In June, Refugee Week reminded me of the ongoing vulnerability of so many displaced people around the world. As I shared when I became Provincial, I myself am a refugee. The refugee experience is of dislocation, uncertainty, loss of control, and vulnerability. It is also an experience of sacrifice and courage, of families and communities caring for each other, and sometimes of being welcomed generously by others. While it is not an experience you would wish on anyone, the refugee experiences being poor and humble and there can be a gift in this condition.
“To see all things new in Christ”, the theme of our Ignatian Year which draws to a close at the end of this week, is to see things through the lens of our poverty, humility, and vulnerability. To see all things in Christ means we must let our own vision be disrupted. We need to let our seeing, and our dreaming, be drawn into God’s seeing and dreaming.
At our recent Province Gathering, held at Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview on 12 and 13 July, Fr John Dardis SJ shared a favourite word of Pope Francis, “squilibrio”. Fr Dardis is the Jesuit Superior General’s General Counsellor for Discernment and Apostolic Planning, so you might expect him to be more inclined to words that suggest certainty in planning, rather than a word that means “off balance”. Being off balance allows us to move beyond our own way of seeing and allows us to see with others, and ultimately as God does.
At the Province Gathering we heard from Susan Pascoe AM, who shared her insights into synodality, a process of walking together, listening to one another and allowing our shared dreams to grow. Spiritual conversation, which was a core part of the Gathering, is an excellent tool for this process, allowing the Holy Spirit to move in us as a collective body. I was moved by how freely and deeply participants entered into this.
As Jesuits we are blessed to be accompanied by so many lay companions who share our mission. In a sense we have been walking a synodal process in our Province, however inadequately, for some years. In the awarding of Companions Medals, we were able to celebrate lay people and members of other religious congregations who have journeyed with us and enriched the lives of Jesuits and those we seek to serve.
We were reminded, in a presentation by Kathleen Upfold, of the reciprocal relationships that develop between Jesuits and lay leaders in ministry. Kathleen was the Director of Kostka Hall, a junior campus of Xavier College Melbourne, as that campus closed. She bore much of the hurt and pain at that closure but shared with the Province Gathering the way being accompanied by a number of Jesuits helped her to see God, even in the moments of desolation. We are blessed to have many people of deep faith and commitment to our charism in positions of leadership in our ministries.
As important as our collaboration with lay people is to our life and mission, it’s also important that we Jesuits, the vowed members of the Society of Jesus, take time together to consider our shared identity as an apostolic body of men. We did this with a one-day Jesuit Assembly that followed the Gathering on 14 July. We celebrated those who have reached significant jubilees in Jesuit and priestly service. We continued to share spiritual conversation, listening across generations to the call we hear to love and serve today. We listened to each other, but always sought to hold in our conversation the desires of those we seek to accompany.
One of the moving moments of the Province Gathering, along with the Masses and prayer, the opportunity to dine together and share conversation, was listening to a panel of people in their teens and twenties. Listening to young people willing to share their faith at a time when this is so countercultural is inspiring and challenging. How do we journey with them?
Our panel gave some of their answers: create communities where faith can be expressed, offer opportunities of service that make real a commitment to Jesus Christ, be unashamed in our religious commitment while allowing young people to walk their own path and find their own faith. What we can do, and must do, is put ourselves in the places where young people are and accompany them on their journey. Many Jesuits and our companions already do this so well, but we are called to give ourselves more deeply to this commitment.
The week of coming together in Sydney ended with the Ordination to the Presbyterate of Brett O’Neil SJ. Just as the expression of faith by young people fills me with hope, it’s heartening to see another man willing to serve as a priest in the Church. Brett has a deep desire to serve those in need, and to use all his gifts and talents to help build the Kingdom of God amidst the challenges of today. We are humbled by the gift of himself offered for our common mission in the Society of Jesus.
Fr Quyen Vu SJ
Feature photo: Fr Quyen (right) in spiritual conversation with Jesuits and lay people at the Province Gathering.