Father General's Speech on Women's Day
Posted On: 22/3/2017
Voices of Faith 2017 Stirring the Waters – Making the Impossible Possible
I would like to thank Voices of Faith and the Jesuit Refugee Service for inviting me to celebrate International Women’s Day with you and all of those gathered here today. I take this opportunity to show my gratitude to the women who will be speaking today, women making a difference in their families and communities, especially in the most remote corners of the world.
These are difficult times in our world, and we need to stand and work together as women and men of faith. As you know, the global theme for this year’s celebration of International Women’s Day is Be Bold for Change. Here in Vatican City, physically at the center of the church, Voices of Faith and JRS seek to be Making the Impossible Possible. Especially here in Rome, that is a bold change! I would like to reflect on what making the impossible possible means to me as the leader of the Society of Jesus, as a citizen of the world, and as a member of the Catholic Church. We need to have the faith that gives the audacity to seek the impossible, as nothing is impossible for God.
The faith of Mary that opened her heart as a woman to the possibility of something new: to become the Mother of God’s son. JRS: Resilience As you may be aware, I come from Latin America, a continent with millions of displaced people. With almost 7 million, Colombia has the largest number of internally displaced people in the world, and a disproportionate number of them are women and children. I served at the border between Colombia and my native Venezuela for 10 years. I have seen first-hand the suffering of those forced to abandon everything to save their lives. In Colombia, for example, women and girls are among the most vulnerable due to widespread violence caused by decades of conflict. They are exposed to armed recruitment and are likely to fall victim to one form of exploitation or another, ranging from modern day slavery, to survival sex and human trafficking. Many of them flee to neighboring countries in search of safety, and often find themselves on their own in efforts to sustain their families.
I have also witnessed women’s resilience. Despite this traumatic reality, women often find their way to not just surviving, but also overcoming all the difficulties of exile and forced migration. Resilience is what enables us to move forward and think of the future. Resilience is essential for making the impossible possible. Let me offer an example. At the Venezuelan-Colombian border, the Jesuit Refugee Service has been present for more than ten years. During this time, JRS has brought refugee women from Colombia together by using their artistic expression as a starting point for rediscovering resilience. While expressing themselves creatively through art, women also share their experiences and create a network of support to improve their psychosocial well-being. This healing environment is a place for listening and coming together—in other words, resilience. Resilience empowers women and ultimately results in hope and the possibility of reconciliation with the past, with those who have harmed them, and with those where they now live. Reconciliation requires courage, and too often, even in 2017, women’s courage, women’s resilience, is unrecognized and undervalued. By building human connections resilience reknits the communal fabric. Some may say such resilience is impossible to discover: JRS and Voices of Faith say otherwise.
The World: Collaboration As a member of the human community, each of us is likely appalled at the situation of our world. Human displacement has hit an all-time high, representing incredible human suffering around the world. Ongoing conflicts are at the root of most of this forced exile. There are more than 65 million forcibly displaced among us: one in every 113 people globally is now an asylum-seeker, an internally displaced person, or a refugee. We have to think about the ways that we, as the human community can respond. I cannot put enough emphasis on this need for collaboration between women and men. I believe that only together we can achieve what today seems impossible: a humanity reconciled in justice, living in peace in a common house well kept, where there is room for everyone because we recognize that we are sisters and brothers, son and daughters of the same God who is Mother and Father of us all. We need to collaborate, support and learn from one another.
It already seems impossible to imagine peace in places like Central African Republic, or South Sudan, or Colombia. Can we have the audacity to dream that women and men working together will bring peace to these countries? I think these impossibilities can come closer to reality if women play a greater role in the conversation. I am not surprised that Angela Merkel has been the most courageous and visionary leader in Europe during this time of phenomenal forced migration. She had the compassion to look at those who were in need, and the vison to see that they would make a contribution to Germany and Europe.
