The Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific
At the 35th Jesuit General Congregation, the six Jesuit conferences were given a more robust assignment – to facilitate union, communications, a common vision and cooperation. We in Asia Pacific were also asked to specify the Society’s mission in the region and given the (moral) authority to ‘impel’ the cooperation of our members.
For four decades, we had used the term Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania to define organisational arrangements covering our life and service in the Asian countries to the east from Myanmar and in the Pacific Islands. In order to achieve the greater mandate we had been given, however, we felt that we had to see ourselves in a new, more readily understandable light in today’s world, as the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP). This change of name was approved by Fr General Adolfo Nicolás in March 2010. It is our hope that with this change of name, we can begin to build a greater sense of identity as one body and facilitate greater cooperation and support among our members.
This is a region with the world’s most populous as well as its tiniest countries. It includes at least one third of the globe’s population and a large proportion of its indigenous peoples. Asia Pacific is home to major world religions and to ancient, deep spiritual and cultural traditions. The most populous Islamic nation: Indonesia; four of the five countries that adhere to Theravada Buddhism: Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand; and all the countries of Confucian culture are found in Asia Pacific. Only the Philippines and Timor-Leste are predominantly Christian,
Although followers of Christianity are a tiny minority in Asia Pacific, the region is a fast-growing part of the Society, along with other parts of Asia and Africa. The Jesuits in Asia Pacific receive around 70 new entrants each year.
The term “conference” refers to the Jesuit provincials in a designated region. JCAP is one of six Conferences that coordinate and facilitate the mission of the Jesuits around the world. JCAP covers China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, and the countries of the Pacific, notably Micronesia.
The dozen Jesuit provincials in JCAP meet regularly for working sessions. The office and president are in Manila and there are currently approximately 1,800 Jesuits in this Conference.
The Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific began as the Bureau of Asian Affairs (BAA) in 1967, after the 31st Jesuit General Congregation which promoted international cooperation under the leadership of the then Fr General Pedro Arrupe. The BAA connected Jesuits across the region for mutual solidarity and corporate international initiatives, and helped to facilitate appropriate engagement in regional needs. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the BAA had a number of full time coordinators for apostolic fields, such as the social ministries, education and social communications, and for a time for pastoral activities.
Although the Conference office was subsequently downsized, its vision and scope have progressively been widened to include a greater role in Society governance and leadership in facing new ‘frontiers’. Today about a dozen coordinators remain in their own ministry bases in various countries, while carrying additional international responsibilities as secretaries for their apostolic sectors.
The Conference is also responsible for the 50 year old East Asian Pastoral Institute for the renewal of Church pastoral workers and the 20 year old Arrupe International Residence for the formation of Jesuits. More recently the deans and principals of the seven theological faculties of Asia Pacific have committed to collaborate in an international theology program based on the Loyola School of Theology in Manila.
In 1993, the Conference assumed a responsibility for the mission of the Jesuits in Cambodia, and in the late 1990s for missions in East Timor and Myanmar. Although governance responsibility for each of these does not fall directly on the Conference, the whole Conference nonetheless supports these missions for personnel and material resources.
In addition, the Jesuit Refugee Service has been active in Asia Pacific for almost 30 years. It was first initiated in response to the needs of forcibly displaced persons across the region and it continues this vital service today even as newer regional networks of Jesuits and partners are being initiated to respond to crises of forced migration and the challenges of the environment.
The governance role of conferences is relatively new in the Jesuits. Since the time of Ignatius, Provincials have had a direct line of accountability to the Father General. The General has councillors or ‘assistants’ who act as secretaries for him, keeping close watch on the affairs of certain geographic areas, called ‘assistancies’. The Asia Pacific Assistancy is in our case coterminous with our Conference.
As a global body, the Society adapts well to today’s greater opportunities for international communication and cooperation. We recognise that many of the local challenges we face are not limited to the local scene, but have international causes and our actions have international repercussions, and the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific serves to help bring an international perspective to and on local initiatives. The cooperation fostered by the Conference is an “undeniable necessity’ for the Society to realise its apostolic mission.
The Office of the JCAP
The President of the Conference as of March 2008, Fr. Mark Raper, SJ (ASL), takes initiatives and administers the Board’s decisions from an office on the campus of the Ateneo de Manila Campus in the Philippines. Fr. Benedict Kang-yup Jung, SJ (KOR) is the Socius and Treasurer as of 15 Nov 2009. Fr. Matthias Joonho Chae, SJ (KOR), is the Fomration Delegate. They are assisted by two secretaries, Ms. Anne-Lao Noche and Ms. Tata Cadiz.