Jesuits remember companions killed in struggle for ecological and social justice
“Danos un corazón grande para amar; Danos un corazón grande para luchar!”
“Give us a heart great to love; give us a heart strong to fight!”
More than 200 Jesuits and men and women companions in the social apostolate from 62 countries sang this refrain in Spanish with power and emotion on Nov. 4 at the opening of the celebration for the 50th anniversary of the Secretariat for Social Justice and Ecology.
They sang it 57 times at the opening ceremony in the aula magna of the Jesuit General Curia in Rome, as did the superior general of the Jesuits, Arturo Sosa, and the two Jesuit cardinals present, Pedro Barreto Jimeno and Michael F. Czerny. They sang the refrain after the projection of a photo and brief biographical details of each of the 57 Jesuits who have been killed in the ongoing fight for justice and the protection of our common home over the past 50 years. Later, they concelebrated Mass in their honor.
The memory of these Jesuit “martyrs” (in quotes because the church has not yet recognized them as such) is contained in a book published for the occasion by the S.J.E.S. But, as Father Sosa told journalists later in the day, the book does not tell the whole story because “many, many more lay men and women companions” have also been killed in this same faith struggle for justice and reconciliation.
[This week on “Inside the Vatican,” Gerry and Colleen examine the theme of martyrdom that has emerged repeatedly in recent weeks and how it relates to Pope Francis’ vision of evangelization.]
“I am ashamed,” he said, that a book has not yet been complied for them, but he admitted it is a complex task.
The secretariat was the brainchild of Pedro Arrupe, S.J., who survived the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 and was elected superior general of the Society of Jesus in 1965. He served in that role until 1983. At his request, the body was set up in 1969 as the Secretariat for Socio-Economic Development, and over the years it has become the hub of a network of Jesuit sub-secretariats in countries on all continents. Its current secretary, the Indian Jesuit Xavier Jeyaraj, welcomed delegates from six conferences of the Society, as well as former staff members of the central secretariat.
Father Jeyaraj reminded them that “our spirituality cannot be understood without the social dimension.” They had come together, he said, to “celebrate God’s faithfulness in our 50-year journey and also to celebrate our faithfulness to his call,” as well as to celebrate Father Arrupe and the 57 Jesuits who “sacrificed their lives in the struggle for justice and equality.”
They had come together, he said, to “celebrate God’s faithfulness in our 50-year journey” as well as to celebrate Father Arrupe and the 57 Jesuits who “sacrificed their lives in the struggle for justice and equality.”
They had come not just to listen to each other but above all “to listen to God who is present in our world today...and to discuss what God is calling us to do.”
He told them the celebration is not meant “to focus on what we have accomplished in the last 50 years but on the poor and the vulnerable.” He urged all present to take to heart the call of the first Jesuit pope “to be fearless and to go to the frontiers” and his appeal “to personal, communitarian and institutional conversion.” Father Jeyaraj concluded by calling them “to dream the improbable, maybe the impossible, and to plan for the future.”
In his keynote address, Father Sosa told delegates he had invited them to this event “not just to share precious memories of our past commitments but to make of the commemoration of the first 50 years of the Secretariat for Social Justice and Integral Ecology...a ‘kairos’ to give thanks together for the many gifts received” and to discern next steps in a renewal of their “commitment to the promotion of justice and reconciliation.”
He recalled that for 50 years “we have been in a process tied to important social and ecclesial events, both outside and within the Society of Jesus, that were unleashed by the fresh winds of Vatican II.”
Father Sosa mentioned some of these: the conferences of Latin American bishops at Medellín and Puebla; Father Arrupe’s letter from Rio de Janeiro about the social commitment of the Society of Jesus; the 32nd General Congregation’s Fourth Decree, declaring the “service of faith and the promotion of justice” absolute requirements of the Jesuit mission; the “inspiring synthesis” of the 36th General Congregation that called Jesuits to be “companions in a mission of reconciliation and justice”; and “the strong wind” coming from the Amazon synod that has put in motion “a process of deepening the commitment to the life of persons, peoples and the planet.”
