongoing growth and purification.
4. Do you see a danger that our deep involvement as Jesuits in social work and social development may "secularize" us or alienate us from the priesthood, even the Church (I am asking this because we are in the Year of the Priest)?
It all depends on the kind of spiritual and human depth we have reached in our lives. Social work can be a distraction from deep spiritual living, or it could be a great help to encounter the living God in people who are suffering. Yesterday I received a book by a spiritual writer about a Jesuit who became a worker-priest and who lived in his new environment very high mysticism. The book is titled: "God, friendship and the poor. The mysticism of Egide van Broeckhoven, a worker Jesuit". This Jesuit understood his call as one of teaching people "the mystical depths of friendship". If we understand that one of the dimensions of Priesthood is to help people come closer to God, social work cannot be considered as alienating. On the other hand, a person totally dedicated to concrete temporal results in the social justice arena can become very alienated from his own spiritual religious mission and be totally at the mercy of political or social results of his effort.
5. Zimbabwe is struggling to overcome bad governance, corruption, violence and rebuild the country with a new democratic constitution. Do you think democracy (government by participation) has a chance? Would you say democracy has Christian roots so that we are obliged to promote it? Could you answer this in the context of your wide experience in other parts of the developing world, especially Asia?
I can only say that, from my own experience elsewhere, the chances of democracy to
succeed and take root go hand in hand with the development of education in a country. And I do not mean Western style of education. I mean growth in the ability to handle information, to understand reality, to make good judgments and to act accordingly. If the population are not given the needed and objective information; if they are not allowed to understand correctly right and false solutions; if judgment is disturbed with propaganda, oppression and superficial slogans; if, finally, responsible decisions are made practically impossible, then we cannot have real democracy.
In this sense we are all for democracy because we are all for human growth and maturity. It is not a choice for a political system as political and partisan. We are for valuing human ability to grow, to make choices, to understand reality and to act accordingly. We are for fair information and for an education that gives people the capacity to understand, judge and act responsibly. If this is called democracy, I am all for it. This is not a partisan choice because partisan choices disenfranchise people and we are for all the people and their participation in the responsibilities that touch their lives.
The fact that some "democratic" systems did not work well only means that democracy, like all other systems, need time to mature and are based on a number of conditions that require attention, investment and patience. We cannot expect from democracy the kind of "instant soup" approach that would think that the system has to work well from the very first hour of its existence. No system ever does. All systems need monitoring for effective and rational working out.
By the way, a note should be made about the fact that I do not know whether the roots of democracy are Christian or not. It is enough for me to know that the elements at work in terms of human dignity, information, responsibility, etc... are deeply harmonious with my Christian faith to be in its favour.
The Holy Father Benedict XVI has named the following Jesuits as consultants to the general secretariat of the Synod of Bishops:
- Father Paul Béré, professor of Old Testament and biblical languages at the "Institut de Théologie de la Compagnie de Jésus", "Université Catholique de l'Afrique de l'Ouest", Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and at "Hekima College Jesuit School of Theology" in Nairobi (Kenya);
- Father Samir Khalil Samir, professor of History of Arabic Culture and Islamology at the "St. Joseph" University in Beyrouth (Lebanon).
Father General has appointed:
- Father Miguel Gabriel Cruzado Silveri as Provincial of Peru. Father Gabriel was born in 1970, joined the Society of Jesus in 1995 and was ordained a priest in 2005. He returned recently to the Province after Tertianship and spirituality studies in Europe.
- Father John Dardis, Irish Province, as president of the Conference of European Provincials. Father John was born in 1956, joined the Society of Jesus in 1974 and was ordained a priest in 1987. He has served as the Provincial of Ireland since 2004.
- Father Louis Boisset as Regional Secretary for the Assistancy of West Europe. He will replace Father Hugues Delétraz at the end of July. Father Louis Boisset, who is a member of the Province of Middle East, is actually at the Jesuit Residence in Beyrouth.
From the Provinces
BELGIUM: New Database for Chinese Texts
A new instrument is now available for those searching for information on Matteo Ricci including what he wrote and what has been written about him. The Chinese Christian Texts Database, is a research database of primary and secondary sources concerning the cultural contacts between China and Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially from 1582 to 1840. It was compiled and is regularly updated by Professor Ad Dudink and Father Nicolas Standaert, S.J., of the Sinology Research Unit in Leuven, Belgium. The multi-lingual database is divided between primary and secondary sources. The primary sources are composed of approximately 1050 Chinese documents and include printed books, manuscripts, pamphlets and maps. The secondary sources, over 4500 of them, are linked to the primary sources when possible.The primary and secondary sources are grouped by theme following the categorization of the Handbook of Christianity in China: Volume One (635-1800). Access to the database is free and is found at: http://www.arts.kuleuven.be/sinology/cct/cct.htm
ITALY: Rome Mayor Pays Visit to Centro Astalli
On Christmas day, Gianni Alemanno, Mayor of Rome, visited the dining room of Centro Astalli for refugees and asylum seekers, as one of a series of visits to social assistance agencies in the city. Father Giovanni La Manna, president of Centro Astalli, said: "every year at Christmas time, we open our dining room to offer refugees and asylum seekers in Rome a comfortable place to eat a hot meal. We succeed in guaranteeing good service on the 25th of December thanks to the generous support of many volunteers. For a number of years, Christmas at Centro Astalli is celebrated with men and women fleeing wars and persecutions, hundreds of people who again live the experience of Joseph and Mary, who could not find refuge at the time of Jesus birth and had to flee their country. The presence of the Mayor of Rome in our dining room on Christmas day is an important sign of welcome and solidarity the city of Rome offers to those arriving in Italy in search of protection."
MALAYSIA: Promoting Interreligious Dialogue
In an interview with UCA News at the recent Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference symposium on Religious Life, held in Hua Hin, Thailand, Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing S.J. of Melaka-Johor underlined the commitment of the Church to promote interreligious dialogue in Malaysia. An increasing "islamization" is taking place in the country where 60% of its 28 million people profess Islam. The bishop spoke about the ongoing controversy surrounding Malaysian Christians use of the word "Allah" and the various issues connected with "islamization". This year the government confiscated 15.000 Malay-language bibles because they contain the word "Allah", used to refer to God. The Church has become embroiled in a dispute with the government to assert its right to use "Allah" arguing that the country's home Minister had contravened the Constitution when he introduced new conditions banning the use of the word "Allah" to mean any God other than the Muslim God. The word was used in the Herald, a newspaper of the Catholic Church, meant only for Christians and distributed only in churches. The Church has appealed to the Constitution, which protects the fundamental rights of religious minorities to carry out their worship freely. In recent days, the High Court of Justice declared unconstitutional the Government's decision to prohibit non-Muslims using the word "Allah" to refer to God. Unfortunately, extremist Muslims reacted to the ruling by setting fire to several Christian churches. The Government plans to appeal this ruling.
The First Automobile. Flemish Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest, a missionary at the Chinese Imperial Court after Matteo Ricci, is credited with inventing the first motor vehicle, as a toy for the Emperor. Built and tested in 1679, it was two feet long and was operated by an eolipyle that warned the embers. A steam jet struck a horizontal wheel with blades which meshed with the front wheels. It was tested in the courtyard of the Imperial Palace in Beijing to the great delight of the emperor and other spectators. Verbiest was an astronomer and mathematician who earned his Presidency of the Imperial Board of Mathematics in a competition with Chinese astronomers.