President’s Report on 2012
In 2012, we began to see dreams and plans become reality. Nowhere was that more obvious than in Timor-Leste with the ground breaking in July for an educational institute. Over subsequent months the first buildings were erected, the first students selected to begin at level 7 in the secondary school that is the first part of the institute, and the first cadre of teachers were introduced to Ignatian pedagogy.
The institute is a fine example of collaboration and cooperation across the Provinces within our Conference and Jesuits open to go where needed in service of the Society's universal mission. Generous supporters in Australia and Japan helped with the purchase of land, construction and student scholarships. With the majority of our Timorese Jesuits in formation, we needed more hands to cope with the project. Jesuits from the Philippines, Australia, Japan, India, Korea, Vietnam and Portugal have answered the call to mission and are now engaged in the project and other activities of the Region of East Timor.
As with all Jesuit ministry today, the institute is a collaborative effort with many partners sharing deeply the same mission. A partnership with Mary Aikenhead Ministries in Australia has been forged. The Religious of Jesus and Mary are sending sisters from India trained in teacher education and health care. Jesuit mission offices within our Conference and in Europe have committed to raising some of the much-needed funds to build and equip the institute and provide scholarships for children in need.
At the Conference level, steps taken over recent years to strengthen our capacity have begun to bear fruit. After months of searching and discussion, several appointments of Conference personnel were announced in December. Most of them have already begun work, among them a new Socius and Treasurer, a Secretary for Pre-secondary and Secondary Education, a coordinator for the service of vulnerable migrants and for the social ministries, and a Delegate for Jesuit Studies. The enhanced Conference team will enable the Society’s universal mission to be more deeply integrated in diverse sectors of apostolic service across Asia Pacific.
The Delegate for Jesuit Studies is a new position, and one that will be key in guiding the early studies of Jesuits so that they may respond more effectively to the fast-changing and pluralistic contexts of Asia Pacific. In 2012, a new International Juniorate was established in Yogyakarta, and we are now sending our undergraduate philosophers from Malaysia-Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Myanmar to study in a wider range of institutions, such as the highly regarded Driyarkara Institute of Philosophy in Jakarta and Loyola College, Chennai, one of India’s top 10 universities.
Across the Conference, we are also engaging in considerable discernment, as mandated by General Congregation 35, to find the most “mission-effective” ways to arrange governance and share resources. Care must be taken to balance the imperative to enter deeply into the lives of local communities and cultures with the Ignatian vision that “the more universal the service, the more it is divine”. Fruitful conversations have begun among provinces that lie close to one another, such as China, Japan and Korea, leading to creative initiatives of cooperation in social ministries, in theological research and in joint educational ventures. Smaller and under-resourced regions such as Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia-Singapore and Cambodia are also open to cooperative conversations. A consultation held in Timor-Leste during 2012 led to the creation of a “consortium” of Australia, Japan and the Philippines Provinces to underpin and strengthen apostolic discernment, care for personnel and care for apostolic activities in the Region of East Timor.
Fr General’s letter, “The service of the Society of Jesus in times of disaster”, issued in March 2012, was a timely document for our Conference. Asia Pacific is four times more likely to experience “natural hazards” than Africa, and 25 times more likely than Europe or North America. We began 2012 with the experience of devastation wrought by Typhoon Washi in Mindanao, the Philippines, and ended the year with another typhoon, Bopha, wreaking unbelievable destruction, displacement and loss of life, again in Mindanao. According to preliminary data released by UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and Belgian-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters on December 11, countries in Asia Pacific reported 83 disasters - mostly floods - in 2012. The disasters killed some 3,100 people, and affected 64.5 million people. The damage to infrastructure was enormous. 2013 began with devastating floods in Jakarta, landslides in Sumatra, and new floods in Queensland.
There is much we can do as we labour with our Lord in his creative work, especially in the areas of disaster preparedness and response. The poor are often the most at risk and vulnerable to the impacts of these disasters; they struggle the hardest to recover from the loss of family and friends, home and livelihoods. Realizing that, despite all that is being done on the ground, we can and must do more, and do better, we developed in 2012 a protocol for collaborative action in response to the pain of the many who lose so much in such devastation.
The protocol complements our existing work such as that of Jesuit Refugee Service, which is active in many places, such as at Myanmar’s border with Thailand where a large scale return home is now a real possibility, in Cambodia with displaced people, refugees and vulnerable migrants, in Indonesia with new movements of Iraqi, Afghan and Sri Lankan refugees, in Philippines with persons displaced by conflict or natural disasters, in Timor-Leste with displaced persons, and in Australia in accompanying, serving and advocating for vulnerable asylum seekers in a hostile political climate.
Much of the coordination will fall on the new fulltime coordinator for services to vulnerable migrants and the network of key leaders engaged in social ministries. This network is an “engine room” for the whole Conference, clarifying the frontiers towards which our mission directs us, pushing constantly for programmes that build capacity and form leaders, and building bridges to our institutional engagements, such as universities.
We made significant progress in 2012, but there is still much much more to be done, which makes the spirituality that underpins our lives essential. Through the Spiritual Exercises we can know more clearly the mission given to us by God, and find strength to put it into practice. Ignatius Loyola, through his Spiritual Exercises, offered a way to meet God, to be aware of his freedom in our lives, and to know better what he asks of us. Such freedom will enable us to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, and to make music in the heart. Though silent, at times seemingly distant, beyond all possible imaginings, God is nonetheless near.
We thank all who have shared our journey over this past year and invite your continued participation in our mission.
Fr Mark Raper SJ
President, Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific