Archive for March, 2012

Filipino Jesuit Reflects on the Japanese Tsunami and the Sound of Hope

This Sunday, Japan will mark the one-year anniversary of a catastrophic tsunami, which flooded villages and wiped coastal towns off the map. Caused by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the tsunami killed thousands and  left unimaginable devastation in its wake.

To commemorate this tragic event, we’ve reposted a reflection from Filipino Jesuit Joseph “Jody” Magtoto about the grueling, and at times, dangerous relief work that volunteers performed in those early days.  

By Jody Magtoto, SJ

When the rector of the Jesuit Scholasticate [house of formation -Ed.] in Tokyo, Jesuit Father Juan Haidar, asked me whether I was interested in volunteering for relief efforts of Caritas Japan, I initially hesitated since my command of the Japanese language is not good. Yet I felt moved to respond despite this disability and despite the risks.

We called ourselves the Tokyo 12. I found myself among this group of five men and seven women who responded to Mr Sakagawa’s call to help in the Caritas Japan relief efforts. We did not know each other prior to this trip and had met only once for an orientation meeting April 4. Bony James, an Indian Jesuit scholastic, and I were probably the only Christians in this group.

Tokyo 12 left for the Northern coastal town of Kamaishi on April 5.  Kamaishi is one of the towns that was badly hit by the tsunami. This is the town where a huge ship rammed into the tsunami wall. The sidewalks were still full of debris—everything from old toys to the remains of a baby shark.

For one week we were housed in a small convent that was not so much affected by the tsunami since the convent and chapel are located on a slightly elevated area.

Upon arrival, we were briefed about the types of work involved – first, to clean up nearby houses that were devastated by the tsunami; second, to help in the sorting and distribution of relief goods; third, to assist in the preparation of food for those affected by the disaster.

The clean-up operations were gruelling and rather dangerous.   Volunteers had to clear up debris in and around the house —thick wooden planks, car parts, waterlogged containers, even a heavy stairwell that the tsunami water had tossed onto the lawn. The debris was at times several metres deep, and we had to dig through the wreckage with a shovel or our hands in order to move the rubble to a nearby lot. There was so much debris that we had to create a makeshift pathway out of disposed tatami mats so as to be able to dump the debris further inside the lot. The dumpsite reeked of things that the tsunami had flung into the city.

We had to proceed with caution.  Several volunteers stepped on beams with exposed nails that had rusted under the corrosive salt water and had to get first aid and tetanus shots. I almost met with an accident myself when a heavy beam I was carrying snagged on an overturned car.

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Jesuit Talks PICO and Reclaiming the American Dream

In 1972, Jesuit Father John Baumann started a small training institute with the goal of supporting neighborhood organizations in California. What eventually came from this idea was the Pacific Institute for Community Organizations, now known as the PICO National Network. And, his desire to help local organizations has grown to a national outreach program, which has helped more than a million families and 1,000 congregations from 40 religious denominations. PICO has successfully worked to increase access to healthcare, improve public schools, make neighborhoods safer, build affordable housing and redevelop communities. Because of his work on problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities, Fr. Baumann sat down with the National Catholic Reporter to share his perspective on the U.S. economy today.

NCR: From your long-term perspective, what do you make of all that’s going on in the U.S. today regarding economic disparity, Occupy movements, etc.?

Baumann: I’d say that many Americans believe that the American Dream, also known as “America is the land of opportunity,” was once true, but it doesn’t hold anymore. Every previous generation has really known America as the land of opportunity, where children were expected to do as well or better than their parents. Yet, today we find our nation in a crisis, with record levels of poverty, the rising inequality and worsening predictions for our children’s future.

What is really troubling to me is this whole gap between the rich and the poor that has been growing over the past 20 years or more. It’s not an aberration; it’s a result of deliberate choices. It seems like that over the last 40 years, a series of economic choices have really redistributed the income upwards and as a result of that, it provided less and less opportunities to everyone else. All this has led to the financial stress on our families, and really it’s something that hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression.

