Archive for May, 2010

Jesuits in Jamaica Reported Safe after Fierce Gunbattle in Kingston

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Attempts to arrest an alleged drug kingpin in Kingston, Jamaica turned into urban warfare that has left dozens dead in Tivoli Gardens, the Kingston neighborhood that has been under siege for days as the security forces battle heavily-armed gangsters defending their leader, Christopher Coke, known as Dudus.

In the midst of this violence sits St. Anne’s parish, as well as the Jesuits and the schools that they oversee. Canadian Jesuit Father Peter McIsaac, Regional Superior of the Jesuits in Jamaica, recently sent this letter to the New England Province of the Society of Jesus. Since 1929, the New England Jesuits have overseen the Jamaica Mission for the Society.

Below is a message received by the New England Province of the Society of Jesus from Jesuit Father Peter McIsaac, Regional Superior, Jamaica regarding the Jesuits in Jamaica:

Dear brothers,

Many thanks for your concern and prayers for the Jesuits in Jamaica, and for the stability of the country at this time.

Over the past few months tensions have escalated between inner city “garrison” communities, particularly those in West Kingston (Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town), and the Jamaican government over the U.S. request for the extradition of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, one of the most powerful criminal “dons” in Jamaica, a man with strong links to crime in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

After a political crisis over a week ago in which the Prime Minister apologized for his exposed connection to a legal contract intended to protect the West Kingston strongman, the extradition papers were signed. The network of Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town gunmen in reaction erected road blocks and barricaded the two communities in an effort to frustrate the execution of the warrant for the arrest of Coke.

On Tuesday, just a short distance from St. Anne’s Church and schools, an army vehicle that attempted to clear a roadblock was assaulted by gunman and made a retreat. The roadblocks were intensified by the local gunmen, and by Saturday morning there was no road access to the two communities (in which St. Anne’s is located). The St. Anne’s Infant, Primary and High Schools were closed Thursday and Friday.

On Sunday, the police attempted a preliminary incursion into the communities, but were repelled, and in retaliation the Hannah Town Police Station (about two hundred meters from the Church) was overtaken and burned. Two other police stations were attacked and bombed. The Prime Minister announced a limited state of emergency.

On Monday, May 24, the army began their offensive. The gun battles continued for eight hours, and it seems that they have successfully recaptured the communities. One soldier and two policeman have been killed, and many more have been injured. There is no official count of the civilian dead (including the gunmen), but given the length and intensity of the gun battles, it seems as though the casualties will be very high. Gun battles were often accompanied by the bomb explosions.

This morning, the soldiers are out in full force, and going from corner to corner. There is sporadic gun fire, and no one is permitted on the road.

Peter McIsaac and John Sullivan have been at St. Anne’s Rectory throughout the conflict, and remain confined to the house, but are fine. Chris Llanos and John O’Brien are not far away on St. George’s College at the novitiate community, and are also fine. We thank you for your continued prayers for peace in West Kingston, and for the safety of our Jesuits here.

Jesuits Open their Home in Rome

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The Society of Jesus is celebrating  its 470th anniversary by opening the doors of its oldest homes in Rome. Some of the places, like the Saint Mary Assunta Chapel, has never been open to the public.

The initiative is called “Unexpected Connections: Journey to the Heart of the Society,” and it includes guided tours by Jesuits.

“It is a rare opportunity for everyone who comes to visit us, but it is also an opportunity for us, Jesuits, to open our doors to people. We are not used to having people in our house, ” said Italian Jesuit Father Flavio Bottaro.

See more in the video clip from Rome TV below:

Jesuit Ordinand Featured in Hometown Paper

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Tom Neitzke was like a lot of other children when he made a bold prediction about his future, but he was far different than most young people when he chose a path in life that has led him from the quiet confines of his home in Wisconsin, to leper colonies in China,  to schools in Africa and to a calling few men are willing to answer.

“When I was in kindergarten, I told my mom I wanted to either be the milkman or the pope,” Neitzke said. “It certainly doesn’t look like I’m going to be a milkman.”

Neitzke’s journey, a challenging 11-year immersion in the Catholic faith and Jesuit teachings that has taken him to the far ends of the earth and put him in the company of people ranging from Pope John Paul II to the destitute, has led him down the road less traveled.

Read more about Neitzke’s calling in the Ozaukee Press here.

Jesuit Astronomers Interviewed on Asteriods, Stars and a Love of God

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Four Jesuits in history have had asteroids named after them. Jesuit Father George Coyne, director emeritus of the Vatican Observatory and president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation and Brother Guy Consolmagno, curator of meteorites at the Vatican Observatory, are the two living astronomers with that distinction. They shared their observations of life, faith, friendship and the universe from their seats in the Vatican Observatory with Krista Trippet, host of the Speaking of Faith radio program on American Public Media during a recent show. Go here to download the interview or to listen to the interview directly.

Jesuit Led L.A. Anti-Gang Program Lays Off Most Employees

Father Gregory Boyle greets one of the many young men who offered support and comfort after he announced that most of Homeboy Industries' employees would be laid off. (Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times / May 13, 2010)

Father Gregory Boyle greets one of the many young men who offered support and comfort after he announced that most of Homeboy Industries' employees would be laid off. (Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times / May 13, 2010)

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The country’s largest anti-gang program, Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, has laid off most of its employees because of a decline in donations.

Jesuit Father Gregory Boyle, who started Homeboy Industries in the Boyle Heights neighborhood during the height of the city’s gang wars 20 years ago, said 300 people were laid off, including all senior staff and administrators.

The organization will continue to offer tattoo removal and counseling services but the silk-screening factory, landscaping company and other businesses where former rival gang members work side by side will be shut down. The Homegirl Cafe, which employs 100 people near downtown, will stay open.

The acclaimed anti-gang program ran into financial trouble last year when contributions dried up and government contracts were cut. For two decades, Homeboy Industries has offered counseling, removed tattoos and helped gang members find jobs. Its motto: “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

But Boyle said no amount of campaigning and fundraising could make up the roughly $5 million the organization needed to operate. He said pleas for donations had resulted in some help, but not nearly enough.

Boyle recently published a memoir about ministering with gang members entitled “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.” Read more about Homeboy Industries precarious financial situation via The Los Angeles Times.

To donate to help Homeboy Industries, please click here to be taken to their online donation page.You can also watch Boyle speak about the mission of Homeboy Industries in the video below: