It's tempting to see the good works of Jesuits around the world and to be caught up in the joy, celebration and passion for the mission that abounds, but Jesuits are called to see God in ALL things. That means we must be able to find our way through joy, celebration and passion, as well as fear, hopelessness and despair. It was to those living in anxious times that Fr. Arturo Sosa, General Superior of the Society of Jesus, dedicated the sixth day of his Philippine visitation.
Thirty minutes from Cagayan de Oro is the "Eco-Village", built on a lot donated by Xavier University. Filled with survivors of Typhoon Haiyan -which swept through the Visayas, displacing more than 6 million people, destroying or damaging 90% of all structures and killing more than 6,300 – the village was established to take in the most vulnerable victims of the storm. Fr. General listened to their stories of survival and offered one message: that they can count on the Society to always fight to uphold human dignity, especially in times of darkness.
Fr. General next visited St. John Vianney Theological Seminary: the source of hundreds of priests and four bishops in the 33 years it has been run by the Jesuits. Meeting the community of 3 Jesuits and 9 Diocesan priests, Fr. General listened to their unease over having but 46 seminarians in the program. In response, Fr. Sosa addressed the community and asked them to not be guided by fear of dwindling numbers, but motivated by the ministry. He challenged them to be close the people they serve, and to "smell like your sheep" as they proclaim the gospel through lives of service and integrity. The rest, he continued, is in the care of the Holy Spirit.
With his time in Mindanao coming to an end, Fr. Sosa returned to Xavier University to meet with dozens of Jesuits and lay colleagues from around the island. As the assembled spoke of the challenges of education, inter-religious dialogue, and ministry to indigenous communities, Fr. General shared his concerns for how Jesuits live the vow of poverty, protect the young and vulnerable, and fight against clericalism. Towards the end of the assembly, several lay colleagues voiced their need for inspiration: that the continuous calls for social development and justice were becoming wearisome.
This weariness, not only from the laity, but also expressed by the Jesuits, became the focus of Fr. General's homily during the liturgy that followed the meeting. Standing before the assembly, Fr. Sosa addressed each of the ministries present and told them that their work wasn't to be a university, or a parish, or a seminary, but “universities of hope, parishes of hope, and seminaries of hope.” – That hope, he continued, "comes from inside, and not outside."
Surrounded by people who have dedicated their lives to service, standing in a chapel built with years of work, representing an entire Society of good works, Fr. General reminded them, and us, that ultimately our mission is to find hope, to care for hope, and to share hope with those who need it most.