A Life at the Edge of the World
Posted by - francisx
What follows is a melange of personal experiences, but selected in such a way as to address the question of what overseas work has meant for me as a Jesuit and how this has played into a personal sense of what the international apostolate might mean in an everyman's theology today. This personal testimony is long overdue. I've had the opportunity to write for and speak to various audiences-anthropologists, social workers, government planners, etc. Why not address the Jesuit community that supported me through the forty-some years that I've worked overseas?
The Journey to the Missions
Entrance into the Society of Jesus was an adventure for all of us back in the 1950's when streams of teenagers, most graduates of Jesuit high schools, headed for novitiate every year. The sense of adventure was heightened for some, who entered with the stipulation that they would be sent to the foreign missions if they were judged suitable. After all, we were the product of a generation that had faithfully donated pennies and nickels during our early Catholic school years to rescue pagan babies from the fate that awaited the unbaptized.
But that was far from my thoughts when I entered the Society in 1956 after graduating from Canisius High School in Buffalo. I was captivated by other aspects of Jesuit life: high school teaching, like the Jesuit scholastics I admired at Canisius, and the breadth of interest in the Society that translated into just about everything that could fascinate a teenager with a dawning sense of the world. There were Jesuit astronomers, paleontologists, vulcanologists, glacier priests, zoologists, botanists-and even puppeteers and mimes, as I was to later find out. Jesuits were clearly men who embraced the world, whose interests were as boundless as the planet and beyond. It wasn't much of a stretch, years later when I was introduced to the books of Mary Doria Russell, to imagine Jesuits on a spacecraft speeding toward the planet of "the singers" in another constellation.1
As a high school student, I had read Saint Among the Hurons and been captivated by the heroism of Jean de Brebeuf, the sturdy Norman who had endured excruciating torture at the hands of the Iroquois so bravely that at his death his captors paid him the compliment of ripping out his heart and devouring it in the hope that they might ingest some of his courage.2 Perhaps even more touching was the story of Noel Chabanel, the cultured and sensitive Jesuit who found himself hopelessly out of place in New France, a man who easily read Greek and Latin but could never master any of the Native American languages, a person who found life in the wilderness repugnant but who nonetheless took a vow to remain until death in the land of the people he had always hoped to serve.3
In my second year of novitiate I was selected to do a presentation on the Caroline-Marshall Islands as part of a series that we secundi did on mission areas, but the topic aroused little real interest in me at the time. It was an assignment, and so I did it. The bibliographic tools were very basic: an oversize spiral-bound volume of maps of the islands showing the location of mission facilities, listing mission personnel, and offering a thumbnail history of the mission; and a couple of books authored by missionaries themselves.4 The Caroline and Marshall Islands contained about 100 inhabited islands in all that could be broken down into six major island groups, I found, each group with a population of a few thousand (5,000-25,000). Although the counts varied, it was generally agreed that there were at least eight different languages in the area, some with as few as a couple of hundred speakers. As far as I could determine, a mysterious food known as breadfruit, together with more familiar foodstuffs like taro and tapioca, figured prominently in the diet. Housing was generally simple and was built of local wood, scraps of imported lumber and tin, and whatever else people could gather. But the most striking characteristic of the place was that transportation nearly everywhere was by boat. The image of the single outrigger canoe repeatedly showed up on the pages of the works I consulted as if it were the symbol of the archipelago. The Trust Territory Government, managed by the US Department of Interior, maintained a small fleet of old steamers that provided ship service between islands and contracted with PanAm to keep a couple of small planes flying to provide minimal air service with the outside world. But transportation was bound to be a challenge since the ratio of water to land area was nearly 10,000:1. These were islands, after all, and very small islands at that. All this seemed challenging for those men condemned to spend the rest of their lives in such a doubly isolated place. Not only was it half a world away from the towns and cities they been raised in and called their home, but the Jesuits there seemed equally isolated from one another and even from many of those they were supposed to be serving.
The decision to apply for the missions came suddenly, one late summer day in 1962 as I was reading Beyond All Horizons: Jesuits and the Missions, a beautifully edited compendium on the subject by Thomas Burke, alongside the pool at Shrub Oak as we were preparing to begin the final year of our philosophical studies.5 The newly formed Buffalo Province, of which I was a member, inherited from its parent New York Province the mission of the Caroline-Marshall Islands. I remember the thrill of reading the chapter on the greats who had served overseas: Alessandro Valignano in Japan, Matteo Ricci in China, Robert De Nobili in India, Jose de Anchieta in Brazil, and Eusebio Kino in North America. Burke's volume went on to describe contemporary mission work in several countries, including the Philippines and the Caroline-Marshall Islands. In recounting the glories of the Jesuit missions, past and present, the book stirred my imagination in a way that I had not expected.
