Archive for June, 2013

Jesuit Novice as Chaperone, Coach and Confidant

Jesuit Daniel Gustafson Jesuit Daniel Gustafson is a second-year novice who just finished his long experiment — a key part of the Jesuit novitiate, as it enables the novice to work in a Jesuit ministry and “test out” his vocation. For his experiment, Gustafson taught religion and worked in the Mission and Ministry Office at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, but he found that was just his official job description.

In addition to those duties, Gustafson was made assistant tennis coach, and he also helped by chaperoning mixers, leading the weekly Examen over the intercom and helping to plan, lead and direct retreats and service events. Once, he even found himself cutting tiles to be installed in a house that Prep students helped to build over spring break.

Another part of his unofficial duties were the many conversations he had with students throughout the day, at a retreat or during a tennis match or service trip. As Gustafson came to know the students better, he had two realizations.

The first was that “each and every student was looking for essentially one thing and one thing only — acceptance. A place and person or group with whom they could be themselves, relax, take a deep breath in the midst of a typically busy high school day, and know that they are cared for,” he wrote.

The second realization he had about these talks was that as the students became more comfortable around him, every now and then the seriousness of the conversation would deepen, from discussing a student’s fears about moving away to college to a struggle with believing in God to a difficult situation in the student’s family life.

“In seeking acceptance and an opportunity to share something challenging in their lives, these students helped me to recognize that this is a universal human characteristic,” Gustafson wrote. “These are the same thirsts that I feel and that all of us feel. And it is exactly where God wants to meet us: listening to us, helping to carry our burdens, loving us at each and every turn.”

Through these students, Gustafson found that “God showed me that being a companion of Jesus will also bring me to what may be a run-of-the-mill conversation or may lead to listening to someone vulnerably share an issue that has been plaguing him or her for years.”

Read more of Gustafson’s reflections on his long experiment at www.jesuitvocation.org.

Pope Hosts Impromptu Q&A Session with Jesuit Students

Pope Francis

Youths surround Pope Francis as he met with students from Jesuit schools June 7 at the Vatican. (CNS/Reuters)

At a June 7 Vatican event, Pope Francis ditched a prepared speech to 9,000 students, alumni and teachers from Jesuit-run schools in Italy and Albania saying it would be “a tad boring.” Instead, he gave a condensed version of his remarks and spent the rest of the time fielding questions from the crowd.

For thirty minutes, the pope answered questions — on topics as diverse as Jesuit education to his preferred papal residence.  When one student asked why he chose not to live in the apostolic palace, Pope Francis said, “It’s not just a question of wealth.” His decision to live in a simple Vatican-run residence was “for psychiatric reasons,” he said teasingly. Living in an isolated setting “would not do me any good,” and he said he’s the kind of person who prefers living in the thick of things, “among the people.”

Pope Francis added that he does try to live as simply as possible, “to not have many things and to become a bit poorer” like Christ.

He urged everyone to try to live more simply saying, “In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it’s incomprehensible how there can be so many hungry children, so many children without an education, so many poor.”

A young girl asked Pope Francis if he wanted to become pope.

He laughed and said a person who wants to become pope doesn’t have his own best interest at heart. “God doesn’t give him his blessings. No, I didn’t want to become pope,” he said.

Another participant asked him why he decided to become a Jesuit. Pope Francis responded:

“What gave me the strength to become a Jesuit is the sense of being a missionary. To go out, to take part in the missions, to proclaim Jesus Christ. This is precisely our spirituality. To go out and spread the Gospel, instead of quietly staying closed in within our structures, that are often, old structures.” [Catholic News Service, Rome Reports]

Pope Francis’ First 100 Days

(CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Tomorrow is Pope Francis’ 100th day on the job and to commemorate the occasion, Jesuit Conference President Father Thomas H. Smolich, S.J., talks about his first impressions of the history-making pontiff: 

People often ask me, “So, what do you think of your new Jesuit pope? How’s he doing?” As a Washington, D.C. resident, I’ve often seen a new leader’s first 100 days in office used as a convenient yardstick for assessing his impact and effectiveness. And as a former English teacher, I’m no stranger to report cards.   

So with all due respect to His Holiness, here’s one Jesuit’s report card on Francis’ first 100 days as pope. 

Click below for a podcast with Father Thomas H. Smolich, S.J. on the Pope’s first 100 days.

First Impressions: A+  Before delivering his first papal blessing, Francis asked the crowd in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him – and from that moment, we knew we were witnessing a different kind of papacy.  Francis is a man with a deep connection to the faithful and to the world at large.  He knows how to translate what is in his heart into gestures that ring true. Simple acts – paying his own hotel bill, for instance, and wearing his own shoes instead of the red slippers – tell us he knows something about the lives most people lead.

Like any effective chief executive, Francis understands that much of his power as pope is symbolic: he leads by example, by the depth of his passion.  His impromptu style may give Vatican officials fits, but it allows him to connect with people all over the world.  In the age of Twitter, he is proving himself deft with a pithy phrase: “Shepherds should smell like their sheep” is my favorite, though I’m also fond of his statement that losing direct contact with the poor leads to “gentrification of the heart.”

External Affairs: A  Leaving the slums of Buenos Aires for the corridors of the Vatican hasn’t dulled   Francis’ mission and message: the poor should be the focus of the Church.  At his March 18 installation mass, he pledged to serve “the poorest, the weakest, the least important.” He followed this by washing the feet of prisoners, among them a Muslim woman, at an untraditional Holy Thursday celebration.

In a May 16 ceremony, he told an audience of new ambassadors that “the Pope has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them.” Moreover, by reopening the process for sainthood of El Salvador’s murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero and accepting a blood-stained relic of Romero from Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, Francis has shown that his love for the poor is not affected by old ideological struggles.

Internal Affairs: Incomplete  A papal election often rekindles hope for change in the Vatican bureaucracy.  Francis has taken some encouraging steps in this area: cancelling bonuses for Vatican Bank cardinals, and appointing an international group of eight cardinals to advise him on reforming the Vatican’s opaque ways of doing business.  Still, the pope’s overall Internal Affairs grade is Incomplete because he has yet to make new appointments to several important positions such as Secretary of State.

Some observers still have high expectations of significant change in Vatican policies, but Pope Francis’ past leadership does not point in that direction.  Rather, Vatican offices that focus on the evangelizing mission of the Church rather than internal politics, that take a church of the poor and marginalized seriously, that understand the power of symbol and gesture – these could be the ultimate, positive outcomes of a Vatican truly aligned with its leader.

I believe the report card on Francis’ first 100 days is strongly positive. But so what? Why are these first 100 days important?  Here’s why: First impressions matter; they make a real difference.

Something has changed in the last 100 days. The enormous challenges faced by the Catholic Church – sexual misconduct, shrinking congregations and all the rest – are real, and they aren’t going away anytime soon. But in recent weeks I’ve been struck by the number of practicing Catholics who find their step a bit lighter, as well as former and inactive Catholics who find themselves willing to give the Church another listen.

If this trend continues, much credit goes to the pope who, just a 100 days ago, began to share his vision of a mission that unifies rather than divides, a Church that is truly attuned to its world and its people.

For One Jesuit, Syrian War is Professional Challenge, Personal Heartache

Jesuit Father Nawras SammourFor 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]

Jesuit Pilgrims Gear Up for MAGIS 2013 and World Youth Day

MAGIS logoIn 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.

Seattle University MAGIS group

Seattle University is ready for Rio! Photo courtesy Jason Welle, SJ, and Brittany Olival (bottom right). Photo via The Jesuit Post.

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!”

Christ the Redeemer statueFr. 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.”

For more on MAGIS 2013, visit the Jesuit Conference’s MAGIS website and The Jesuit Post. For more on the meaning of “Magis,” check out The Jesuit Post video below.