Visitations by Fr. General are typically filled with humbling moments shared with those to whom Jesuits are sent. There are scenes of heartbreaking poverty and suffering, gatherings to celebrate a shared passion for the service of the faith, and occasionally – Spirit willing – moments without polish and pomp. This is when Fr. General can see, unabridged, the commitment his Jesuit brothers have to the mission and the way they are involved in their daily ministries.
This 5th day in the Philippines was one of these days.
Fr. Sosa started the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, by blessing the new Chapel of Sacred Heart School – Ateneo de Cebu. The striking structure, imagined by SHS alumnus and internationally acclaimed designer Kenneth Cobonpue, is a combination of reinforced concrete, steel and bamboo that not only give the chapel strength, but an undulating style inspired by the sinulog – the ritual Filipino dance that simulates movement through a current. As he prepared to celebrate the liturgy, Fr. General was shown all the work that was done to make the chapel as prayerful and welcoming as possible, including touches like the bamboo interior roof that are uniquely Filipino.
Surrounded by Jesuits, benefactors and the community of SHS, many of whom worked to exhaustion to make the chapel a reality, Fr. Sosa recounted the story of Juan Diego, the humble Indian to whom Mary appeared. He asked the assembly to consider what God’s invitation was to THEM in the new place of worship: to be welcoming to the youth, defenders of the powerless, ambassadors of the Lord. Speaking directly to those who worked tirelessly to build the chapel, Fr. General urged them to continue building, and to take heart in the words of Our Lady to Juan Diego, “Am I not here your mother?” With a final blessing to the assembly, including one student dressed as Iñigo Loyola, Fr. Sosa bid SHS farewell.
By noon, Fr. General had made his way to Cagayan de Oro, deep in the southern Philippines. Known as the “City of Golden Friendship” Cagayan de Oro is the logistical hub of Mindanao and home to more than 400,000 Catholics. Travelling to Xavier University he was met by University President, Fr. Roberto Yap, and a throng of students and teachers who lined the campus entrance to welcome him.
Once at the Jesuit residence, on campus, Fr. General spent the evening with Jesuits from the communities around Davao. Listening to his brothers through the evening, Fr. Sosa heard from Jesuits across the spectrum of ministry in the south: from those maintaining parishes or directing schools for indigenous peoples in Bukidnon, a mountainous region southeast of the city, to the Jesuits working at the other two Jesuit Universities in Mindanao, Ateneo de Davao University and Ateneo de Zamboanga.
After a hearty meal followed by more laughter, Fr. General retired for the night. The morning would bring another day full of official events, grand tours, and apostolic planning, but at least on this day that was coming to an end, Fr. General had been able to share a few “normal moments” of his companions’ life in this “least Society of Jesus”, an expression used by Ignatius himself.