Hope amidst challenges
The Jesuit Conference exists to promote cooperation for the Jesuit mission to serve a faith that does justice. This is a daunting undertaking in our region given the depth and diversity of cultures, languages and customs, given the disparities of wealth and power and given the distractions and spread of consumerist lifestyles.
In his message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Francis chose to speak on the theme “Overcome indifference and win peace”. He writes, “Yet some events of the year now ending inspire me, in looking ahead to the new year, to encourage everyone not to lose hope in our human ability to conquer evil and to combat resignation and indifference. They demonstrate our capacity to show solidarity and to rise above self-interest, apathy and indifference in the face of critical situations.”
One most inspiring event in 2015, especially for us in Asia Pacific, was the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines in January. His visit brought consolation especially to the people in Tacloban who had suffered so much 14 months earlier when the super typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) hit Leyte and Samar islands, leaving more than 6,200 people dead, 1,785 missing and the homes of 5 million people damaged or destroyed. Despite the new storm brewing in Tacloban, he refused to cancel his visit. His desire to accompany and console had him going out into the rain to be with the people, dressed in the same yellow raincoat. He had spoken eloquently in Manila; his message as always of mercy and joy. But in going to Tacloban, he brought God’s mercy and joy to those who have suffered so very much.
The Holy Father inspired us again with his encyclical, Laudato si’. For some years now, the Conference has attempted to raise consciousness in Jesuit communities and institutions about our common challenge to care for our common home, for reconciliation with creation. The encyclical inspired our major superiors to issue our Jesuit Conference’s first joint statement, in which we asked “each of our Jesuit communities to embark soon on a process of discernment toward making concrete changes in our lifestyle”, keeping “in mind three particular priorities: a secure water supply for all; planting in order to cool down the earth’s atmosphere; and the recycling of resources and rubbish to counter the effects of a ‘throwaway culture’”.
Then in November, the world took heart at the stunning outcome of the Myanmar elections when the opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi won 80 percent of the vote. It is not easy for a nation to turn aside from decades of violence, military control and poverty inducing policies, but a brave and informed civil society is surely emerging. The fledgling Jesuit mission in Myanmar is steadily putting down roots after the Society was invited by several bishops to return some 15 or 20 years ago. It is a privilege for the Jesuits to sustain our commitment to accompany the Church and civil leaders in re-building education and social services in Myanmar and in accompanying the many displaced local people within the country or rendered stateless abroad.
In Asia Pacific, the Jesuit Conference has developed a five-year plan that covers three broad areas – our governance, formation and how we can collaborate in our ministries. Through planning together, our major superiors wish to achieve greater intersectoral collaboration, greater sharing of knowledge and of wisdom, and of the insights that Jesuits and our collaborators gain from their life with the people.
A stronger and more networked effectiveness across Asia Pacific is in evidence in several of our ministries. One of these is in education where the Jesuit universities across our Conference cooperate more and more in activities that will better form their students into young men and women for others. Also, some universities have partnered with institutions in our mission territories to help them grow. Ateneo de Davao and Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines for example have partnership agreements with our emerging educational institutions in Myanmar.
Something Fr Adolfo Nicolás (Superior General of the Society of Jesus) said to a group of refugees recently rings very true for our Asia Pacific conference. Reflecting on his many years living in Asia, he said “… in Asia we tend to seek the way, [the] ‘how’. [How] to learn yoga, how to concentrate, how to meditate. Yoga, Zen, religions, judo – which is seen as the path of the weak because one draws on the strength of others – these are all seen as paths.”
In a part of the world where Christians are a small minority surrounded by countries where Buddhism and Islam are major religions, our Asian way enables our mission. Our Jesuit numbers do not significantly increase here in the Asia Pacific conference. Yet we can face new and demanding challenges because we are not alone and we can draw on the strength of others. The age when Jesuits can claim or aim to work alone are long gone. We need to learn to collaborate, to be humble and to lead through service, even through vulnerability. The many people who work with us do so in response to the call of the Eternal King. We are indeed privileged to find partners who share the same mission to serve the needs of the poor, to engage in education of the young and to live the joy of the Gospel. We give thanks for this as we go forth to bring God’s mercy and joy to all, especially those who need it most.
In explaining the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said: "The world needs to discover that God is father, that there is mercy, that cruelty is not the way, that condemnation is not the way, because it is the Church herself who at times takes a hard line, and falls into the temptation to follow a hard line and to underline moral rules only, many people are excluded.” As he said in 2013 in his first Angelus address, the real problem is people — not God —give up on forgiveness. But, mercy changes everything. “A little mercy makes the world a little less cold and more just."
As we continue to labour together in the Lord’s vineyard, may this Jubilee of Mercy be for each of us a year of grace from the Lord and may we strive to be merciful like our Father in Heaven to everyone we encounter and make the world a little less cold and more just.
Fr Mark Raper SJ
President, Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific