For Jesuit Father Nawras Sammour, the ongoing conflict in Syria is both a professional challenge and a personal heartache. As Jesuit Refugee Service’s (JRS) regional director for the Middle East, Fr. Sammour lives in Damascus, Syria. He was born in Aleppo, Syria, where his mother, brother and sister still live.
Tens of thousands of Syrians have died and millions have been displaced in more than two years of fighting between President Bashar Assad’s government and rebels seeking his resignation.
“Sometimes I can’t believe we Syrians have reached that level of violence,” Fr. Sammour said. “I’m shocked. Shocked. We need to step back and realize that we went too far.”
According to Fr. Sammour, the situation is so tense and so divided, particularly among different Muslim groups, that Syria’s small Christian communities may be frightened. But with Christian aid programs and partnerships with others providing assistance, they also enjoy a certain respect as non-partisans looking only to help others.
With the help of funding from a variety of agencies — including the worldwide Caritas network and the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services — JRS has about 250 paid employees in Syria and another 300 volunteers. They visit displaced families living in shelters, abandoned buildings, mosques, churches and monasteries and provide food and basic necessities.
JRS runs field kitchens that serve 20,000 meals a day. They provide medicine to the chronically ill, operate a clinic in Aleppo and provide psycho-social support to almost 5,000 children, offering them a safe environment where they can play and try to keep up with their school work.
Fr. Sammour said the situation in Syria “is not calming down at all. The tension is worse. People are nervous. Syria is much more fragmented, and fear is much more established in the hearts of people,” he said.
The work with the children, though, may be the seedbed of a better future. The children come from Christian as well as Sunni Muslim and Alawite Muslim families, and the JRS team is earning the trust of their parents.
“That will help with long-term reconciliation,” Fr. Sammour said. [Catholic News Service]
In less than a month, 2,000 young adults from around the world will gather in Brazil for MAGIS 2013, a Jesuit-sponsored immersion experience leading up to World Youth Day. Jesuit Father Mike Rogers, the national coordinator for MAGIS, says that anticipation has been building since Pope Francis, a Jesuit from Latin America, was elected in March. “Right now Brazil is expecting two and a half million registrations for World Youth Day and as many as five million to show up for his Mass,” says Fr. Rogers.
Jesuit pilgrims will gather in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, on July 12 before breaking into groups to travel to numerous locations in Brazil, including the mountains near the Amazon River, the Brazilian Museum of Music in São Paulo and the Iguazu Falls, made famous in the 1986 movie “The Mission.”
According to Fr. Rogers, programs will focus on Brazil’s environment, learning about the different religions of Brazil and service projects in and around Rio de Janeiro, as well as pilgrimage opportunities.
Among the MAGIS pilgrims will be 200 college students from the United States, representing over half of the U.S. Jesuit colleges and universities, including Boston College, Canisius College, College of the Holy Cross, Fairfield University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, Gonzaga University, Loyola Marymount University, Loyola University Chicago, Santa Clara University, Seattle University, Saint Joseph’s University and University of Scranton.
The group of 15 students, alumni and staff that will attend MAGIS from Seattle University told The Jesuit Post they are looking forward to experiencing their shared faith with people from around the world and praying with people from all kinds of backgrounds. They’re also excited about engaging in service during the MAGIS portion of the pilgrimage and “being around people who share [Jesuit] ideals of social justice,” says alum Andy Giron.
The Seattle University contingent is also eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see Pope Francis, who will make his first trip back to his home continent since his election.
“His example, the things he’s said and done, resonate more with people our age,” alum Michael Alcantara told The Jesuit Post. “The spirit is calling him and calling us into a similar space, and we’re meeting at the same intersection.”
Thuong ChuChe, a graduate student in pastoral counseling, said it was Pope Francis’ election that sealed the deal for her and her husband. “We had been praying about it, the finances were uncertain, but the pope’s election … we felt like that was it!”
Fr. Rogers has his own reasons to be excited about MAGIS: he will be going as a newly ordained priest. “It’s a real privilege. Right off the bat I’ll be exercising my priestly ministry,” he says. “It will be wonderful to experience the universal church in the context of Latin America.”
Fr. Rogers hopes that MAGIS participants come away with a deepened sense of spirituality — and open themselves to the possibility of a religious calling.
“My hope is that they’ll have a sense of belonging and collaboration with the Society of Jesus. First and foremost, I hope they encounter Christ, fall in love with the church and make wonderful friends. And, for some, this may be a place where they hear God’s call to a vocation.”
Jesuit Father Kevin O’Brien, vice president of mission and ministry at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., recently appeared on the talk show Morning Joe, where he discussed faith in the United States. He addressed a recent Gallup Poll that found 77% of people said religion was losing its influence in the country. “I think what the churches, synagogues and mosques need to do is get back to the basics. In our case, to preach the Gospel and focus on what we’re most deeply about,” he said.
Fr. O’Brien said he takes his cues from Pope Francis. “His style … is really about getting back to basics. … He’s preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He’s talking about the poor. He’s talking about helping people finding meaning in their lives. He’s inviting people to encounter Jesus and for the Christian that’s a very attractive message.”
Fr. O’Brien also addressed a 2012 Pew Forum survey that found 1 in 5 adults are not affiliated with any religion. Most described themselves as spiritual but not religious.
That’s a call for religious to listen to that longing of those people, according to Fr. O’Brien. “They’re longing for God. I think we do better when we listen first to what that longing is about and then share our tradition.”
As for getting people back into the church, Fr. O’Brien said it’s a call to humility. “The churches must be in a more listening posture: that is to invite and to welcome … I think the reason why Pope Francis has spoken to so many people across religious traditions is that he is a humble man and he’s in a listening posture.
“I think all of us in religion would do better when we listen first,” Fr. O’Brien said. “I think this pope is leading the way. Frankly, for me, he’s making me a better priest if I follow his example.”
Jesuit Father Rick Malloy doesn’t have to go far to get to his “mission territory:” he simply walks down the hall from where he lives in a college dorm at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. While the journey isn’t far, Fr. Malloy says it can be difficult to be noticed in the territory where he’s sent: the minds, hearts and imaginations of young adults.
As vice president for university ministries, Fr. Malloy searches for ways to get today’s young adults to be open to God’s action in their lives. He’s found that one way to get there is the short spiritual exercise made famous by St. Ignatius of Loyola: the Examen.
The Examen involves a review of one’s day, listening for where God was present and active. According to Fr. Malloy, University of Scranton students are finding the 10- to 15-minute Examen doable, transformative and comprehensible.
“St. Ignatius championed this form of prayer and counseled this was the one spiritual exercise that should never be left aside,” says Fr. Malloy. “In order to make this prayer even more accessible, I offer this description of the traditional five steps of the Examen: 1) the prayer to the Spirit for inspiration; 2) thanksgiving; 3) examination of consciousness; 4) firm resolve to improve; and 5) trust and hope for the future.”
Fr. Malloy says he is very aware that what he’s asking students to do—slow down, be attentive, be reflective—is alien to the culture in which they are immersed, with constant texting and tweeting, flashing images and video games. “The Examen can serve as an antidote to the spiritual maladies of our age,” he says.
Paralleling St. Ignatius’ five steps, Fr. Malloy has developed the five “P’s” of the Examen—presence, praise, process, penance, promise—in order to make this prayer even more accessible to young adults.
“There is no ‘proper’ way to practice the Examen,” says Fr. Malloy. “Some people like to sit in a chapel. Some turn off the radio and pray the Examen as they drive home from work. Some people pray the Examen in the shower. … However and wherever you pray the Examen, God will find you and guide you.”
To read more about Fr. Malloy’s five “P’s” of the Examen, visit the St. Anthony Messenger website.
Pope Francis is 100 percent Jesuit and his style shows it off, said the superior general of the Society of Jesus, Jesuit Father General Adolfo Nicolás, in a recent interview with Rome Reports.
“I think we’re already seeing signs. … On Holy Thursday, he told priests that a shepherd should smell of sheep. It’s a great image which speaks to the pastoral mission of clergy, be it bishops or priests,” Fr. Nicolás said.
Fr. Nicolás also said he believes that the election of a Jesuit pope won’t have any repercussions on the Society’s members:
“It’s very clear to us, nothing has changed, nothing. The pope is the person the cardinals chose among themselves because they think he can lead the church. So we obey and work with him with the same intensity as we had with other popes.”
Even though the vow of poverty has always been a basic tenet for Jesuits, Fr. Nicolás believes this idea has gained importance within the church.
“That Cardinal Hummes told the pope the same thing [“Don't forget the poor”], means that it’s part of the church now. And that’s a good thing. It’s good because St. Paul mentioned it in one of his letters: we have to move with freedom because we are free with Christ, but we must never forget about the poor. He said this was one of the signs of being a Christian,” said Fr. Nicolás.
Watch the Rome Reports video with Fr. Nicolás below.