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California Jesuits Share their Experiences as Parish Priests

Jesuit priests and brothers work with deacons, religious women and laity in more than 70 parishes throughout the United States. These churches are located in a variety of diverse locations; from inner-city neighborhoods, in business districts and suburbs, to the country and rural areas, and on Native American reservations.

For the Jesuits who minister at the nine parishes in California, their diverse experiences of providing pastoral counseling and spiritual guidance to their parishioners is no less striking. From the palm tree lined Sunset Boulevard location of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Hollywood to Most Holy Trinity’s placement in Silicon Valley to Dolores Mission Parish’s impact on its East L.A. neighborhood, three California parish priests, Jesuit Fathers Mike Mandala, Eduardo Samaniego and Scott Santarosa, find themselves in very different locations but share a commonality of helping parishioners experience their faith and reverence to God.

In the video below, they express what makes these Jesuit parishes unique and how they serve their communities and enrich their parishioners’ faith lives.

Interested in joining a Jesuit parish yourself? View a list of Jesuit parishes in the U.S.

Jesuit Ministry Helping Reform Gang Members Featured in The Economist

With the motto, “nothing stops a bullet like a job,” Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles works to help gang members leave their lives formed on the streets and in prisons and instead learn skills to improve their lives. Offering tattoo removal, counseling former “homies” in drug rehabilitation and mental health, and even providing jobs in its bakery, café and t-shirt store, Homeboy Industries is a haven for former gang members looking to turn their lives around. The ministry helps approximately 12,000 individuals each year learn life skills to lead them away from the streets.

Founded in 1992 by charismatic Jesuit Father Greg Boyle during the height of the city’s gang wars, Homeboy Industries has become a model program that other cities, like Chattanooga, are trying to replicate.

Fr. Boyle’s innovative program was featured recently in a piece by The Economist. An excerpt appears below and you can read the full story on The Economist’s website.

It can take between three and 40 treatments to remove a prison tattoo, says Troy, a volunteer doctor at Homeboy Industries in central Los Angeles, as another former gang member takes a seat. Troy zaps the tattoos with a laser, breaking up the ink so that the immune system can destroy it. This is painful, and the laser’s sharp cracking sound reminds some patients of shooting or of the prison yard, explains Andre, who is 27, spent seven years in prison, and got his first tattoo when he was 11. But it is still good to get rid of tattoos. “We focus on the visible ones,” says Troy, “the ones that make you a target when you’re walking decades later with your son and somebody shoots you, or the ones that prevent you from getting a job.”

“We’re a trauma-informed family here,” says Jesuit Father Greg Boyle. Eventually, they experience an unfamiliar feeling that he calls the “no-matter-whatness”. They realize that the staff do not judge their past but are ready to help them build a better future.

Homeboy Industries also recently opened a new diner in Los Angeles’ City Hall. You can find out more about Homeboy Diner in this Ignatian News Network video:

Ignatian News Network Sits Down with Jesuit Father Ed Reese of Brophy Prep in Phoenix

Ignatian News Network recently caught up with Jesuit Father Edward Reese, who currently serves as the president of Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona.

“I love high school work, it’s very rewarding watching kids grow up and being able to affect lives,” says Fr. Reese. “I’m biased toward secondary education, it’s what we [the Jesuits] do best. Brophy is a great example of that.”

A recent project that he’s particularly passionate about is Brophy’s Loyola Academy, which provides a Catholic, Jesuit education to 6th, 7th and 8th grade boys who demonstrate academic promise but have had limited educational opportunities. Loyola Academy currently serves one class of sixth grade boys, and will add a new sixth grade class for the 2012/2013 school year.

Check out the video below to learn more about the man behind the collar. You can find out more about Brophy’s innovative new program to help the underserved children in Phoenix get a top-notch education in the Jesuit tradition by visiting their website.