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Vol. XV, No. 2 4 February 2011
Visit to America. Father General will take part in the meeting of the Jesuit Conference USA and visit the Jesuits and Jesuit ministries of Jamaica (a dependent Region of New England) February 13-19. Every two years Father General attends a meeting of the Provincials to get first-hand information about the mission of the USA Assistancy and to present his perspective and vision regarding the universal Society. In addition to their usual and ongoing work for promoting the apostolic livelihood of the men and ministries of the USA Assistancy, the Provincials will discuss implementation of two parts of the Assistancy's strategic discernment plan: communications and vocation promotion. Father General's visit to the Jamaica Region will include an opportunity to visit some of the Society's ministries, meet about 100 of the Society's collaborators and benefactors, and join the Jesuits of Jamaica for an evening of prayer and conversation.
The meeting of Singapore. As mentioned in the previous Bulletin, January 23-27 Father General participated in Singapore to the meeting of the Major Superiors of the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (of which he used to be President before being elected Superior General). He was accompanied by Father Daniel Patrick Huang, his Assistant, to whom we asked some questions. Here are his responses.
Q. Father Huang, the Conference of Asia Pacific groups together many Provinces, Regions and Missions, that often have very different situations and problems. Can you give us a brief overview of this area of the Society?
A. The Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP) is composed of thirteen units: 7 Provinces (Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam) and 6 Regions and Missions (Cambodia, East Timor, Malaysia-Singapore, Micronesia, Myanmar, and Thailand). As of January 2011, there are 1640 Jesuits in the Assistancy - about 9% of the total Jesuit population of 17,772. JCAP serves an enormous part of the world, in terms of both land area and population. In addition to the vast continent of Australia, JCAP also includes China, the most populous nation in the world and the second largest country in terms of land area, as well as Indonesia, not only a huge archipelago extending over three time zones, but also the country with the biggest Muslim population in the world. By way of contrast, with the exception of two largely Catholic countries (the Philippines and East Timor), the Catholic Church in this part of the world is truly a "little flock," a tiny percentage of the total population. For example, the Catholics of Japan, about half a million people, are less than 0.5% of the total population of the country. Similarly, the less than 300,000 Thai Catholics constitute a little over 0.4% of Thailand's population. The great majority of the peoples of Asia Pacific have belonged for centuries to one of the other great religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Islam and Confucianism. At present, however, these ancient Asian religions and cultural traditions also find themselves confronted by a growing secularization of cultures. The new emerging "global" cultures affect particularly the young, of whom there are so many in Asia Pacific.
Aside from being so religiously and culturally diverse (we not only have different languages, but also numerous different alphabets and systems of writing!), the countries served by JCAP also face very different challenges. On the one hand, in Asia Pacific, one finds economic giants, like China, Japan, Korea, Australia, and Singapore, but also some of the poorest countries in the world, such as East Timor, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Problems of political repression and limitations of religious freedom face Myanmar, Vietnam and China. Relating to the various forms of Islam today is a challenge for Indonesia, Malaysia, and the southern parts of both Thailand and the Philippines. Migration, undertaken for various reasons, is a huge challenge for the entire region, involving millions (indeed, if one includes internal migration in China, hundreds of millions) of people. Finally, on the whole, Asia Pacific is a young and growing region of the Society. About a third of the Jesuits in JCAP are 40 years old and younger. A new Province like Vietnam, only five years old, has about 150 Jesuits, among whom 90 are in formation. Of East Timor's 45 Jesuits, 30 are in formation. Out of the 41 Jesuits ascribed to or working in the Mission of Myanmar, 34 are in formation.
Q. Which were the main problems faced by participants in the Singapore meeting?
A. When Fr. Mark Raper began his service as President of JCAP in 2008, three major priorities were discerned for the Conference: first, formation (given the large number of formandi in JCAP, many of whom belong to young units without personnel or structures for formation); second, helping the regions (which are young, developing, in need of support for planning, personnel and resources), and third, enhancing cooperation among the units. In line with that last priority, in July 2010, in Seoul, the Major Superiors of JCAP decided that they would collaborate together on two major frontiers facing the Conference: migration and reconciliation with creation. Also in Seoul, in response to Fr. General's concern for the universal Society, it was decided that more attention would be given to ensuring professional standards for all the units and for helping the Major Superiors grow in their capacity to handle cases involving professional standards.