Another extraordinary leader is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia. Through her single-minded dedication and vision, she has brought peace and reconciliation to her war-torn country in a way that most men thought would be impossible. At the same time, the widespread reality is that women are not paid for the work they do, or are paid less than men for the same work. In the West, women earn on average 70 cents for each dollar or Euro a man earns. The gap grows larger in developing areas of the world Many of us are looking at the world through the prism of xenophobia and narrowmindedness these days, a prism which seems to feed on discord and marginalization.
In the Jesuit magazine America, political commentator Cokie Roberts, the daughter of two former members of the US Congress, puts the reality succinctly: “…Congress needs more women. Then maybe, just maybe, Washington would work again.” We can listen carefully to the experience of women in the public sphere, hear how they work together, and be inspired by their courage. These are stories of doing the impossible. The Catholic Church: inclusion The role of women in the church can be, and has been, described in many ways: keepers of the faith, the backbone of the Church, the image of Mary alive among us. We Jesuits are deeply aware of the roles that women play in our ministries: lay and religious women serve as presidents and headmistresses, retreat center directors, teachers, and every possible role one can think of. As you probably know, the Spiritual Exercises, the foundation of Jesuit spirituality, were first developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola before the Jesuits were founded. Our spirituality is open to all, women and men that want to become women and men with others and for others.
In the broader church, there are contrary currents about the role of women at this time. As stated by Pope Francis, women play a fundamental role in passing on the faith and are a daily source of strength in a society that carries this faith forward and renews it. Church teaching certainly promotes the role of the women within the family, but it also stresses the need for their contribution in the Church and in public life. It draws upon the text of Genesis, which speaks of men and women created in the image of God and the prophetic praxis of Jesus in his relationship with women. Pope Francis has been quite outspoken about women in making decisions and holding responsibilities in the church. He has also created a "Study Commission on the Women’s Diaconate” to explore the history and role of women in this church structure. But if we are honest, we acknowledge that the fullness of women’s participation in the church has not yet arrived. That inclusion, which would bring the gifts of resilience and collaboration even more deeply into the church, remains stymied on many fronts.
One aspect has been mentioned by the Pope: we have to work harder to develop a profound theology of women. I would add that an ecclesiology…the study of the church…that includes women is equally needed if women’s roles are to be included as they should. Indeed, the inclusion of women in the Church is a creative way to promote the necessary changes in it. A theology and an ecclesiology of women should change the image, the concept and the structures of the Church. Should push the Church to become the People of God, as was proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council. Women’s creativity can open new ways of being a Christian community of disciples, men and women together, witnesses and preachers of the Good News. But perhaps more importantly, the inclusion of women will also be an outcome of the key concerns of the Pope. By bringing Vatican II to life and incorporating the poor into our church, Francis is giving women’s voices more opportunity to speak and be counted.
No one is more resilient that women building and supporting the church in the poorest parts of our world. In his efforts against clericalism and the elitism and sexism that come with it, the Pope seeks to open our future to voices outside of the Vatican, to bring the experience of the world into forming that future. The opposite of clericalism is collaboration, working together as baptized daughters and sons of God. These efforts have begun the process of deeper inclusion of women into the core of the Church.
As challenging as the refugee crisis or other world issues are, to some of us, this might be truly, the impossible. St. Francis of Assisi himself said: “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” In that spirit, we are here today to listen to Voices of Faith, to hear stories of resilience, collaboration and inclusion. We have more than started.
We will not stop.
Thank you very much. Arturo Sosa, S.I. March 8, 2017
Courtesy: Jesuit Superiors of Madagascar (JESAM)
Father Arturo Sosa SJ, 31st General of the Society
Posted On: 15/10/2016
Guyana – The Best Kept Secret of South Asian Confe
Posted On: 14/6/2016
George Pattery,sj (Provincial of South Asia)
Dear Friends in the Lord,
Pegged on the northern tip of Latin America and surrounded by Venezuela, Trinidad, and Barzil, Guyana is an amazing territory and a fascinating story! It celebrated its fiftieth anniversary of Independence on 26th May 2016. Geographically, a Latin American territory, sharing the Amazonian forest with Brazil, extending to the coastlands on the Atlantic and having large arid land in the interior, Guyana shares a history with India, Africa, Europe, China, Latin America and the Caribbean Islands and in a way lives them all in her peoples today. That makes it a fascinating and challenging place.
