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Vol. XIV, no. 21 20 October 2010
Travel to Switzerland. From October 17th to the 20th Father General was in Switzerland on the occasion of the General Assembly of the Conference of European Provincials that was held at Bad Schönbrunn. The European Provincials took up the discernment for the mission of the Society in Europe within the secularized context and our organizing for mission (different models to reconfigure some Provinces and Regions). This exchange will be able to speak about the forms of collaboration to develop beyond Europe. From October 19th to the 20th Fr. Nicolás visited the Swiss Province of the Society of Jesus, beginning in Basel, where he met with the Jesuits in the community of Borromäum responding to questions that were submitted beforehand. In the afternoon he met with the lay collaborators. On October 20th he was in Geneva, where he met with the editorial board of the magazine Choisir: the main agenda was the future of the apostolate with a magazine that contextualizes the cultural, ecclesial, and social situation of Switzerland. In the afternoon he visited the international organizations of the city where some Jesuits are involved, in particular the World Council of Churches (WCC), and the International Labor Organization (BIT/ILO). The visit to these offices was Father General's first time to know directly their respective fields of activity, to ask which barriers or frontiers they find in their work, and what can be the contact points with the work of the Society of Jesus.
Visit to Spain. From October 27th to 30th Father General will be in Spain on the occasion of the closing of the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis Borgia. The visit will begin in Valencia, where there is planned a meeting with the Archbishop, the Jesuits, and with the Arrupe Center, collaborators, relatives and friends on the topic: Collaboration at the Heart of Mission (GC 35, Decree 6). On October 28th he will be in Gandía, where Francis Borgia was born on October 28, 1510. The day will be dedicated to various official ceremonies and will culminate in a Eucharistic celebration for the closing of the 5th centenary. In the afternoon, he will visit Fontilles, the hospital complex started by the Jesuits as a leprosarium in 1909, which played an essential role in the elimination of leprosy in Spain in the previous century. Today, entrusted to the laity, Fontilles has projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America, but operates always with the same mission with which it was started: "To take care of people affected by leprosy, providing cure, physical and social rehabilitation, and assistance to other diseases that provoke social exclusion". From October 29th to the 30th he will be in Zaragoza where there are planned numerous visits, with the Bishop, Father Provincial, the Jesuits of Zaragosa and Huesca. At the Pignatelli Center Father General will met the collaborators, family, and friends of the Jesuits, speaking on the topic: Reconciliation and Sending to the Frontiers (GC 35, Decree 3), also referring to St. Joseph Pignatelli, the "restorer" of the Society of Jesus. Next year is the bicentenary of his death.
After his latest visits in Europe, we asked Father General some questions about the condition of the Society of Jesus in Europe. Here are the questions and answers.
Q. You have lived outside of Europe for an extended period. In these past two years you have met with the European provincials, have participated in meetings of the Conference of European Provincials and visited numerous European countries? What has impressed you the most?
A. I have the impression that I have visited very few European countries. The antiquity of everything impresses me: the people (without irony), the buildings, the cultures, the history, the quarrels and mistrust among nations, the fears, and the tensions. Everything is old and everything continues, as if the human past might be as real as the streets of its old cities. Also what impresses me, and not necessarily in a positive way, the great "confidence" that Europeans have in themselves and in their opinions. In Asia these are considered attitudes of arrogance and self-sufficiency. They are understandable attitudes in the European context, however totally unjustifiable in the world context. It is true that Europe knows a great deal, however, it does not know everything, and certainly knows very little about the many worlds as real as old Europe.
Q. After having visited and heard so many things about Europe of today, which seem to you the most important challenges for society and the Society of Jesus?
A. The first challenge that seems to emerge constantly is the secularization of Europe with its reduction of viewpoints and its attachment to the past. It seems to me there is a perception of a slight arrogance in the denial of everything that is not known or understood. It is an actual challenge to live as a Christian and as a human being in such a milieu. Another challenge is how to live in relationship to a European Islam that is developing before our own eyes. How to relate with its followers beginning with fraternity, human acceptance, the necessary helps for all those who may walk creatively in a new harmony. A third challenge seems to me to be the necessity of creating a new language, more artistic, dramatic, flexible, capable of expressing in all its richness, the Christian or simply religious experience for the people of today.
Q. In these almost three years as General of the Society of Jesus, you have visited Africa, the Americas, and Asia. Are there some similarities among the continents with regard to the challenges that the Society must face or do we find ourselves with very different problems?