The meeting in Singapore proceeded in the light of these priorities and directions. I will mention only a few highlights. With regard to formation, a document entitled A profile of a formed Jesuit for Asia Pacific was discussed and commented on. This document, prepared by a team working under the Delegate for Formation of JCAP, Fr. Matthias Chae, provides a vision for the formation process, and will be a useful guide for both formatores and formandi. Concerning the Regions, a major and creative discussion took place on various possibilities of restructuring the governance arrangements and structures of the various Provinces and Regions, in the light of GC 35's concerns in Decree 5. This process of restructuring will continue to be an issue for succeeding meetings. There were reports and discussions on the ongoing implementation of the two common frontiers of migration and reconciliation with creation. And there was a follow-up of concerns regarding professional standards, including ongoing formation for the major superiors in handling particular cases.
Q. Which was the role and importance of the participation of Father General?
A. Fr. General used to be our President, and so, as he said, this visit was like coming home for him. On the purely personal level, it was good for the Jesuits and our collaborators in Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia-Singapore, as well as for the Major Superiors, to see the General, whom we used to call familiarly "Nico", back in Asia and to have the chance to renew old friendships and bonds. Fr. General gave several inputs to the Major Superiors during the meeting, which I think were significant. Let me just share about one important intervention he made on the first day of the meeting. Fr. General shared at some length about the results of the work of the Commission for restructuring Provinces, which did its work last year here in Rome under the direction of Fr. Tom Smolich. The points Fr. General raised were crucial in helping the major superiors realize the need for re-imagining our present division into Provinces and Regions in view of many changes in the Society, for the sake of our mission and life. His words invited the superiors to have the freedom and the creativity to envision a future different from the present. Fr. General gave JCAP an agenda for reflection, discernment and decision-making for succeeding meetings.
I think there were two other important fruits of Fr. General's presence and participation. First, in his various interventions, the General invited the Major Superiors, and through them, the Jesuits of Asia Pacific, to a deeper fidelity to our Institute. For example, Fr. General explained his understanding of Profession of Four Vows; reflected on the presence of many distractions in Jesuit life; expressed his concern that Jesuits become more present to the poor. Secondly, in receiving the manifestations of the Major Superiors, I think Fr. General gave the Major Superiors, who take on what must surely be one of the heaviest missions in the Society, the encouragement and support they needed. On this last point, it was not just the Major Superiors who experienced encouragement. One young (non-Jesuit) bishop whom Fr. General had a private meeting with afterwards said that he felt renewed and strengthened for his own mission by Fr. General's visit!
From the Curia
From January 31 - February 3, meeting at the Curia Offices in Rome were the members of the Permanent Interprovincial Commission, known as CIP, which advices on the government of the interprovincial Roman houses. Numerous themes were discussed and studied. Topics discussed included: the context of the Mission of the DIR (concerning the international houses in Rome), with the participation of rectors of the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Pontifical Biblical Institute and the Pontifical Oriental Institute; the community life of the Jesuit professors and scholastics of the Roman houses. The discussion was also attended by numerous members of various communities in collaboration in the "Consortium " which includes the three above mentioned Papal institutions, as well as discussion, with the deans and faculty of the Pontifical Gregorian University, regarding research professors to replace the more senior members of the faculty, the move of these senior Jesuits to their respective Provinces, and other related topics. There were also many meetings with the communities of individual institutions and the exchange of ideas with professors and students.
From the Provinces
AUSTRALIA: Community unites for flood victims
A great sense of people coming together and a great generosity. These were the major aspects among the parishioners of St. Ignatius Church in Toowoon, Brisbane, in response to the devastating floods which spread recently all over Australia. Fr Greg Jacobs S.J., the assistant priest in the parish, said the disaster was bringing out the best side of people. Brisbane was the biggest urban centre hit by the floods, with many houses in riverside suburbs swamped with water. During the emergency days the parish, that was not affected by the waters, offered the church hall as a place for people to take shelter and generous parishioners opened their houses for any families in need, while many volunteers were cleaning the town from the mud. Among them there were also volunteers from the parish who organised themselves to bring relief to those who had their house devastated by flooding. Help arrived from all over Australia by institutions and individual donors. Also the Province Office gave money to support in the relief efforts.
COLOMBIA: Javeriana is the best university
The Pontifical Javeriana University, run by the Society of Jesus, is the best private university of Colombia and the third among public and private institutions. These are the results of a survey published last January by www.guiacademica.com The article says that at the beginning of 2010 the Sapiens Research group, directed by Carlos Roberto Peña, begun a survey on the parameters of science, technology and innovation in Colombian higher education institutions (IES). "It was called Ranking U-Sapiens Colombia, in order to draw a classification in terms of academic quality and then make a comparison with the best IES in the world. The results will be published twice a year." Out of 125 universities and 125 higher education institutions of Colombia, the study ranked 61 universities and three institutions that met three criteria: they have training programs and doctorate, research groups and publish academic articles in their magazines reported in Publindex.
