Below are the remarks of Fr. Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, on behalf of the Society of Jesus in the United States, at the Georgetown University Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition, and Hope on April 18, 2017.
Sisters and Brothers,
Most especially the upwards of 100 descendants who have traveled so far to pray with us,
Today the Society of Jesus, which helped to establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors, stands before you to say:
We have greatly sinned,
In our thoughts and in our words,
in what we have done
and in what we have failed to do.
Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, mandates that each Jesuit pray for the grace to examine his conscience so that: He may feel interior knowledge of his sins; feel the disorder of his actions; and, hating these, pray for the grace to correct himself.
The Society of Jesus prays with you today because we have greatly sinned and because we are profoundly sorry.
The African-American historian, Fr. Cyprian Davis, of the Order of St. Benedict, expresses our great sin when he wrote, “The tragic sin of Jesuit slaveholding presents to us not only the harshness of slavery as it really existed, but also the moral quicksand of expedience and inhumanity that sooner or later trapped everyone who participated in the ownership, buying, and selling of human beings.”
It is our very enslavement of another, the very ownership of another, culminating in the tragic sale of 272 men, women, and children, that remains with us to this day, trapping us in a historic truth for which we implore mercy and justice, hope and healing.
When we remember that together with those 272 souls we received the same sacraments; read the same Scriptures; said the same prayers; sang the same hymns; and praised the same God; how did we, the Society of Jesus, fail to see us all as one body in Christ? We betrayed the very name of Jesus for whom our least Society is named.
Now, nearly 200 years later, we cannot heal from this tragic history alone. Many have confessed and labored to atone for this sin, but mostly within the confines of our own religious houses and apostolic works. Because we are profoundly sorry, we stand before God — and now before you, the descendants of those whom we enslaved — and we apologize for what we have done and what we have failed to do. Agreeing with playwright and poet Ntozake Shange that apologies “don’t open doors, or bring the sun back,” we apologize nonetheless, hoping to imagine a new future.
With the pain that will never leave us, we resist moving on, but embrace moving forward … with hope.
Attributed to Augustine, sainted son of Africa, sainted son of the Church:
“Hope has two beautiful daughters.
Their names are anger and courage;
anger at the way things are,
and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”
Justly aggrieved sisters and brothers: having acknowledged our sin and sorrow, having tendered an apology, we make bold to ask — on bended knee — forgiveness. Though we think it right and just to ask, we acknowledge that we have no right to it. Forgiveness is yours to bestow — only in your time and in your way. Until then, may we together confront with passion our past, present, and future — and seek the courage to see that things do not remain the way they are. On this Easter Tuesday, fix our eyes on Jesus, confident — that even with your great grief and right rage, with our sin and sorrow, “All will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well” — to help all God’s children and God’s greater glory. May it be so!