Yet, the little I knew of the Caroline-Marshall Islands was enough to deflate the romanticism of the "missions" and make me wonder whether I really ought to be thinking of this field at all. From what I had read, Jesuits assigned there had to be ready for the inglorious work of fixing their own outboard engines, laying foundations for churches and schools, and moving constantly from one village to the next on what appeared to be an endless round of masses. On top of this all, the missionary was expected to learn the local language-surely nothing as difficult as Mandarin or Japanese or Vietnamese, but of a different order altogether from the Indo-European languages to which we all had been exposed during our studies. Although I had not yet read Somerset Maugham, James Michener, Nordhoff and Hall, and Louis Becke (that would come later), we all had an appreciation of the mystique that the South Pacific had in the eyes of Westerners. Still, Micronesia was by definition a small place, a backwater in the sea of missions that Jesuits had staffed over the centuries; it was of a very different order from the kingdoms and the centers of power that Jesuits once assaulted. We needed a Jesuit to teach at our high school simply because this was the mission assigned to the province, and regents assigned to Xavier High School, the mission school in Chuuk, were expected to return after their ordination to add to the supply of Jesuit priests. In the afterglow of Burke's volume, impulsively and discounting whatever second thoughts I may have had, I wrote to the provincial to volunteer for the Caroline-Marshalls mission.
The Caroline and Marshall Islands, scattered throughout the western Pacific, had for centuries been little more than way stations or stepping stones for Westerners to more alluring destinationsâ€“Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the western shores of the Asian continent. Back in the sixteenth century, the golden age of Spanish exploration, the islands had first made their way onto Western maps. Some of the islands served as watering and reprovisioning stops for the caravels that sought the spices of the East Indies or the galleons that traded in the Philippines. Three centuries later the same islands became convenient stopovers for American merchants engaged in the lucrative China trade. Then toward the end of the nineteenth century the islands were annexed by Spain, only to be sold to Germany at the end of the Spanish-American War, and finally seized by Japan at the outbreak of World War I. During the Second World War, the islands had acquired an importance for the Japanese as staging areas and military bases for its push eastward and southward. Then, a few years later, these outposts were either neutralized or taken by assault during the Allied drive toward Japan headed by Admiral Nimitz. The names of some of the islands-Peleliu, Angaur, Truk (now known as Chuuk) and Saipan-were once instantly recognized by Americans and were immortalized in military history, before these names, like the islands themselves, receded back into obscurity. Through it all, the value of these islands remained that of stepping stones to somewhere else.
Jesuits have long been able to claim a spiritual paternity over the region, for it was Jesuits who first brought the faith to Micronesia in the late seventeenth century. Blessed Luis de San Vitores and five Jesuit companions, accompanied by several catechists and a small force of Filipino troops, reached Guam in 1668. Their mission to Guam and the Marianas, the archipelago extending north-south just above the Carolines, had the distinction of being the first Christian missionary venture of any sort into Oceania. Conversion of these islands was not easily accomplished, even though the troops whose responsibility was to protect the missionaries enjoyed the advantage of muskets. In the course of the guerrilla warfare that followed the establishment of this Spanish colony, a dozen Jesuits lost their lives; and three more were killed a few years later in the failed attempts to extend the mission southward into the Caroline Islands. Consequently, the Marianas mission acquired the same cachet as the much more publicized North American mission and for the same reasons. Blood shed in the name of the faith had an irresistible appeal in those days, and so Jesuits from every part of Europe-Bohemia, Italy, Austria-soon volunteered to join Spanish missionaries in the field.6
It was two centuries later, in the late nineteenth century, that Catholic missionaries finally made their way south into the Caroline and Marshall Islands. Spanish Capuchins began work in 1886, soon after Spain was awarded possession of the Carolines. When the islands became a colony of Germany shortly after the Spanish-American War, German Capuchins relieved the Spanish friars even as German-speaking Missionaries of the Sacred Heart opened their own field in the Marshall Islands. The German missionaries had barely begun their work when the islands once again changed hands, this time passing over to Japan at the onset of World War I. Since the German missionaries were regarded as emissaries of a hostile power (Germany and Japan were on opposing sides in the war), all religious were expelled between 1914 and 1919.
When Admiral Shijiro Yamamoto7 appeared at the Vatican in 1920 to request Catholic missionaries from a neutral country, Pope Benedict XV reportedly attempted to persuade four different religious orders to take on the mission, but they all pleaded lack of manpower to staff the new mission field. The pope finally turned to the Jesuits and requested that the Society, by virtue of its vow to accept special missions from the Pontiff, assume responsibility for the mission. What could Fr. Wladimir Ledochowski-or any General for that matter-say to such a request? The mission was turned over to the Spanish Assistancy and within a year 22 Jesuits set sail for the island mission that the other major religious congregations had turned down.
Building on the work done by the Capuchins before them, Spanish Jesuits founded new parishes, opened elementary schools, and inaugurated a plethora of parish organizations that continued to operate until well after the Second World War. These parish organizations, sex- and age-graded like most traditional island groups, were the lifespring of the parishes: there were the Luistas (named for Aloysius Gonzaga) and the Estanislaoistas (in honor of Stanislaus Kostka), any number of women's groups (usually given some title of Our Lady), and men's organizations (often named after St. Ignatius). Conditions in the mission were admittedly rough at times, especially in the first few years of their work. When Br. Aniceto Arizaleta was digging the foundations of a new church in the Mortlocks, he was forced to use a frying pan for lack of any other tools. He also wrote of having nothing more than a bit of pumpkin and a single egg to share with his priest-companion, Fr. Martin Espinal, for dinner one evening when breadfruit was out of season and nothing else to eat was to be found. Under the leadership of Msgr. Jaime DeRego, the vicar apostolic of the mission, the Jesuits fluttered about in their white cassocks from village to village and from island to island performing the unglamorous work that had to be done to build up the Christian communities throughout the islands. By the late 1930s, as war drew near, Japanese authorities curtailed the work of the missionaries, later confining them to their own rectories and moving them even from these as suited the Japanese military. Finally, in late 1944, as the Allies were sweeping into the islands during the final year of the war, the Japanese executed six Jesuits who had served in Yap and Palau. They were either beheaded or shot, depending on which account one credits, and buried in a mass pit that has still never been located.8
Following the war, it was Americans' turn to try their hand at the mission. Indeed, the Department of the Navy, which insisted that all new mission personnel be Americans, would have repatriated the remaining Spanish Jesuits if Cardinal Spellman, the Military Ordinary at that time, had not petitioned the US Navy to allow them to continue their work, if only to permit an easier transition. The mission was open to the entire US Assistancy for a year until, in 1947, it was turned over to the New York Province to staff, along with the Philippines and later Puerto Rico and Nigeria.
With the mission largely in ruins, the foremost task of the first generation of American Jesuits was one of rebuilding churches and schools, re-establishing the ordinary parish life that had been seriously disrupted during the war years, and expanding the Catholic school system in the mission. The early American missionaries, many of whom would acquire reputations as big builders, were equal to the task. They included Len Hacker in the Marshalls, Hugh Costigan in Pohnpei, Jake Walter in the outer islands of Yap, John Hoek and Br.John Walter in Chuuk. But these giants did not work alone. The same islanders who had nourished their piety through the long war years by gathering for daily rosary worked at the side of these men as they laid the concrete blocks in their parish buildings and as they slowly reconstituted parish life. Religious women, Mercedarians and Maryknoll Sisters, were brought in to teach at the schools. A Catholic high school, Xavier in Chuuk, was opened in 1952, and a second one, Pohnpei Agriculture and Trade School (or PATS, as it was commonly known) would begin operations in 1965. By the early 1960's the Caroline and Marshall Mission had recovered from the war, and then some. The future was bright with promise in this small part of the world.
Such was the picture of the mission in 1963 when I was assigned to Micronesia to do regency at Xavier High School in Chuuk.9 My letter to Fr. James Shanahan, Provincial of the Buffalo Province, volunteering for the missions was duly received and I was asked to undergo a thorough physical exam. But in his reply to me, the provincial noted that there was only a single slot for a regent that year and a Micronesian Jesuit was due to finish his philosophy studies in the Philippines within a few months. It was clear that I was to be the back up. When, not long afterwards, the other scholastic asked to leave the Society, I received a letter instructing me that I would be assigned to Xavier for regency after all.
The trans-Pacific flight to Guam in July 1963 was an adventure, but nothing compared with what happened when Fr. John Nash, my traveling companion, and I arrived and took up temporary residence in the Capuchin Friary to await the weekly flight to Chuuk. Two weeks in a row, the two of us presented ourselves at the airport for check in on the amphibious 16-seat plane that served the islands only to be told that the flight was full and we would have to wait another week to get out. Then one day, just as we were beginning to despair of ever getting passage to Chuuk, we were informed that a military transport plane would bring us to Palau, a thousand miles west of our destination. There we could catch a ship bringing students east to Chuuk. We reached Palau without incident and were being transported from the landing strip on Angaur to Koror, the port town some 50 miles distant, when our boat went on the reef. We waited for hours, sharing sandwiches and cookies and passing around a bottle or two of scotch, before we were rescued by another vessel. In the middle of the night we were transferred to a vintage military landing craft that had been pressed into service as an occasional passenger ship, and so we finally made our way into Koror a few hours before sunrise. Once there, we caught some sleep and prepared to board the ship that was to bring us to Chuuk, only to learn that it had been delayed for a week. Welcome to Micronesia, where nothing happens as planned!
Three weeks or so after our departure from Guam, following another long delay on Yap, John Nash and I arrived in Chuuk at last. We were treated to the wonders of the Pacific: banana trees, with the fruit growing upside down; foliage everywhere of the deepest green I had ever seen; and, of course, the heat and humidity of an endless summer. All of it was new and exciting. We met the ninety high school students, the intellectual cream of every island group in the mission. Their faces had softened from their images in the yearbook that I had seen less than a year before. They joked, they teased, there were miles of smiles. Since I had replaced my cousin, Ken Hezel, who had returned to the United States to begin his theology, they lost no time in reminding me that I was the "artificial Hezel" (he, of course, being the real item). The students were easy-going and easy to like. I could see that teaching would not be the contest for control that I had been led to believe occurred in the usual Jesuit high school classroom, so I decided to jettison the old counsel with which scholastics of that time were provided: Never smile until Christmas. How could one help but smile, in class and out, with young men this engaging? Before long, I simply did what a generation of scholastics before me had already done: I fell in love with the school and the students and the regency assignment and the mission.
This is not to say that were no challenges during regency. But many of them were the stuff of regency anywhere in the world, compounded a bit perhaps by the small (and entirely Jesuit) staff at the school. The school needed a choir and band director? Fine, I'd be willing to try my hand at these activities even though I couldn't read music and had never played an instrument of any kind (I would have been challenged playing the kazoo). They needed a basketball and baseball coach? You can count on me, even if my enthusiasm far outweighed my ability in either sport. Then followed the camera club and the ham radio class, but I was sure that I could handle the basics of the darkroom and learn Morse Code. When Fr.Jerry Cuddy, the blustery ex-military chaplain who was then teaching physics, became discouraged with his class, he handed them off to me, convinced as he was by this time that I was ready for any challenge. So I struggled through the course, a few pages ahead of the class in the sophisticated new post-Sputnik textbook we were using, imposing even greater struggles on the students who attempted to understand what we were doing in class.
