“The world is our home.” — Fr. Jerónimo Nadal, SJ (1507-1580)
According to José Casanova of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, the Jesuits were the first organized group in history to think and act globally. As such, he writes that the Society “embodied what [Pope Francis] so frequently evokes as a ‘culture of encounter’ and a ‘culture of dialogue,’ within and between peoples as the only way to peace in our globalized world.”
Midwest Jesuits, continuing that tradition in other countries today, have some insights.
BUILDING BRIDGES IN ISRAEL
In his years as a Jesuit, Fr. John Paul, SJ, has engaged in various ministries that broadened his cultural horizons. He is currently missioned as rector at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute on the southern edge of East Jerusalem. Founded to build bridges through ecumenical dialogue and respectful human conversation, Tantur’s setting is ideal for promoting a greater understanding of the richness of the religious, ethnic, and cultural traditions of this land and its peoples. Father Paul explains, “Here I am surrounded by sounds and spiritual practices of three Abrahamic traditions that keep me conscious of being in the presence of the Holy One, and of how my mission is to provide an ‘oasis of encounter’ with holy sites, traditions, and people for participants in our programs offering personal renewal, continuing education, and scholarly writing or research.”
It enhances his own spiritual life as well. “Five times a day,” says Fr. Paul, “I become aware of the Islamic call to prayer, broadcast from minaret towers, and I am reminded of my own call to prayer. Each Friday evening and Saturday, I become aware of how Jerusalem becomes ‘silent’ in observance of keeping the Sabbath and am invited to find ways to ‘keep Shabbat.’ On Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings, I hear church bells from a nearby Greek Orthodox monastery as well as Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches in Bethlehem and adjoining cities, and I am reminded of a risen Lord inviting me to encounter him in the breaking of the bread of fellowship.”
CULTURAL SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES IN ITALY
Father Kevin Flannery, SJ, is a consultor for the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, which hosts students from over 100 nations each year. “This means that my students invariably have cultural and educational backgrounds that are unlike my own, forcing me to be attentive to our differences,” he says. “Yet their spiritual struggles are common to all who are trying to live lives for others and for God. Cultural differences do enter in, but the spiritual issues are, in the end, the same for all.”
As Jesuit community superior and vice director at the Vatican Observatory, Fr. Paul Mueller, SJ, has found that living with Jesuits from ten different countries can present many opportunities for cross cultural misunderstandings. “Daily life itself is teaching me to be patient with behaviors and practices that seem strange to me, and to appreciate those differences as gifts,” he says. “In addition, interacting regularly with Vatican personnel, even occasionally with Pope Francis, I have come to appreciate more deeply that the Church is Christ’s mystical body, recapitulating his incarnation. At all levels, the Church is a very human institution.”
HUNGRY FOR GOD IN ENGLAND
While studying abroad, Fr. Joseph Simmons, SJ, has been reminded of how “the universal Church is always first encountered locally. Certain histories and needs where you are in the moment require both a deep knowledge of tradition and nimble adaptation to circumstances. The Church in England is hungry for God and open to discovering Christ’s call anew, but the religious sensibilities of Catholicism are radically different from those in the United States.
To be Catholic here is to be in the minority, with a history of persecution and martyrdom looming large.” As a nod to this history, Fr. Simmons has celebrated Mass at the chapel of the family who protected St. Edmund Campion, SJ, before his capture and execution.
INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR JOURNEYS IN SPAIN AND PERU
Working on a doctorate at Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid, Fr. Christopher Staab, SJ, is studying St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Diary— written by the Jesuits’ founder about his intimate experiences with God and God’s responses to his questions about the Society’s structure. “This was at a time when he was no longer traveling; his journey was interior,” says Fr. Staab. “As I write my thesis, my journey is also interior and, though it is not a spiritual diary, I hope my thesis can share the same terrain as Ignatius’s text, as one seeking to make explicit the God who communicates deeply with the human person.”