A. I believe that with equal conviction both things can be said. First, overall differences are impressive. There are enormous differences in context, country, rites, ceremonies, etc. Attention must be given to the differences in the way of thinking, speaking of reality, mentalities, traditions, and cultures... But secondly one must take into account the profound similarities. Each of us in our own places, we all suffer equally, all love and want to be loved in the same way and all develop as persons. In this interchange of similarities and differences, I can state that, as religious and as Jesuits, all of us face the same challenges in order to increase the stature of the Church. All feel called, all desire to respond, all are more or less distracted, and all have similar temptations. All this wants to say that we can live together, develop together, mutually help one another and aspire to the necessary maturity in order to enjoy the variety and the richness that our internationality offers us. To be a Jesuit is not a matter of being a Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Asian, or African. Experience tells us with great eloquence that the call of Christ is equally difficult and equally attractive for all people.
Q. In these days is in progress the Synod for the Church of the Middle East. In a few weeks you will visit Egypt. What for you constitutes the diversity of the ecclesial traditions within the Catholic Church?
A. The diversity of ecclesial tradition means to me many things. Permit me to mention some.
- In the first place, the great richness of Christian experience, its history and traditions; the profundity of the spiritualities that have developed in the Christian East. The people of the Mideast are, in my opinion, people who have suffered a great deal throughout history, and the suffering is one of the most definite sources of spirituality and of depth of feeling and thinking.
- This plurality also has a wealth of opportunities. The entire Church and all the churches have here great depths for religious life and spirituality to which they go to as sources of wisdom and spiritual intuition. In dialogue with these churches we can learn a new ecumenism. We can learn to feel ourselves united as brothers and sisters without the necessity that we be in agreement about every single detail. We can deepen our union of hearts and of faith in the midst of the diversity of rites, forms, and devotions. And I believe that also we have here an opportunity to redo continually our theological language inspired by the ever Christian variety of our new forms of living and celebrating.
- Naturally this diversity has its challenges. How to change our perspectives in a way that we all together pay more attention to learning a common future than to the differences that mark our past? How can we help one another so our more normal concern would be in service of the other, especially the poor, and not so much social or political influence. Of course another great challenge presents the necessity of encountering ways of reconciliation with all our neighbors, that could be an eloquent testimony of the love of God in Christ that is at the center of our faith. Finally as we develop our communities of faith we must keep ourselves always aware of human suffering, above every other consideration.
- To sum up, the diversity that we experience in these days and that represents many disperse communities of the world is an invitation to learn a Christian history that knows a great deal about suffering, fidelity, difficulties and also imperfection. Also it is an invitation to reflect on the great depth of faith and of hope that unite us. Lastly it is an invitation to discern the Christian ways of communion, service and hope.
From the Curia
- The International Committee for Jesuit Higher Education has met at the Curia in Rome from Friday, October 15th to Sunday, October 17th. The committee was made up of the heads of the higher education associations in each Assistancy plus representatives of the intellectual apostolate. After reports of the higher education activities in each Assistancy, the committee has taken up the main agenda item of this meeting: ways to implement the outcomes of the higher education conference in Mexico City last April. Also on the agenda was a discussion about higher education initiatives in the two geographical priorities of the Society: Africa and China. Finally, committee members have suggested names for Fr. General to consider as the permanent secretary of higher education replacing the late, Fr. Paul Locatelli.
- Jesuits at the Synod. Being held in Rome the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops on the topic: The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness. There are 10 Jesuits involved with the Synod. A full member is Mons. Antoine Audo, Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo (Syria). Representing the Union of Religious Superiors is Fr. Victor Assouad, Provincial of the Middle East. Among those nominated by the Pope are: Archbishop Cyril Vasil', Secretary for the Congregation for Eastern Churches (Vatican City) and Fr. David Neuhaus, Vicar for the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem for the pastoral care of Hebrew speaking Catholics (Jerusalem). There are four "experts": Fr. Peter Du Brul, founder of the Department for Religious Studies at the University of Bethlehem (Palestinian Territories); Fr. Damian Howard, professor of theology at Heythrop College, a division of the University of London (Great Britain); Fr. Philippe Luisier, professor of Coptic language and literature at the Pontifical Oriental Institute of Rome; Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, professor of the history of Arab culture and the study of Islam at St. Joseph's University Beirut (Lebanon). Fr. Ghassan Sahoui (Lebanon) was part of the secretariat of the Synod. Finally, Fr. Federico Lombardi was involved as director of the Press Office of the Holy See.
Father General has appointed:
- Fr. Michael Lewis, of the Region of South Africa, as new president of JESAM (Jesuit Superiors of Africa and Madagascar). Fr. Lewis was born on February 9, 1949, entered the Society of Jesus in 1968 and was ordained a priest in 1978. Currently he is the vice-rector of Hekima College in Nairobi (Kenya).
- Fr. Varkey Perekkatt new Provincial of Delhi Province (India). Fr. Varkey was born in 1940, entered the Society of Jesus in 1962 and was ordained a priest in 1974. Presently, he is superior of the Jesuit community in Jaipur. He has been Regional Superior of Delhi for 4 years, Provincial of India for 6 years and worked with JRS in Nepal for 7 years.
From the Provinces
AUSTRALIA: The first Australian Saint and the Jesuits
Several thousand Australian faithful gathered in Rome for the canonization on 17th October of Sister Mary MacKillop as Australia's first saint of the Universal Church. In the 1860's Mary co-founded with Fr Julian Woods a Congregation of Sisters who went out in communities of two to found Catholic schools in the isolated and scattered little towns and hamlets of early Outback Australia. Mary endured much misunderstanding and opposition from the official Church, and at the age of 29 in 1871 was excommunicated, when her new Congregation consisted of 160 Sisters of an average age of under twenty-five. The Jesuits of the Austro-Hungarian Mission in South Australia recognized the excommunication as invalid and continued to give her Holy Communion, and presided over the ceremony of restoration when the excommunication was lifted six months later. The Jesuit Mission in South Australia covered a vast area, and the Jesuits were very supportive of the Sisters, inviting them to found many schools in their territory. They acted as spiritual advisors to Mary and gave all their Retreats. One brother of Mary, Donald, entered the Society of Jesus and completed his Jesuit studies in Austria. Shortly after ordination he was sent to join the new Mission among the aboriginal people that the Jesuits had founded in the Northern Territory of Australia in 1882, and was made Superior. It was perhaps the most remote Jesuit community in the world at that time, and the priests and brothers were the first white men to come to the aborigines along the Daly River. Fr Donald was very close to his saintly sister, writing to her from Europe his first blessing as a priest.
BRAZIL: International Symposium on Reductions
"The Missionary experience: land, culture and identity": this will be the theme of the XII International Symposium on Jesuit Reductions which will take place at UNISINOS (Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos) in São Leopoldo, 25-28 October. The aim of the meeting is to reflect on the Jesuit missionary experience after 400 years from the birth of the first Reductions in the Jesuit Province of Paraguay. The meeting is organized by "Humanitas" - IHU - Institute of Unisinos and will assemble 29 experts coming from Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil and it is addressed especially to professors, researchers and scholars on Reductions of 30 guaraní villages. On the agenda among the cultural activities there will be the performance of the Mass Tierra Sin Males, by Dom Pedro Casaldáliga, Pedro Tierra and Martin Coplas played by university's orchestra and choir and the introduction of the portuguese edition of Atlas Territorial e Urbano das Missões Jesuíticas dos Guaranís, by Professor Ramón Gutiérrez, UNESCO, Argentina. For more information: www.ihu.unisinos.br
INDIA: A Dream Project for the 'Red Sand Saint'
To honour their Jesuit Saint John de Britto, the Jesuits of Madurai Province in Tamil Nadu, India have come up with a magnificent venture called The Britto Shrine Dream Project. Like his pioneering Italian Jesuit missionary predecessors - Roberto de Nobili, Costantino Beschi and Giacomo Tommaso de Rossi - John is an icon in the Tamil Catholic Church. Tradition has it that the soil at the martyrdom site had turned red miraculously. Hence, people still call him Red Sand Saint. Next to the Apostle Thomas, he is the only martyr-Saint of the India Church to date. The tourism department of the Tamil Nadu Government recognizes his Shrine as a sacred tourist spot. Born on 1647, John preferred the poor and the outcastes of India to the glory of his royal descent in Portugal. Fearlessly telling the local royal chieftain to give up polygamy in order to qualify for baptism, he upheld the value of family fidelity. For preaching Christ, he faced threats, arrest, persecution and finally martyrdom on 4 February 1693, near Oriyur village. Pilgrims frequenting his Shrine are mostly the rural poor, 40% being non-Christians. Owing to financial crunch, the Shrine suffered under-development for many decades. Now the dream project has come up with interesting features, for renovating three beautiful Churches, promoting prayer life, retreats and counselling, providing drinking water and eateries for pilgrims, socio-economic services to rural poor, developing Shrine Museum and Sound-and-Light show on Saint's life and mission. See: Youtube - oriyur st. john de britto shrine.