Hunger for justice

The rights of indigenous people have different meanings around the world. In Australia, as we gear up for The Voice referendum, we also reflect on National Sorry Day, as well as the AFL’s Indigenous Round which honours the reconciliation efforts of the late Sir Doug Nicholls. But in India, ministering to indigenous tribes has put Fr L. Yesumarian SJ in harm’s way.

 WALKING WITH THE EXCLUDED 

What have I done for Christ.
What am I doing for Christ.
What ought I to do for Christ.

These three questions form the foundation of the Colloquy, one of the first prayers that a Jesuit learns – and one whose significance changes as a Jesuit grows through life and ministry. Sitting quietly in prayer at the Sanctuary of Loyola in Spain for the Congregation of Procurators, I can’t help but to hear those questions echo in my mind as we look to the future, by respecting our past.

And my past has much to say.

For many years I have ministered to the landless poor in India, the Dalits and tribals whose lands have been taken from them in a country where 10% of its population controls 80% of the wealth. A grassroots social movement has been working tirelessly to restore the dignity and the land that was stolen from the poor. It’s a ministry that most of the country would like to ignore – not just because it would involve returning some of the stolen land, but also because it forces us to acknowledge a shameful part of our history.

Because of that work, I have been detained and arrested many times by the authorities. On one occasion I was dragged into a police station, stripped naked, humiliated and beaten again and again for 14 hours. It was an attempt to intimidate me into stopping my ministry – to turn my back on the poor who themselves had been subject to this exact torture, and worse, for generations. Lying naked and alone on a cold, wet floor, for a moment I thought: “Is this enough?”

Fr. L. Yesumarian SJ at the 71st Congregation of Procurators (CP71) held in Loyola, Spain. Photo: Curia Generalizia della Compagnia di Gesù – Roma

That’s what comes to mind as I sit among my brother Jesuits from around the world. Hearing their stories, I know that we have all given much. We are all doing much. But even so, we are here because we know that whatever the answer is to the first two questions, there is always something more that we are called to do. And now, we are asked to pray for, and to guide, our governance.

In this moment, this is how we are asked to serve. We look at what we have done. We pray over what we are doing. We ask to give more not because Christ demands it, but because we demand it in response to Christ’s call.

What have I done for Christ.
What am I doing for Christ.
What ought I to do for Christ.

These questions define who I am as a Jesuit. They spur me on, move me forward, and make me hunger for a more just world. It is that hunger that I bring to this Congregation.

By Fr L. Yesumarian SJ

The original version of this article can be seen on the Jesuits Global website. Published with permission from Curia Generalizia della Compagnia di Gesù – Roma

Fr. L. Yesumarian SJ was the delegate from the Chennai Province of India to the 71st Congregation of Procurators (CP71) held in Loyola, Spain. A lawyer by trade, he has spent decades fighting the injustice perpetrated against Dalit and tribal communities in India, reclaiming stolen land and working to restore basic human rights to the “lower castes”. He has been imprisoned and tortured four separate times, once under India’s sweeping anti-terrorism laws, for speaking up about the exploitation of Scheduled Castes.

Feature photo: By Fr L. Yesumarian SJ celebrating Mass. Photo by: Curia Generalizia della Compagnia di Gesù – Roma

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