Giving thanks for a year of grace

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Greetings of Peace!

This has been another year of grace for our conference.  In July, Fr General Arturo Sosa made his first official visit to Asia Pacific.  He came to see the Jesuits, our mission partners and Jesuit works in Indonesia, Cambodia and Singapore, and to learn about two major faiths in Asia through meetings with their leaders.  Fr General’s visit to Cambodia was his first in a Buddhist country.  In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, he also joined the celebration of the ordination of six Jesuit priests.  In Singapore, he joined the JCAP Major Superiors in their Assembly.

A week after Fr General returned to Rome, I announced that he had authorised the Philippine Province to begin the preliminary work to promote the beatification cause of Filipino Jesuit scholastic Richie Fernando, who was killed whilst saving several people from a grenade blast in Cambodia in 1996.   The province is promoting Richie’s cause in the diocesan phase, in close collaboration with the Diocese of Novaliches, to which Richie’s family belongs.  Richie is well remembered by many Jesuits and friends in Cambodia and beyond.   The third JCAP Magis Asia Pacific gathering, to be held in Siem Reap at the end of the year, has a theme inspired by Richie’s words: “I know where my heart is.”

We have also seen significant leadership transitions.  Fr General appointed four new Major Superiors in our conference: Frs Joaquim Sarmento (East Timor Region), Frs Renzo de Luca (Japanese Province), Primitivo Viray Jr (Philippine Province) and Stephen Chow (Chinese Province).  He also re-appointed Fr Augustinus Sugiyo Pitoyo as Superior of Thailand Region and Fr Mark Raper as the first resident Superior of the Myanmar Mission.

We also have new leadership in our International Works.  On March 30, Fr Peter Pojol became Director of East Asian Pastoral Institute (EAPI) and Superior of the EAPI Jesuits, succeeding Fr Arthur Leger who has been missioned to Fiji after seven years of dedicated leadership.  In May, Fr Riyo Mursanto replaced Fr Renato Repole as Rector of Arrupe International Residence, and also became the JCAP Formation Delegate.

Arrupe International Residence (AIR) is a vital part of our conference, and we are richly blessed to have 41 scholastics and young priests living there now.  Most of them study at Loyola School of Theology.  These young Jesuits, mostly from Asia Pacific and a few from South Asia, Africa, and Europe, are a vibrant community.  Their studies and formation in Manila are made possible thanks in great measure to the generosity of friends and benefactors from all over the world.

Formation of young people continues to be a major part of the Jesuit mission in Asia Pacific, and this year two schools were formally launched after years of planning.  On August 19, Xavier Learning Community, the first Jesuit school in Thailand, was inaugurated.  Located in Chiang Rai, it serves the indigenous peoples in the area.  Then on December 2, the first Jesuit school in Cambodia was formally opened.  Located in Sisophon, the school aims to provide a sound education to the many young children in this rural area.  Both schools offer free education to children whose families cannot afford the fees.  We thank the many friends and donors who made and continue to make these schools possible through generous benefactions.

I took over the presidency of the conference from Fr Mark Raper last month. We had a simple thanksgiving Mass to celebrate the leadership turnover on November 22 in the AIR chapel.  We are immensely grateful to Fr Mark for his nine and a half years of engaging and inspiring leadership, and we wish him well in his new mission in Myanmar.

The visit of Pope Francis to Myanmar was, to use Fr Mark’s words, “a wonderful gift” to the country.  He said the Holy Father’s approach gave the tiny Church in Myanmar a beautiful “profile of gentleness, of compassion of not judging – but of accompanying, listening and learning”.   Pope Francis made the time to meet the 31 Jesuits and novices in Yangon on November 29, and reminded them to be deeply grounded and rooted in the love of God.  Given the challenges of the Church in Myanmar and the Rohingya issue, his time with them was very warmly received and spiritually uplighting.

There is so much to be grateful for in the year 2017.  The Lord, the God-made-human, continues to accompany us as we do the mission entrusted to us.  I thank you all, our friends and partners in mission, for walking with us, journeying with us, and inviting us to be responsive to new challenges.

I wish one and all a Blessed Christmas and hope-filled New Year.

Fr Antonio F Moreno SJ
President, Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific
December 18, 2017