The ten days that I spent in Guyana was an apostolic adventure. Fr. Paul Martin (Regional Superior) had meticulously planned the tour to keep me on my feet for all the ten days and to help me taste the engagements of Jesuits in this region; I am immensely grateful to him and to all the Jesuits of Guyana region.
Having journeyed through Panama City and Port of Spain (Trinidad) I arrived in Georgetown (The Capital city of Guyana) from San Salvador, on 16th May and soon went with Paul Martin, sj (Regional Superior) for a courtesy call on Bishop Francis of Georgetown, visited the one time Jesuit school (St.Stanislaus), the Memorial site of Bernard Dark, sj who was murdered right in front of the school during the political upheaval in the seventies, and prayed at the Cathedral. At the social in the evening at Arrupe Hall - the residence of the Regional Superior, I had occasion to chat with Jesuits of Georgetown.
North West Mission.
Next day, with John Packiaraj (AND) I found myself traveling in a ten seater helicopter for an hour or so to Mabaruma in the North-West Amazonian region on Venezuelian border. At Hosororu, Amar Bage (RAN), Malcom Rodrigues and Innis Martin received us warmly at the all-wooden house made in Guyanian style. An hour long walk with seventy five year old Guyanese Jesuit Malcolm through the thick forest reached us to the boat bay and appetized us for lunch. Three hours’ boat ride in the after noon took us to the Venezuelian border; all along river bank, there are mission stations where Amar goes for pastoral ministry to the Indigenous communities. It was both an exciting and daring trip, occasionally churning our stomachs up as the waves dangerously tilted our boat. Pastoral ministry in this region means long and daring travels by boat and ministering to the dispersed communities along the river banks. Large heart, good physical stamina and burning pastoral zeal marked Jesuit missionaries in this region.
At the river side on Venezuela border
On the following day, after another hour of Jet travel, we arrived back in Georgetown and a drive for two hours’ took us to Berbice, in the midland, to Britto Hall and parish where Jesuits run human development centre, reaching out to the poor and the unskilled of all religions. Berbice is a region predominantly of Indian origin people, brought by the British as indentured laborers from U.P and Bihar, to work in the sugarcane farms. They are mostly Hindus and Muslims, with some new settlers from the Afro-origins. The Centre looks promising for a new paradigm of inter-religious dialogue for Guyana having a university centre close by. Guyana is religiously a very tolerant country. Ramesh Aravanan (KAR) Joachim D’Mello (GOA) and Mark Lakra (RAN) work in this Centre. Though Joachim (Superior) was away in Manresa attending the Ignatian Immersion Programme, I enjoyed the fruit of his labour of good papayas.
I spent a pleasant evening over a Chinese meal with Edward (BRI) and Godfrey, a Guyanese Jesuit, engaged in pastoral ministry in the town. Anil Tirkey (RAN), Tony D’Souza (now a Guyanese citizen, originally from Bombay province and the eldest of the Indians), Jerry Dias (KAR) and John Packiaraj (AND) are engaged in pastoral ministry in the city and suburban areas of Georgetown. Britto Arockiam (MDU) on the same team was away on home leave.
Lethem and Aishalton Missions.