Thus was instilled a willingness to try just about anything, and so also was born the conviction that anyone who wanted to work in this field could not afford the luxury of mastering a trade before beginning to practice it. "Jack of all trades and master of none" was never more applicable than in the islands, and it has served me well over the years. My only truly marketable skills, it seems to me, were in the Latin and Greek classics, but I never had the opportunity to put them to use in the islands. I see now that it would have been a terrible mistake to put life on hold until I had the chance to exercise them. Choir and band, baseball and basketball, camera club and ham radio-better a half-baked job than nothing at all. But then again, that may be the great lesson of regency, no matter where it's made. Even so, Micronesians with their finely tuned sensitivity and unfailing politeness made it so much easier, for we would have never been greeted by hooting, smirks or rolling eyes as we stumbled through our duties.
This recognition certainly allayed my initial fears that I had volunteered for and been assigned to a mission where I wouldn't fit in. Boat repairs and construction? Running a credit union or a coop? Learning an island language? Spending my days visiting the sick, offering marriage preparation, and presiding at local liturgies? If a man like me could teach physics or direct the choir, why couldn't he try his hand at these as well? Fear of failure is a powerful inhibition for all of us, sometimes a crippling one. But I was learning the limits of professionalism and of the careerism that sometimes accompanies it-not because I wanted to, but because the lesson was forced upon me during regency and reinforced in the years since.
What Peace Corps terms "re-entry shock"-the flip side of the culture shock volunteers feel when they first experience life abroad-hit me hard when I returned to the US after my three years of regency. In a strange reversal, life in the islands, which at first seemed so odd, had by this time become the norm, while life in my own country now felt unfamiliar to me. Like so many others who have returned from an overseas mission, I desperately longed for a conversational partner, someone with whom I could share my experiences in the islands-what I had found fascinating and what remained puzzling, and above all, what I had learned about myself during those three formative years. Yet, somehow whenever I cautiously tried out these topics, I would see eyes glaze over and conversation drift off to Super Bowl contenders, or national politics, or how difficult itâ€™s become to find parking in the city. Doesn't anyone care about the islands? I inwardly screamed. The loneliness was relieved only when chatting with one of the other Jesuits who had been assigned to the mission or upon one of the rare visits from persons living in the islands.
I could better appreciate why those missionaries of old used to haul around a carousel of slides that they would show to anyone who expressed half an interest in their work. They were as hungry as I was for someone with whom they could share their experiences. We who had served in Micronesia during regency clung to one another for this purpose, organizing monthly meetings for a group that we called the Micronesian Seminar. We collected books on the islands, stoked our energy for what we regarded as our inevitable return to the mission, talked about the fields of specialization that we would enter, and dreamed about how our collective efforts would elevate the islanders and their church. To a man, we were focused on our future ministry in a mission that had wormed its way into our whole being.
Theology at Woodstock College in the mid-1960s brought its own challenges. One of the greatest was catching up with the changes of Vatican II, from which I had been shielded in the islands. Each year during regency one of the four scholastics was chosen to serve as sub-deacon in the solemn high mass we celebrated for the students at Easter and Christmas. I had never even become used to mass facing the people, but now we were all adapting to the idiosyncracies of the small chapel liturgies that were offered to us daily. I still remember how awkward I felt when I was invited to sit in a chair to confess rather than kneel in front of a screen, as I had always done. On the other hand, the changes in the theology program itself were welcome for anyone earnest about studies, especially in view of the all-star faculty that Woodstock could boast of in those days. The problem for people like me, on the other hand, was the new emphasis placed on service projects just as I was trying desperately to regain a handhold on the cliffs of academia.
In Search of a Theology of Mission
Woodstock offered singular opportunities for people like myself to update our mission theology. Avery Dulles offered a seminar on missiology that opened to us new currents of thought, while Jesuit Missions sponsored an international conference on missions, held at Woodstock, that drew some of the big names from throughout the world. This offered us an opportunity to reflect on just what the theological basis for mission is. Jesus' injunction at the end of Matthew's gospel, and found in slightly altered form in the two other Synoptics, was clear: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."10 But why? Church thinking on the matter of salvation had come a long way since the days when we saved our pennies to ransom Chinese babies. Surely there were other ways in which those who had never heard of Christ could be saved. For a generation that was raised on Rahner's theology of Anonymous Christianity, the voice of God that summons from within and that can be assented to in a "yes" that need not take the form of church involvement, what does the explicit missionary activity of the church add?11 This question was debated passionately in the popular theology digests of the day. Men who had spent their whole adult lives overseas seemed to find the theological rationale of their apostolate undermined and their life's work questioned. They reacted strongly to the suggestion that post-conciliar theology rendered the foreign missionary an anachronism.
Yet, there were other explanations, more compatible with Vatican II's emphasis on the church as a sign of salvation. The establishment of the church in all parts of the world, even if it would never encompass entire populations, still stood as a sign of the universal salvific will of God. The church, faithful to the injunction of Christ and the dynamism of its own nature, would stand as a beacon to the world rather than an exclusive society of the saved.12 It was a sacrament of Christâ€™s saving work in the world, even when that work was carried out in other mysterious ways far from the pulpit and altar. The church's thrust to all parts of the world might be seen as a testimony to the concern of the Lord for all peoples, not just those with modern communications and transportation systems. Here was something that I could resonate with.
