Three images from General Congregation 36

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It has been almost a fortnight since General Congregation 36 finished on November 12 and three images remain with me.   

The first is the image of Venice; the time the first companions lived before Ignatius went to Rome.  Learned and poor, they lived separately, begging for their food, serving the poorest people uprooted by conflicts, coming together regularly to discern their future and deciding that, though their common mission would spread them across the world, they would remain united.  This memory encourages the Society now as a diminished body, living in a world of conflicts and disparities, spread as we are across the world, to discern deeply how we live together in the joy of the Gospel, the mission to which we are called, the missio Dei.

The second image is of the Jesuits now living in war zones.  Fr Frans van der Lugt, whose life was taken violently in Syria last year, was a compelling backdrop during a presentation by our brothers from the Middle East.  Some live in the middle of the Syrian conflict, others accompany refugees in neighbouring countries.  Provoked by this sharing, the brothers and fathers of the Congregation wrote to the Jesuits who live now in places of conflict, asking them to share our solidarity of prayers with their collaborators and all they accompany.  We recalled Paul VI’s words: “If you want peace, work for justice.”  Though Syria holds centre stage today, we had in mind brothers and sisters caught or choosing to stay where there is violence in Africa, Asia Pacific and elsewhere. 

A third image constantly present during our six weeks together in Rome was of the many collaborators with whom we share a mission, and of the many ways of collaboration and networking. There are persons who call us to deeper fidelity, to partnership and to service; there are benefactors who make this mission fruitful by sharing the little they have; others give leadership, expertise and creativity to works of the Jesuits; still others invite our participation in their own initiatives.

What also remains with me is the deep appreciation that was expressed for Fr Adolfo Nicolás, especially at the moment when, in characteristic simplicity, he presented his resignation. Fr Nico’s constant encouragement to depth, to learned ministry and to universal service of our mission resonated in GC 36.  We look forward to his return to Asia Pacific.  As many of you know, Fr Nico is from the Japan Province.

Fr General Arturo Sosa SJ with the GC 36 delegates from the Jesuit Conference of Asia PacificThe day after the Congregation closed, the Asia Pacific major superiors met Fr General Arturo Sosa. We introduced something of our world, the youthfulness, richness of cultures, languages and traditions, the creativity and aggressive nature of our economies, the residue of conflicts and rise of new styles of authoritarianism. Naturally we invited him to visit. Fr General has since proposed to come to our Conference assembly in July next year and following that, if local schedules permit, to visit Indonesia and Cambodia. Thus he would take in our largest province in an Islamic setting, and a small mission in a Buddhist setting.

GC 36 was truly a moment for the universal Society to take stock, to make and renew friendships and to craft a vision for today.  As friends in the Lord we prayed that the Holy Spirit guide us. Our most passionate discussions were about real people, whether those enduring conflicts, or the children and young people we care for, or the friends within and outside the Church with whom we cooperate and network.  We made few documents. The decrees of earlier congregations, especially those of the years since Vatican II, are still there to be mined and implemented. GC 36 gives new impetus and guidance in building on these and we now have a new Fr General who knows Jesuits from every corner of the globe.

Every blessing for the coming Advent season,

Mark Raper SJ
President, Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific
November 24, 2016