There is certainly an exterior aspect to Fr. Staab’s current journey as well. He lives in a formation house, accompanying 12 young Jesuits from Malaysia, India, Europe, and the Americas, and says, “We are learning not just to pass through Madrid on our way to another mission, but to accompany the men and women of this city, who are so deeply affected by the pandemic. We are pilgrims, like Ignatius, and it is in this place that our interior and exterior journey to God with others continues to emerge.”
On March 15, 2020, after celebrating Mass in a poor area of Lima called “El Agustino,” Fr. Kevin Flaherty, SJ, told parishioners that liturgies would be suspended due to the pandemic. Since then, the area has been hit especially hard; many families have lost loved ones and been pushed deeper into poverty. “Yet, while the people are economically poor, they are rich in spirit,” says Fr. Flaherty. “Their faith and resilience remind me why I am in Peru, and how the mission of the Church and the Jesuits is to build a more just society where all can live with the dignity of God’s children. The experience of the faith of the poor, and accompanying Jesuits in formation and men and women who dedicate their lives that others might have greater life, allow me to glimpse the Lord who lives in our midst.”
Father James M. O’Leary, SJ, also served in Peru for many years—largely in a popular education movement called Fe y Alegría (faith and joy)—until he was missioned to serve as chaplain, campus minister, and theology professor at Saint Louis University’s Madrid campus. Reflecting on these experiences, he notes, “In Peru, it’s more common to talk about your faith. In Spain, people will certainly attend a procession, but fewer are going to church. Those who do practice are very committed to social justice. No matter where I am, though, I find that when we trust God, no matter what happens, we are held and loved. It helps me to be less fearful and preoccupied—and more generous and empathetic.”
CONSOLATION AMIDST DESOLATION IN LEBANON
In addition to his daily Arabic studies, once a week Garrett Gundlach, SJ, heads to Beirut’s Karantina neighborhood— which was heavily damaged by the city’s port explosion in August—where he makes giant pots of soup for workers rebuilding. While doing so, he is “trying to find [his] feet in a new language, a new culture, and the unfolding reality of political instability, economic crisis, coronavirus, and explosion healing,” he says. “Even our community’s daily Mass is new to me, with the language and the flow of the Byzantine (Greek Melkite) or Maronite rites; what I knew primarily as a place of restful prayer has become a place to learn.” “So, my daily Examens and our house’s monthly faith sharing have become the graced places where I can prayerfully unpack all this newness, recalibrating for the next day or month,” Gundlach says. “I haven’t always done this so well, pushing myself to learn faster and do more. But the simplicity, strength, and playful joy of our neighbors always remind me of a slower, better road—a marathon, not a sprint; together, not alone; small steps, not miracle solutions.”
Ryan Birjoo, SJ, is also missioned to Beirut, studying Arabic and working with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). “Arriving shortly after the blast, I witnessed the resilience of people confronting great challenges with real solidarity,” he recalls. “Consolation amidst desolation is a recurring theme— such as when I was clearing rubble with some university students, and they expressed their desires for a better future. Their excitement was tangible, and I understood why we have the apostolic priority of working with youth. It is their energy that will help us to be more audacious in our hopes.”
“I have also found consolation in my ministry with JRS,” he adds. “Many of my colleagues are refugees, and they have taught me the importance of accompaniment in ministry, that ministry is dynamic, that those being served always teach something to those who are serving, and that the ability to give something is itself a gift from God. Finally, my life in community here has made me marvel at this vocation. Despite diverse backgrounds and interests, we have found common ground, especially in the desire to find God in all things. We live a unity that transcends language and culture.”
UNEXPECTED INVIGORATION IN CANADA
“Prior to the pandemic, the world came to Guelph, and people of other continents introduced me to different emphases of praying,” says Fr. Paul Panaretos, SJ, of the ministry at Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Ontario. Yet, even if COVID-19 has prompted physical isolation, it has not stopped the ministry nor the opportunity for profound insights.
“Electronic platforms help us stay connected with people seeking ongoing direction, and online retreats continually demonstrate St. Ignatius’s conviction that God personally communicates with individuals seeking God,” explains Fr. Panaretos. “Further, within our community, our prayer, faith sharing, and daily care for one another have deepened our union and compassion. Learning to detect God’s presence during the pandemic has been a source of spiritual aching and unexpected invigoration.”