The SJE Secretariat wishes each one of you A Merry Christmas and A Challenging New Year!
May Christ be born in each one of our hearts and live among us throughout the coming year!
Called to Companion
I work in Camden, New Jersey. It is America’s poorest and most violent city of its size and this year we are on course to set a new homicide record. Put in perspective, if New York City were to have the murder rate of Camden this year, it would mean that close to 6000 people would have been killed already. Poverty is very high and youth drop out of school at a rate of 70 percent. We are a young city with half of the population under the age of 25 and getting younger every year. My work involves youth ages 14-23, helping them get back into school, away from violence and moving towards healing and hope.
What have I learned from my ministry? I have learned that poverty is not pretty, nor is it romantic. The traumatic experiences of violence, abuse and endemic poverty deeply wound the people of Camden. Like war survivors, they have learned behaviors of survival that often help them exist in ugly ways. In this environment violence is normalized, abuse is tolerated, and grief is denied. This leads to many people struggling with how to manage their own anger, disappointment, and stress. I see this exploding in shootings, domestic violence and neglect of children.
It is a hard place for the people who live here. I have found that the face of Christ Crucified is not recognized. In fact, the face of the poor is often stigmatized by cultural “norms and values.” Christ’s face in Camden is disfigured by years of trauma, often times cloaked in racial and class stereotypes. The face of Christ that reflects the trauma of this city isn’t accepted outside of our borders. Instead, it is a face that many seem to turn away from, whether that be through accusation or by demanding that the face be healed before it becomes part of our community, our school, our “way of life.”
For me personally, I struggle with Christ’s crucified body at times because it seems easier to go somewhere else and not encounter it, to experience a world where life isn’t crucified the way it is in Camden. I find I often experience an emotional dissonance when I am not in Camden for life seems oddly different, comfortable and lacking in what I know in the city. It is not that there is no suffering in other parts of the world, but rather it is that there is a capacity to be present to it, to find support, presence and even companionship in a way that seems quite elusive here. In Camden, the abundance of God seems drained away by the daily onslaught of the situation.
Yet, odd as it may seem, I find God in Camden. I feel called to be present here, deeply moved by a sense of justice and a gnawing call that God deeply cares about this situation, that I join Jesus in wanting to be present here. I often find consolation in the mediation of the Trinity wanting to enter the world and the Son being sent forth. I find myself wondering, “Does Camden exhaust God?” What is it to be incarnate here? What must it be like for Jesus to experience his creation, his beloved being, so mistreated? It is in these moments, perhaps much like running a race, when I touch Jesus’ desire and find a “new breath” about me.
It is not that I often feel successful here. Whereas so many ministries in the Society are ones of “success,” where youth gain degrees, where sports championships are proudly won, where we measure campus growth and the amount our youth who earn scholarships, I find myself more aligned with the ministry of “failure.” The people I work with fail all of the time. Their progress is not “linear;” very few begin as freshman and finish as seniors. Rather, their paths meander, going from “a to g to f to p to b.” Things are always falling apart. Evictions, fights, bills, illnesses, and incarcerations makes it hard to get any momentum much of the time. Progress in Camden isn’t quite like what I grew up with. Accompaniment doesn’t look, nor does it feel, “successful,” the way it seems when I say mass at a local Jesuit university or visit a suburban parish Yet, amazingly, Christ is alive here. I deeply experience God’s desire for life here, to heal the vast wound that is here, to touch and be present to a people who are maligned and forgotten. The labor of God and the invitation to “not count the cost” seems offered with frequency.
Recently, we have begun to plant crosses to remember the many killed in our city this year. We have two places in the city where once, and often twice, a week, we come together and install crosses with the murder victims’ names and ages on them. Various community members will ornately decorate the crosses for the victims. Sometimes they know the individuals and other times they do not. However, they do this with a tenderness and care that lovingly names a pain that often goes silenced.
The symbolic crosses and the people that create and maintain them very much remain close to Christ’s cross like a modern day Golgatha. Similar to the women who stood faithfully at the foot of the cross, a cross that many people in Jerusalem that day did not know about, our community faithfully comes together to believe, to comfort, to embrace in the expectation of God. This hope is not easy; it requires quite a bit of sweat here in Camden. I am amazed to find colleagues, friends, and ordinary folks who desire this. They give me solace, and I am strengthened by their faithfulness towards the crucified Christ.
Jeff Putthoff, SJ
Rome – Promotio Iustitiae no. 109 ‘Democracy in the World’ goes online
In this issue of Promotio Iustitiae, you will find an overview of the state of the democracy in the world, through the efforts of six jesuits, coming from each of the six Jesuit Conferences: Latin America, North America, Europe, Africa, South Asia and Asia Pacific, in order to offer a general outline of the democratic health of our societies.
Philippines – Greening Jesuit houses in the Philippines
Jesuit scholastics in the Loyola House of Studies located in the Ateneo de Manila University campus have embarked on a series of initiatives to raise awareness about care for the environment in community lifestyle and house management. The initiative of the scholastics was prompted by General Congregation 35 and further fuelled by “Healing a Broken World,” which serves as a guiding document for activities focused on the environment. Read more… Brazil – Manaus: Fire engulfs the slum where Jesuits live among the poor
On 27th November a strong fire consumed, within a few hours (8-13h), the Arthur Bernardes slum of palafitos (raised houses in wood in areas that may be flooded) in Manaus, at the heart of the Brazilian Amazonia. Out of 550 families living there with a population of around 2.500 – 3.000 persons, more than 500 families lost their houses and their little belongings. Thanks to God and to the abilities of the poor, nobody died. Members of the Equipo Itinerante have been living there for years, accompanying the communities in this area.