There were difficult questions urged on us by other voices, of course, as shouts of "Yankee, go home" echoed throughout the world. What about the effects of missionary movements in the past? Have missionaries been unwitting collaborators with colonial powers in that they soften up local people for Western business or military interests? Have missionaries unintentionally promoted the cultural values that are more intrinsically linked to their home countries than to the gospel itself? Given the excesses of some of the earlier mission attempts, might not we do better to let people work out their salvation on their own rather than run the risk of infecting them with cultural imperialism? Ivan Illich, the self-anointed prophet of Latin America during this era, clearly thought so. Convinced that missionaries were contaminated by their own cultural values and so were carriers of a potentially deadly virus, Illich was urging future foreign missionaries to help out by staying home.13 This is, in fact, what many of those who had been destined for the Philippines did. Confronted by the early stirrings of nationalistic resentment toward foreign missionaries, several friends of mine decided not to return to the mission, or left it not long after their return.
Once, in our last year of theology, I remember, we theologians were asked to prepare a statement on the international apostolate. As one of those asked to prepare a draft, I thought long and hard about what justification could be made for our overseas work. We in Micronesia did not have the teeming millions that Latin American or Africa could boast of, nor did we suffer from the acute poverty, widespread unemployment and the glaring injustice of those parts of the world. We were not, by any stretch of the imagination, one of the hinges on which the world swung. We had few people, with little formal education and almost no understanding of how modern society worked. Yet, these people, marginal as they were, could claim to be children of the Lord and so no less worthy of the church's attention than larger and more publicized peoples.
By the time I left theology, the claim of the marginal on the church had become a key component in my personal theology of mission. Even so, the nagging question persisted: Is working among a forgotten population at the edge of the planet the "greater good" that Ignatius had in mind when formulating the criteria for Jesuit ministries? Perhaps the staunch advocates for serving the masses, as in the poor favelas of Latin America, had a point after all. The misery there has always been far worse than in the fertile islands of the Pacific, the numbers are much greater, and there was always the bonus of possibly making a splash in the press, enticing other magnanimous souls to dedicate themselves to these places and peoples. Publicity was certainly not the end goal of Ignatian discernment, but it could be an apostolic means of enhancing the value of ministry. And it was a sure bet that Micronesia wouldn't be making headlines anytime soon.
Re-entry into the Field
After my ordination in 1969, I returned to Micronesia as expected, although more by default than as a matter of conviction. The late 1960's had been a tumultuous period in the US, with its anti-Vietnam War protests, the rise of Haight-Ashbury and the alternative life styles embraced there, the flowering of the youth revolution, the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and riots in several of the country's major cities. It was the season of communes, long-haired hippies, the Weathermen-that is to say, rebellion against the conventional in all its forms founded in the belief that all human institutions were infinitely plastic and malleable enough to be reshaped if only the will and the numbers were there. Whether one bought into this view or not, it was clear that certain elemental forces were at work challenging virtually everything that we had taken for granted, including the faith we were raised in. New frontiers were being flashed on our TV screens nightly: one of the last I witnessed in July 1969 was Neil Armstrong's first steps on the surface of the moon. There seemed to be no end to the ways in which we were called to reshape our own culture, and now we were being confronted with challenges beyond our own planet.
To pack up and leave for the remote Pacific at a time like this seemed folly, so I hedged my bets and asked superiors if I might consider a doctoral degree in anthropology or history or Pacific studies-anything that might offer an escape route from a mission field that looked as though it might be a dead end. I returned to teach for a time in the same high school in which I had done regency, but with the understanding that I would be enrolling in a graduate program after a year or two.
The return to Chuuk proved to be a harsh transition. Six years earlier, when I had first landed in Micronesia, it was easy to find wonder in everything I experienced, pleasant or unpleasant, if only because it was novel. Now the geckos that ran up the walls and made strange chirping sounds had lost their charm and were nothing better than an annoyance, one more trial added to the ubiquitous cockroaches and flies and mosquitoes and rats. The heat and humidity that I had accepted as a matter of course a few years earlier now seemed almost diabolical in the way they cloyed the mind and sapped what little energy I possessed. Even the students had lost the charm they once had for me. I was becoming immune to their smiles, cynical about their irrepressible good humor. Now I was beginning to find offputting the long pauses before they answered, with eyes lowered, and the evasiveness of their replies.
Yet, somehow, by the end of the year I had ripped up the application form for the Australian National University that I had been keeping on my desk. I'm not sure why, other than the realization that if I ever left for studies I would probably never return to the islands. I could imagine teaching in a nearby college, University of Guam perhaps or University of Hawaii, and living on the fringe of the islands but not in them. Despite the initial revulsion at my return to island life, I knew that here was where I was meant to be. All I needed now was the rationale for my decision to stay-legitimation for the personal sense of mission I was beginning to feel.
Ministry in the Islands
As I continued teaching at Xavier High School, I was given an opportunity to do social studies curriculum work, with emphasis on the islands, their history and culture, while introducing basic social science concepts in the context of the social environment of the islands themselves. This work issued in two high school textbooks that were used for a time by island schools, private and public. My curriculum work led to a personal thirst for a deeper understanding of the history of the islands. Hence, we purchased second-hand books-accounts of early French naval expeditions, memoirs of trading captains and beachcombers, seventeenth century mission documents-to add to our growing library on Micronesia. There were other opportunities to add to this storehouse: anthropological conferences, consultations with visiting Pacific historians, and one memorable summer of travel through New England whaling museums to consult and copy from whaleship logs from the mid-1800's, the height of American whaling activities in the Pacific.
It's one thing to know about culture, however, and quite another to understand it experientially. A half year of language study in a Chuukese village offered me that opportunity, even as it presented cultural conundrums every day. Never did I feel so alone, so incompetent than at the beginning of this experience. I'll never forget the first day in the village, after I was dropped off by Andrew Connolly, the pastor of the island cluster at the extreme western end of Chuuk. There was no one in the village to greet me, so I waited with a throbbing headache, wondering what I was doing here. I remember finding a place to lie down in a small hut, sleeping for a while, and waking to find a gaggle of young boys staring at me. My language learning immediately began as I walked through the village pointing to objects-trees, boats, turtles, firewood, anything at all-and asking the boys to give me the Chuukese word for the object. Language study was guaranteed to shrink a person's ego to manageable size, but other opportunities for self-deflation also abounded. There were more than enough awkward moments-trying to take a shower in a tin bathhouse in which the water spigot was barely a half foot off the ground and learning that the idea was to fill a pail with water and splash it over your body as needed; figuring out how to balance on a single tottering two-by-four that served as the wobbly walkway to an over-the-lagoon latrine; discovering that there were no secrets in a small village when people asked me how I felt the morning after I had made a hasty trip to the woods to vomit up my dinner in what I presumed was secrecy. If there were no secrets in an island village, there was no sense of privacy either. Children lined the house to watch with amusement as I did my daily exercises in the plywood house that served as my temporary home. My box of personal possessions, toothbrush and cigars included, were fair game for my hosts, I came to understand as I examined the contents upon my return after a weekend away.
After six months I acquired a rudimentary knowledge of the language-enough to get by on but not much more-along with a head full of cultural conundrums and enough stories to last a lifetime. Language learning was a lesson in humility, as it was for Noel Chabanel, I suppose. But it was also the reaffirmation of a truth that I was slowly and reluctantly coming to accept: that all of us in the mission were doomed to doing things half-well. A life of professionalism was out of the question in a place such as this. I had once been led to believe that overseas work would demand certain obvious sacrifices: theater, art galleries, televised sports, and the easy familiarity of home, with all that meant. But I gradually came to understand that it was far easier to surrender these than the satisfaction that comes from a job competently done. Years later, as I was thumbing through a copy of the Indian Assistancy publication JIVAN, I found an article by an Indian Jesuit working among tribal peoples in his own country who portrayed himself as a man who had learned several "half languages." By this time I had tried my hand at another island language, Pohnpeian, and I instantly understood just what he meant.
Barely was I back from the village when I was told that I was to be the principal of Xavier High School, replacing Fr. Jack Curran, who had been reassigned to pastoral work on the neighboring island of Pohnpei. Superiors assured me that it was to be a temporary assignment, since just a year earlier, at our mission planning meeting, I had been chosen to direct the newly conceived research-pastoral instituteâ€“a new program that was christened with an old name, Micronesian Seminar. As it turned out, however, I was to spend two years as principal and another seven as director of the high school.
Companions in Mission
By the mid-1970's the age of the "giants of the mission" was already deep in decline. William "Jake" Walter, the ex-military chaplain during World War II who had tirelessly established missions on the atolls of the central Pacific, building churches everywhere, catechizing people who had only the vaguest knowledge of Christianity, even importing thread that the women of his parishes could use on traditional looms to weave their distinctive lavalavas, had died of throat cancer. Ed McManus, who had arrived a year after the end of the war and had gone on to become the father figure of the Palau Islands, a man whose long shadow could be ascribed to his linguistic and cultural understanding of the area rather than his feats of construction, had passed away in 1969. Fr. Berganza, a saintly Spanish priest who seemed to be without a first name as far as we could tell, died in 1973 on Pohnpei, the island on which he had lived and worked for nearly half a century. Br. Bill Condon, who had supervised the construction of half the post-war church buildings on Pohnpei during his twenty years of service in the mission, had returned to the US in 1972 due to failing health. Vincent Kennally, formerly assigned to the Philippines where he, together with Bill Rively and John Nicholson, had endured Japanese internment in Santo Tomas during the war, was named the superior of the mission months following the war. After another brief stint in the Philippines, he returned to serve as bishop of the Caroline and Marshall Islands for two critical decades. Exhausted and in poor health, Kennally left the mission in 1974 and died three years later in the Philippines.
Others would remain in the mission a while longer. Bill Rively, who had spent nearly his whole adult life in the Mortlock Islands where he was practically worshiped by his people, would continue to serve in the mission for another fifteen years before retirement. John Nicholson, also a survivor of the concentration camp and another of those men who seemed to be able to build veritable cathedrals anywhere they went, would retire within a year or two of his close friend, Bill Rively. Hugh Costigan, one of the first American Jesuits assigned to the mission after the war and founder of Pohnpei Agriculture and Trade School (PATS), was still active at this time, although he would succumb to cancer in 1987. Then there was Len Hacker, the indefatigable pastor of Majuro, the center of the Marshall Islands, a firmly Protestant stronghold. When he wasn't visiting the sick, instructing altar boys, or picking up his sparse Catholic flock on an ancient bus that he was hard pressed to keep running, he was building something-a school, a convent, it didn't much matter what. On the side, he organized a boys' band that became a legend in the islands even though he never learned to read music. Outlasting all of his contemporaries, Hacker continued working in the Marshalls until 2001.
These were the founders of the post-war mission, the early arrivals, those whose task was to build (or rebuild) the church in the islands-to provide instruction and the sacraments, as well as to put up the buildings in which such activities were carried out. Those of us who followed couldn't imagine ourselves the equals of these men. The deprivations that we who arrived later experienced were modest by comparison with what they had endured. We knew them well enough to be able to describe in rich detail their quirks-most were loners (an occupational hazard for missionaries); some of them were infamous for the torrent of words that flowed from their mouths, usually about their own projects-but we couldn't imagine achieving what they had. Let me add that neither could I imagine any of them submitting to the second-guessing that I was inflicting on myself on whether to stay in the mission and why. They were old-time missionaries, these men who had won our respect.
Our latter-day companions were men like Bill Suchan, Andrew Connolly, and John Condon. Too late to be considered pioneers, these mere mortals came to the mission to contribute what they could. Although they were not all gifted linguists or great planners, they preached and taught and did all they could to meet the spiritual and other needs of their people. Not everything they touched took on a gilded glitter, let it be noted. Their initial credit unions ended when loans were not repaid and cash ran out, while Jack Fogelsanger's cement boatbuilding project, a feature of popular mission magazines of the day, fizzled as funding sources dried up and neglect of maintenance took its inevitable toll on the boats completed. It was easy for a newcomer like me to find comfort in their friendship, for they too must have wondered whether they really belonged. As Dick Hoar, another of the second generation and himself a remarkable builder, often remarked: "We have here no lasting city." As warm and receptive as island people were, none of us was prepared to believe that we truly belonged to the societies in which we ministered. The cultural values we embraced and the "half languages" we spoke marked us as different, however much we may have wanted to believe otherwise. We were men with one foot in island society but with the other planted firmly in our own culture-men straddling societies separated by more than just a huge body of water.
Redefinition of Our Mission
If building up the church was the goal of our work, the first generation of American Jesuits had done an admirable job of it. Boondocking military surplus-unused quonset huts, rebars, cement and whatever else they could find-they had constructed churches and rectories and convents and schools by the dozens under the most difficult of conditions. They opened so many new schools that by the mid-1960's nearly one out of every five children was enrolled in a Catholic school. In just twenty years, the early American Jesuits had not only restored what the war had destroyed, but had created a church network that surpassed anything before it.
But other forces were at work in the islands as in other parts of the world urging the church to take several steps beyond all this. A mission planning council, the first of its kind in Micronesia, was held in the early 1970s to determine future mission directions.14 The council, echoing concerns voiced at Vatican II, recommended increased collaboration among pastors and between pastors and laity to address major problem areas in the islands. Jesuits and their colleagues in Micronesia, as elsewhere around the globe, were beginning to ask what they could do to contribute to the full human development of the islands they served. After all, the church everywhere was beginning to recognize that community development in its various dimensions was the underpinning for genuine religious growth. Everywhere in those heady days the words of Irenaeus were plastered on walls and quoted at seminars: "The glory of God is man fully alive."15
Islanders were confronting the modern world to an extent that never had before. Thousands of additional Micronesians were now earning salaries, thanks to the increase in government jobs that resulted from the greatly increased US yearly subsidies to its Trust Territory. The new wealth translated into increased mobility for islanders, an influx into the towns, loss of traditional sanctions, and a host of social problems that ranged from suicide to youth gangs to family violence.16 On top of this were other issues that would have to be addressed in the near future: a choice of future political status (since the current UN trusteeship would not last forever and talks between island representatives and the US Government were already underway to determine the political future of the islands), not to mention the concomitant need to take the first serious steps toward economic development if the islands were ever to be self-reliant.
Conscientization was the byword of the day, and Paolo Freire became required reading.17 If we were to help people satisfy their needs, even as they grew in dignity and self-respect, we would have to step back and assist them to understand and engage their own problems. This demanded more of the church than directly providing what people needed in life; it meant a commitment to helping people peer deeply into the realities of their society so they could address their own needs. In an earlier day it might have been enough for the pastor to run the parish and school, but so much more seemed to be demanded of church leaders in this age. If the church had always provided education for school children, perhaps it was time to expand this education to the community at large and to extend it beyond the three R's to the host of issues that people faced as they engaged in the struggle with modernization.
From all this sprang a whole range of community education programs: workshops for church lay leaders, mobile teams that moved from village to village for a few days at a time to draw local people into a discussion of these problems, and production of radio dramas that could offer listeners the chance to confront the issues of the day in all their flesh-and-blood concreteness. Of course, this effort demanded a degree of collaboration that was hitherto unimaginable in this far-flung mission in which each pastor had always been truly lord of his domain. Thus, new mission-wide offices were createdâ€“for media, for the social apostolate, and for catecheticsâ€“and pastors were encouraged to join forces so as to think and plan beyond their parish boundaries.