He reminded them that these events “are associated with particular faces that have moved us prophetically,” like Dom Helder Camara, whose cause for beatification is now in Rome; St. Óscar Romero; Rutilio Grande, S.J., whose cause for beatification is nearing completion; Franz van der Lugt, S.J.; Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa; A.T. Thomas, S.J.; Richard Fernando, S.J.; Thomas Gafney, S.J.; and Pedro Arrupe, S.J., whose cause for beatification has been opened.
Father Sosa told the delegates, “Let us take advantage, then, of this very special moment in which God is once again speaking to us and inviting us to remember, thank, discern and take bold, daring and risky decisions to accompany Jesus and his people in the realities of the frontier together with the most excluded, poor and vulnerable.”
He called on them “to take advantage of this ‘kairos’ to remember, thank and discern the call of God in the light of the Universal Apostolic Preferences 2019-2029, of the Society of Jesus, the Amazon synod, the invitations given us in the magisterium of Pope Francis and the most committed social movements and institutions.”
On a more personal note, the Venezuelan-born superior of the Jesuits recalled that since entering the Society of Jesus 53 years ago “my vocation, formation and apostolic mission…have been marked and nourished by what we call ‘the social apostolate.’” He said this world congress offered him the opportunity “to express gratitude for that experience while at the same time being confirmed in the centrality of this dimension of the mission of the Society of Jesus today and in the long run.”
He encouraged the delegates, saying, “Let us open our minds and hearts to the signs of the times through which the Lord shows us how he is acting in our history and moves us to collaborate with him, with one another and with others.”
He concluded by telling them: “The mission of the Secretariat of Social Justice and Integral Ecology is not to make social and ecological issues the particular mission of a specialized part or group of the Society but rather to promote social and ecological commitment in the whole body.”
Among the other speakers at the opening session were Cardinals Peter Turkson and Michael F. Czerny. The Ghanaian-born Cardinal Turkson, a biblical scholar and prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, recalled how the work for integral human development that is at the heart of the mission of his dicastery and of the S.J.E.S. is deeply rooted in Scripture and in the magisterium of all the popes since Leo XIII.
Interestingly, Cardinal Czerny, currently undersecretary for the Migrants and Refugees Section of the dicastery and formerly secretary of the S.J.E.S., focused his talk on “the church today”—particularly since March 13, 2013, “when our companion Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who participated in the 32nd General Congregation [1974-75] as a delegate, became Pope Francis.” He recalled that when Francis met the Jesuits in Vilnius, Lithuania, in September 2018 and one of them asked him what he most hopes for from the Society of Jesus, the pope replied:
What we need to do today is to accompany the church in a profound spiritual renewal. I believe that the Lord is asking for a change in the church.... Fifty years ago the Second Vatican Council clearly said that the church is the people of God [“Lumen Gentium,” No. 12]. I feel that the Lord wants the Council to make its way into the church. Historians say that for a Council to be applied, it takes 100 years. We are halfway there. So, if you want to help me, act in such a way as to carry on the Council in the church.
Cardinal Czerny told delegates that “Vatican II sought to explain and apply church teaching to the very changing circumstances of the modern, post–World War II world” and said, “a very intense experience of Pope Francis implementing Vatican II and carrying out reform is the recent synod on the Amazon.” In his talk, the cardinal went on “to correlate” the results of that synod with the four apostolic preferences of the Society of Jesus.
During the second and third day of the congress, Nov. 5 and 6, delegates focused on the challenges of the present time. On Thursday morning, Nov. 7, Pope Francis will receive them in audience. After that, they will use the rest of the time, until the congress concludes on Nov. 8, in renewing their commitment to the mission for social justice and ecology, for justice and reconciliation.