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Vol. XIV, N. 10 7 May 2010
FATHER'S GENERAL TRIP TO MEXICO, HAITI AND TO THE PROVINCES OF CENTRAL AMERICA AND ANTILLES
As announced in the 12 April bulletin, Father General visited Central America and parts of the Caribbean from 19 April to 1 May. He made stops in Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Dominican Republic and Haiti. It was an intense trip full of visitations with Jesuits working in these countries. We spotlight two such encounters of his trip.
The first was his presence to the Third Conference of Jesuit Higher Education. During his long, warmly received and much appreciated talk, Father Nicolás pointed out the challenges the Society faces today, from the need to offer an education to the young in order to give them the capacity to work for a better future, to the urgency of finding solutions to such problems as: violence, climate changes, forced migrations, unequal distribution of goods, and lack of democracy. "We are looking for a better way to live more humanly, a way to live that involves less injustice, one that is less exclusive...We all want to be part of that change; we wish to be part of this process. The solutions, today, necessarily involve everyone who is part of the problem", he said among other things.
Continuing his presentation before nearly 200 participants representing more than 102 institutions from across the globe (some 40 people were prevented from attending due to ash clouds from the Iceland volcano) Father Nicolás noted: "I have sought to reflect with you on the challenges of globalization to Jesuit universities as institutions of learning, service and research. First, in response to the globalization of superficiality, I suggested that we need to study the emerging cultural world of our students more deeply and find creative ways of promoting depth of thought and imagination, a depth that is transformative of the person. Second, in order to maximize the potentials of new possibilities of communication and cooperation, I urged the Jesuit universities to work towards operational international networks that will address important issues touching faith, justice and ecology that challenge us across countries and continents. Finally, to counter the inequality of knowledge distribution, I encouraged a search for creative ways of sharing the fruits of research with the excluded, and in response to the global spread of secularism and fundamentalism, I invited Jesuit universities to a renewed commitment to the Jesuit tradition of learned ministry which mediates between faith and culture."
The emotional and deeply symbolic "highlight" of the trip was his visit to Haiti, where the Jesuits are helping in the efforts to rebuild the country after the devastating earthquake of 12 January. Father General met the Jesuits and their collaborators, and visited communities and camps filled with the homeless. The visit was as an act of solidarity and support for the Jesuit commitment in Haiti being undertaken in the midst of so many difficulties. On the 29th of April, while in Haiti, Father General celebrated his birthday.
Upon his return to Rome, Father Nicolás responded to several questions.
Q. This trip took you, once again, to the American continent, this time to Mexico and Central America where you visited a number of countries and Jesuit Provinces. What impressions do you have about the Society of Jesus there?
R. Going to Mexico and Central America is very much like going home. I grew up with much Latin Music (J. Negrete, I. Vila...), movies (Mexico, Argentina...) and humour (M. Moreno "Cantinflas", Luis Sandrini...). Then in the critical '60s, '70s and '80s I followed the events and developments in Central America with great interest. Going there now it was like reliving those years, the tensions and the pains of a generation and the martyrdom of people like Archbishop Romero, and the Jesuits and their colleagues at the UCA (University of Central America), as well as other Jesuits and lay people who were killed for the sake of Faith and Justice. It is very sad to see that the struggles of that time have not brought the fruits we all expected and that extreme inequality, poverty and injustice continue to fill the land. I found it very impressive to visit the house and tomb of Archbishop Romero where one can so easily be touched by the devotion of the little people. Likewise, I was impressed visiting the house where our Jesuits lived and where they, together with their cook and her daughter, were mercilessly killed in a place and manner that could not escape the eyes, ears, and notice of the military.
The Jesuits in turn appeared to me to be very consistent: dedicated to the poor, working very hard in education, social issues, pastoral areas, etc. I appreciated very much the humour of the Mexican Jesuits - a humour that allows them to live and search together for a better service of the Church and people. I appreciated, likewise, how much the Jesuits of Central America are close to the people, concerned with their problems and suffering, sharing everything with lay men and women collaborators that so well embody Jesuit spirituality and work with us in our ministries.
Q. What are the most urgent problems crying out for special attention?
R. I think that the GC35 has already indicated the areas that require our attention. The Jesuits in this part of the world are very alert to the Frontiers, old and new, of our ministry and work. This applies to the Frontiers in education, as expressed in the Congress of Mexico, as well as to the Frontiers in all other ministries in which our men work. Maybe the call of GC35 for Reconciliation, for building bridges, for a "living fire" that keeps us alert to Faith and Justice, Culture, Ecology and Dialogue is more visible and dramatic in this Region. How to keep this fire burning in an age of greater and closer cooperation with the laity will remain as an important issue for the Society to respond to.
Q. This trip also took you to Haiti. What are your impressions of the country?
R. Haiti still is under the shock of the Earthquake. The City Port-au-Prince looks like a Museum of Disasters. I did not see much evidence that reconstruction is taking place. Most of the work I saw was done by NGOs (non-governmental organizations) or Religious Groups. The President's Palace is still semi-destroyed; the airport is still cracked and no repair work seems to be taking place. Hangars are used for arriving and departing passengers; collapsed houses are still in state of collapse with the rubble in view; camps for people who lost everything are numerous and in horrible state. I wonder what will happen to the poor people living in those camps when the tropical rains come very soon. No solutions appear in view and I am afraid that people might be living in their present horrible conditions for a long while to come. Seeing so many little children among them one shivers at the prospect of their growing up in such conditions.
Q. And what about the work of the Jesuits in Haiti?
R. I found the Jesuits in Haiti doing excellent work and focused on the right priorities and perspectives. They have responded very generously to the emergency and, when things began to be somehow channeled, they concentrated their reflections and efforts into the reconstruction of the country. This is an enormous task, and they soon could join other forces for greater cooperation yet without losing a vision of transforming the present crisis into a creative time to work and build for the good of the country and with Haitian eyes, not simply following the dictates of other countries outside. Some of them are very tired and exhausted, because of the ongoing work they have been carrying since the earthquake. The exhaustion is both physical and spiritual or psychic, but they go on without pause. I left the country greatly inspired and encouraged by their generosity and their shared desire to work for a New Haiti. It was also encouraging to meet Jesuit Novices and Lay Volunteers who are offering all kinds of help in different areas: medical, technical, structural, etc. Disasters have a way of attracting the best of humanity, and one can find such goodness in Haiti right now.
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