EUROPE: Matteo Ricci in Strasbourg. January 19 was a memorable day at the European Parliament in Strasbourg with the official commemoration of the fourth centenary of the death of Matteo Ricci. The theme was: "Meeting of civilizations. Father Matteo Ricci European ambassador in Ming's China." There were many authorities of Macerata, the birthplace of the missionary. Ricci's example and the approach of friendship and respect among peoples offer a lesson to think about - said Marco Scurria, patron of the event - in a time when religious freedom and attacks against Christian communities are at the center of European attention." The event was the occasion for an exhibition in the south gallery of the building of the European Parliament. "Ricci teaches us how to understand and relate with China, said Antonio Tajani, vice-president of the European Commission. The key to the success of Ricci was to address the confrontation with China in terms of excellence, an approach and a way that are still valid today in the relations with this country representing a great opportunity for Europe." For this reason it was announced the European Commission's intention to organize an exhibition in Brussels, together with a moment of reflection, analysis and comparison about Ricci's experience.
HAITI: One year after the earthquake. The first anniversary of Haiti's earthquake (12 January 2010) was the occasion for many reflections and balances. We present here a synthesis of Fr. Alfredo Ferro, coordinator of the apostolic section of the Conference of Latin American Provincials (CPAL). "Haiti is a border reality for all those who have a minimum of sensitivity toward the human tragedy. It is a limit reality in which life is threatened constantly and it is therefore necessary to act quickly. There are many things that have accumulated (a turbulent past, the earthquake, government's inefficiency and that of the international community, cholera, political reality, etc.) to affirm that it is simply a human and natural tragedy... Unfortunately, too few were the promises and actions if compared to human and material resources that were put at the service of reconstruction. Action was slow, disorganized and without a real political will on the part of the international community... On the other hand, local conditions do not help much to take actions of other kinds." In this occasion Jesuits in Haiti and their collaborators launched an appeal for not to lose heart and to invite Haitian people to catch this opportunity of growth. "The earthquake was not a curse from God; this drama is partly the result of the high seismicity of the country but it is also the result of irresponsibility, negligence and selfishness of our leaders and a lack of citizen awareness from the side of all of us." The call ends with a series of exhortations to all actors involved in the reconstruction process. Haitian Jesuits ask the people to "reinforce national consciousness"; to people around the world to "continue the mobilization in favour of the island"; to political class to "put aside personal interest to defend the interests of the country;" to non-governmental organizations to carry on a "sincere and fruitful cooperation that really help Haiti;" to women and men religious of all confessions to "work together beyond differences placing the individual at the center."
INDIA: Stamp for the centenary of Doot review
On January 15 the Indian Postal department has released a commemorative postage stamp on the occasion of the centenary of Jesuit-run Gujarati magazine Doot (cfr. Electronic Bulletin, Vol. XIV, N. 3, 5 February 2010). Doot was started in January 1911 and it is the second Gujarati magazine besides Gujarat Vidyasabha's 155-year-old magazine Buddhiprakash. Over the years the magazine contributed to build the spiritual and intellectual life of the people of Gujarat, instilling in readers the Christian values of love, compassion, justice, peace and brotherhood. Former editor, Jesuit Father Varghese Paul, said Doot helped establish a strong bond among Christians in Gujarat when no communication medium existed, particularly in rural areas, and it continues to be an agent of social and religious change with its commitment against social evils such as the caste system and discrimination in general. With a circulation of more than 10,000, it is read by about 50,000 people in India and among the Indians in the UK and USA.
UNITED KINGDOM: Exploring culture and communication
Irish Jesuit Fergus O'Donoghue, Editor of Studies, was one of the guest speakers when thirty-seven Jesuits in Formation, gathered for a residential weekend to consider media and communications. The event was held in the Emmaus Retreat Centre in Kent from January 14-16, and men came from two dozen Provinces, including Ireland. Among the topics they discussed were the various Jesuit media initiatives in their own countries and the way their regional cultures affect communication of the Gospel. Fergus shared his thoughts on the opportunities and challenges of the written word, especially on the net. Other topics included film - led by Maggie Roux of Trinity and All Saints College, Leeds; journalism (Sr Janet Fearns FMDM), and the use of drama, facilitated by Chrissie Poulter who, among other initiatives, has used the discipline in conflict resolution in Belfast.