Next day (20th May Friday) awaited a greater adventurous surprise – one and half Jet travel took us to Lethem on the border with Brazil and from there four-hours’ drive through dusty and bumpy road on the trails led us to Aishalton – an interior mission with the Waphsiana Indigenous tribe. Varghese Puthussery (DUM) former provincial of Dumka and Edwin Anthony (KAR) are looking after this mission. Varghese has learned the Wapshiana language and has proposed an education model that seeks to include this tribal language in the curriculum. Guyana Govt is considering it seriously. On the Trinity Sunday we reflected on the imagery of Kanaku Mountains - as the abiding presence of the Father - Rupununi River - as the flowing power of the Spirit and the never-ending trails as Jesus the way. Resembling much the North Eastern tribal community, Waphsiana community is a joyful and promising group for the church in Guyana.
Rock Carvings in Aishalton
Another four hours drive took us back to Lethem, just before the rains that could have flooded the creeks on the road. At Lethem St.Ignatius mission is also the name of the village. Frs. Vellacada Poulose (KAR) and Fernandes Ronald (KAR) along with Abraham Andre (GUY) and Jim Conway (BRI) look after this mission. Next day morning along with Paul Martin, sj we drove to Karasabai into the interior village to meet with Jim Conway (BRI) the local superior and the Ranchi Ursuline sisters working in the mission. unfortunately, we could not travel to Kurukabaru, upon the interior mountains to meet Elias Surin (RAN). He is on his own in that mission; I would have been happy if I could have also met him, but for the time constraints.
Having completed the apostolic travels, we returned to Georgetwon after another Jet ride for one and half hours; at Arrupe community in Georgetown, we celebrated the concluding liturgy and dinner, just in time for me to pack and take a nap; Paul Martin drove me to the airport at 2 a.m. on 25th May for my flight to Barcelona/Manresa for my presentation at the Ignatian Immersion programme.
Few Jesuits in South Asia (let alone provincials) know that since 2000, starting with Stanislaus Arul (MDU), 37 Jesuits, from 13 provinces in South Asia had served Guyana Region. At present there are 14 South Asian (Indian) Jesuits from 14 provinces working in Guyana, Joseph Raj (CCU) being the latest and the first addition from CCU. They are working in Coastal belt and in the suburban are in pastoral ministry, in far away interior mission along Amazon River banks on Venezuela border and in the interiors on Brazil border.
They are serving the Afro-origin, Indian origin, Indigenous and Chinese descendent people, especially in pastoral care that is very challenging and promising. There are altogether only 26 Jesuits in the country of which 24 are priests, one scholastic and one brother. Besides the Jesuits, there are only ten more priests in the whole diocese/country.
This untold story of South Asia has potential both for South Asia and Guyana Region. South Asian Jesuits have already initiated a model of intervention with the Indigenous community in terms of augmenting their culture, language and community living (Varghese Puthussery took the lead). This could be further strengthened with enthusiastic young Jesuits from South Asia joining the Region. Guyana also offers a platform to experiment a new paradigm of dialogue in the multi-cultural and multi-religious situation; this is more significant especially because ‘religions’ manifest greater tolerance and collaboration in Guyana; however it looks to me that Catholic pastoral approach remains in the traditional ground. A third significant potential for Jesuits from South Asia is to introduce and to learn from non-formal education pedagogy, interacting with Fe y Alegria model.
Guyana as a juridical entity in the Society is looking out to Latin American Conference for greater support; it is actively searching for collaboration with Antilles in the Caribbean belt; it is depending upon South Asia for Jesuit personnel resource; Britain continues its link and support for Guyana.
I hope that active dialogue with and collaboration between Guyana and JCSA will continue and get strengthened in the days to come. This is an invitation to South Asian Jesuits to volunteer for Guyana Mission; we are a universal body for the same universal mission.
Thank you Guyana; thank you Jesuits of Guyana Region; thank you South Asian Jesuits for your missionary zeal.
With Ursuline srs at Karasabai (Guyana-Brazil border)
Posted On: 15/2/2016
The Meeting of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia (JCSA) will be held in Hyderabad from February 22 to 26, 2016. Kindly pray for the success of the meeting.