Europe – Communities of Solidarity: New style of Jesuit
Twenty four Jesuits from European Conference, including the President of the Conference Fr. John Dardis, came together for a three-day sharing and reflection on the above theme, in Madrid from 23-25 November. Six communities (Loiolaetxea, Durango, La Ventilla & Sevilla from Spain; La Viale from Belgium; and Paulo Freire Institute of Faith & Justice from Malta) who live their Jesuit community life with the deprived migrants and prisoners shared their experiences of how they initiated, lived and discerned together as Jesuits and how this has challenged and changed their own commitment as Jesuits. The meeting created much interest among all and the organizers planned to share their reflection with others soon.
India – Spirit of Late Sr. Valsa lives among the Indigenous to fight for their rights
On the first death anniversary of Sr. Valsa John, allegedly murdered by mining mafia at Pachuara, Jharkhand-India on 15 November 2011, around 3,000 indigenous people from the villages, sat on a protest and blocked the transport of coal from the mines. Late Sr. Valsa had spent almost a decade mobilizing the people against their displacement and the company had agreed on a decent rehabilitation package, which became difficult after her murder. The present protest was spearheaded by Fr. Tom Kavalakatt SJ, the coordinator of Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan. The day and night sit-in protest included children, women, and youth of the villages and also two strong political leaders, which boosted the bargaining power of the people. After 21 days of protest, the managing director of PANEM private mining company, came and signed an agreement with the Rajamahal Pahar Bachao Andolan members promising to implement the entire rehabilitation package. Read more…
USA – Jesuit Conference Statement on Taxes and the Fiscal Cliff
The U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration are working to agree to a deal that would avert the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the convergence of an estimated 1.2 billion ($1.2 trillion in USA) in tax increases and spending cuts over the course of the next decade that threaten to trigger another recession. In light of this, the position of US Jesuit Conference is that “Deficit reduction must not increase the burden on members of our society who have seen incomes decline, jobs disappear and public benefits evaporate.” Read rest of the statement here…
Madagascar – Fr. Jacques Berthieu canonized
The celebration of the World Mission Sunday coincided in Rome, with the ceremony of canonization of seven new saints. While the formal ceremony took place in Rome, a huge crowd gathered on the hill of Ambiatibe, in Madagascar, where one of these new saints, our Jesuit companion Father Jacques Berthieu was put to death. The readings of the day, Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily, described “how to be evangelizers, to bear witness and to proclaim the Christian message.” The new saints, he said, “configured themselves to Christ and followed his very path”.
Tirúa – Chile: Latin American network for Indigenous People gather in Chile
The biannual gathering of Latin American network for Indigenous People was held in Tirúa, Chile, from 20th to 24th of November, in a Mapuche area where 10 years ago, a Jesuit community was established. Jesuits and indigenous lay collaborators came together from all over Latin America: México, Guatemala, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Perú, Brasil and Paraguay. They shared their experiences and also spoke about indigenous self-determination and self-governance. They also shared the life of the mapuche community in the area, and visited the works of the Jesuits there. A new coordinator for the network, Pablo Castro from Chilean Province was also assigned.
Canada – Mission and Ecology Commission
The Jesuits in English Canada launched a Province Commission on Mission and Ecology, a response to the call of the Society to “appreciate more deeply our covenant with creation” (GC 35, D 3, 36) and to recognize that care of the earth “touches the core of our faith in and love for God” (GC 35, D 3, 32). Furthermore, this Commission is our response to the invitation of the Task Force on Jesuit Mission and Ecology to integrate ecology into our mission and community life (Healing A Broken World, Promotio Iustitiae No. 106, 2011/2). Read more…
Indonesia – Think greenly, act locally
Reconciliation with Creation is a priority for the Society of Jesus and a key concern of the Indonesian Province. Scholastic Billy Aryo Nugroho SJ reports on a Go Green course that was conducted for Jesuit scholastics in Jakarta. He writes, “During the course, we scholastics made presentations concerning environmental problems at the global, national, and local spheres. We also shared some of the views of the Church and the Society of Jesus on environmental concerns.” Read more…
India – Documentary film by students on coal carriers wins national award
A documentary film “Black Flame”, made by the students of Jesuit run Lievens’ Institute of Film and Electronic media (LIFE), Ranchi has won the “Best Documentary” award at a national-level competition organized at Loyola Academy, Secunderabad, competing with fourteen entries from reputed institutions across India. The film follows a group of coal-carriers, who tow and sell coal ‘illegally’ acquired from mines and standing trains in areas adjoining Ranchi. The jury praised the film for its bold investigation into a sensitive and socially relevant topic and the ethical issues it raises. The Institute plans to do another documentary on the issue of ‘Displacement’ soon. View 3 minute trailer…
Vatican – Pope Benedict XVI speaks about Migrants as Pilgrims
The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant people has released a Message from Benedict XVI speaking about migration as a pilgrimage of faith and hope. In the message he says that “faith and hope are inseparable in the hearts of many migrants, who deeply desire a better life and not infrequently try to leave behind the “hopelessness” of an unpromising future. During their journey many of them are sustained by the deep trust that God never abandons his children; this certainty makes the pain of their uprooting and separation more tolerable and even gives them the hope of eventually returning to their country of origin. Faith and hope are often among the possessions which emigrants carry with them”. Read more…