By Mike Gabriele
Father General Arturo Sosa, SJ, recently announced four new Universal Apostolic Preferences that will guide the Jesuits’ mission for the next 10 years. In his introduction letter for these new preferences, Fr. Sosa expressed a desire for Jesuits to collaborate more in the Lord’s mission—to reach beyond individual provinces—to reach across continents and oceans—to work together to achieve the greater, universal good for all God’s people.
Our world is facing a myriad of global concerns, from a refugee crisis that continues to swell, to escalating levels of poverty and violence in many parts of the world, to climate issues that now seem beyond control. This is why Father General has called the Jesuits to work together across borders, to collaborate more universally in an effort to better address these humanitarian needs.
Though they come from some of the poorest, most remote regions of the globe, students at Xavier High School in Chuuk, Micronesia consider themselves blessed for the opportunity of a Jesuit education.
The Maryland and USA Northeast Provinces have been active in many places abroad — building schools, caring for the poor, and helping to grow a Jesuit presence where vigilance for social justice is so sorely needed. Fr. John Cecero, SJ, provincial for the USA Northeast Province, recently attended meetings at the Jesuit Asia Pacific Conference in Palau to address training leaders for the future, the importance of the Spiritual Exercises and a recommitment to educating our youth, all of which are cornerstones of the Jesuit order and a focus of the new Apostolic Preferences. The USA Northeast Province has a large presence in Micronesia, with schools and retreat ministries in Chuuk, Guam, Palau, Pohnpei, Saipan and Yap. “The province is even starting to bring Ignatian Spirituality to seminarians in Fiji,” said Fr. Cecero “I was blessed enough to recently visit there, where we now have three — and soon to be four — Jesuits from our province helping to educate and form Church leaders in this part of the world.”
During his trip, Fr. Cecero also visited Fr. Julio Giulietti, SJ, a USA Northeast Province Jesuit who works in Vietnam. Fr. Giulietti has worked in Southeast Asia for more than nine years, most recently with universities in Vietnam on curriculum development and teaching counseling at a medical university. Engaging with youth is especially important here, where 40% of the population is under the age of 25, yet only 7% are Christians, and where Vietnamese Catholic priests are barred from participating in public education work.
“I was so glad Fr. Cecero was able to see Saigon and how diverse the people are here,” said Fr. Giulietti. “He met fellow Jesuits, lay professors and medical students, and regardless of faith, their conversations were peppered with a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, a deep desire to do good for others. I know that the friendliness of the people he met in this part of the Jesuit frontier will remain with him for many years.”
Fr. John Cecero, SJ, in Vietnam with (from left to right) Hoang Tran, a former Jesuit scholastic who is now married and raising a son while keeping a close relationship with the Vietnamese Jesuits; Tran Phan, a linguistics professor at the University of Education in Saigon; and Fr. Dinh Tran, SJ, a Jesuit priest and director of a young adult Ignatian prayer ministry.
Fr. Dennis Baker, SJ, who is president of Xavier High School in Chuuk, Micronesia, also works in an environment that serves an incredibly diverse group of people. “Xavier High School, although located on a small island in Chuuk, has one of the most international communities in the world,” said Fr. Baker. “We have students from four different countries here and faculty and staff from about a dozen more.” At its core, Xavier High School in Micronesia is typical of any Jesuit high school. It educates students to become competent and compassionate leaders whose lives are guided by the Jesuit call to service, yet it does so for some of the poorest, most remote nations on the globe. The Japanese province of the Society of Jesus, in a true gesture of cross-conference collaboration, now sends a Jesuit scholastic to Chuuk as part of his formation service.
Fr. Dennis Baker, SJ, president of Xavier High School in Chuuk, Micronesia, beams proudly with his graduating class of seniors.
Fr. James Croghan, SJ, who has served as provincial assistant for international ministries from 2016-2019, says that the service of our Jesuits in these regions abroad is a legacy we will continue to build on. “The history of our international work over many decades has been a real experience of magis and will help shape our vision as we respond to the mission given the Society in the recently articulated universal apostolic preferences.”
One part of the world many people might not expect our local provinces to have a presence in is the Middle East. Fr. Robert McChesney, SJ, for example, a Jesuit from the Maryland Province, works with refugees in Amman, Jordan. Jordan accommodates the second highest number of refugees per capita of any country in the world. Most of these displaced people do not live in refugee camps but in urban areas like Amman. Both Muslim and Christian, they have fled from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia. Many of them have lost loved ones, been beaten or raped, and now simply hunger to improve their lives somehow. One of the surest ways of doing this, regardless of where they find themselves, is to learn and master conversational English. Enter Fr. McChesney, who teaches refugees intermediate conversational English. “Although I've taught in conventional Jesuit secondary schools and universities, the stakes here are different,” said Fr. McChesney. “Most of the refugees here are in their twenties, many on their own. Their hunger for a welcoming smile, for guidance and character formation meshes easily with Ignatian pedagogy.” The ambition of these people who have lost so much inspires Fr. McChesney, and he readily admits that he has been educated himself as to what it truly means to be a Father. “I know I am where God wants me,” he said. “What more could an aspiring shepherd desire?”
Fr. Rob McChesney, SJ, is surrounded by his students—refugees who have fled to Amman, Jordan.
Fr. Robert Hussey, SJ, provincial of the Maryland Province, who also serves on the board for Jesuit Refugee Service (USA), sees these universal apostolic preferences as a continued commitment to the bigger picture. “Our vocation as Jesuits is to the universal Society of Jesus and not just to our own individual provinces,” he said. “This has always been our call, to go where the need is greatest. Collaborating across Jesuit conferences enables us to answer that call more effectively.”
It is no wonder that the fourth vow Jesuits profess is a specific promise to be “available for mission.” Reaching beyond provinces opens opportunity. It provides hope for solutions to global issues. It allows our priests, brothers and lay colleagues to join hands in new ways—to collapse virtual walls that separate us. It facilitates social justice —bringing it to those who truly live on the margins.