The Micronesian Seminar (popularly known as MicSem) that I was to direct issued from the same planning council of the early 1970's. The program was initially envisioned as an instrument for providing renewal for mission personnel, especially through the two-week summer workshops that were held every other year. Some of the more forward thinking Jesuits in the mission recognized that we all had some catching up to doâ€“on theology, to be sure, as well on the issues that islanders were facing as they modernized. If we were to help our people integrate faith and life, we all needed a deeper understanding of the issues our people were confronting. So, the Micronesian Seminar was to help equip pastors and their associates to engage in grassroots community education.
Directing such a program would have been a dream assignment for a polymath, a latter-day Renaissance Man, and I fully appreciated the possibilities that the position offered. But the job description meant bouncing from one issue to another-political status this year, youth problems the next, and economic development issues the year after that. For a person who wondered whether he could master the art of small boat repair and mixing concrete, the stakes were now upped: I was asked to trip lightly from sociology to economics, to anthropology, to political science. Here we were again, trying to do everything: "Jack of all trades; master of none."
Our work began modestly-running each year a week-long conference attended by people from all parts of Micronesia, and organizing biennial workshops that would update our mission personnel in theology and some of the development issues that were surfacing. Within a few years the mission workshops were discontinued, and MicSem began speaking more directly to island people themselves. Through the 1980s the focus of MicSem broadened and its output increased. We were producing papers addressing such diverse issues as the ethical questions involved in political status, the constraints of economic development, and the overall impact of expanded college education for young Micronesians upon island society. In time, the range of topics expanded even further to include health issues, domestic violence, and drug use, among others. Meanwhile, we graduated from presentations and publications to video programs that were broadcast on the local TV channels that had became part of island life since the late 1980s. In time, we created a website (www.micsem.org) that offered Micronesians, including the thousands who by then had moved to the US, access to our publications, educational videos, historical photo albums, and even a discussion forum.
My own interest in island history and culture-along with the absence of any real social life, it should be added-led to the publication of a number of works on the islandsâ€“a few general histories of the islands, a history of the Catholic Church in the area, and a volume on social change in the islands since World War II, among others-but these were a personal diversion.18 In other ways, Micsem worked to engage island people as a conversation partner. Paolo Freire would have been proud of us. We were trying to conscientize-to deepen people's understanding of their own problems in full confidence that once they understood them they could somehow resolve them. This was the public education thrust of MicSem, a thrust that we have tried to maintain ever since.
Building a Local Church
From the outset we Jesuits have understood that the ultimate goal of our work overseas was to work ourselves out of a job. The earliest mission encyclicals stressed the importance of establishing a local churchâ€“local clergy and local support.19 In the years following Vatican II, of course, the understanding of a local church was broadened even further; it was to be a church rooted in the culture, one that took on some of the distinctive characteristics of the soil in which it grew.
The Spanish Jesuits who cared for the mission before the war were well aware of the need to provide local clergy. During the 1920's and 1930's they sent off a dozen young island men to seminaries in Manila and Tokyo. As it happened, only one of them was ordained: Paulino Cantero, a Jesuit who served in Spain during the war years and returned to Micronesia soon afterwards to work on his home island of Pohnpei for nearly forty years. Then came Felix Yaoch, who entered the Society from Palau in the mid-1950's, was ordained in Buffalo in 1967, and became a beloved figure in Palau during his 35 years of service before his death in 2002. There were others as the years went by: Br. Cypriano Moses and Fr. Apollo Thall, who have passed away, as well as those who continue their work up to the present: Br. Juan Ngiraibuuch and Fr. Wayne Tkel from Palau, and Frs. John Hagileiram and Ken Urumolug from Yap. Indeed, our present regional superior, John Hagileiram, is a Micronesian, the second local Jesuit to be named to this position.
There were also diocesan priests being ordained, beginning in 1977. Today there are about a dozen engaged in active ministry in the islands, one of whom, Amando Samo, was appointed the bishop of the Caroline Islands in 1995. With the growth of local clergy in the past two decades, Micronesian priests are able to provide for the full pastoral care of the vicariates of Palau, Yap and Chuuk. Only the vicariate of Pohnpei remains dependent on foreign priests today, and even there deacon pastors have assumed full administrative responsibility for the parishes.
Women's vocations to the religious life also flourished. The Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz, a Spanish missionary order that did pioneering work in the schools throughout the islands, have received about a hundred young Micronesian women into their congregation over the years. Still other have joined the Sisters of Marie Auxiliatrice, who entered the field in 1980, and a few have entered religious congregations on Guam and in the US.
Micronesianization, as we like to call it, has gone beyond replacing white skinned pastors and religious with those of a darker skin color. There is a sensitivity to inculturation felt everywhere in the islands today. Many local features have been incorporated into the liturgical life of the church, from the traditional Yapese dances on Good Friday that replace the Reproaches during the veneration of the cross to the communal reconciliation services on Pohnpei that make use of the offering of kava. Songs and worship styles have been altered, and so have administrative procedures. Adaptation of church practice to reflect cultural life and values has clearly begun and will undoubtedly continue.
The logic of indigenization is obvious and the goal is admirable, but the process is not always a painless one, as many of those Jesuits who served in the Philippines in the early 1970s can testify. Foreign missionaries are likely to ask whether they have overstayed their welcome? Or, even worse, not to ask that question at all. With the build up of local clergy, we enter the second stage of mission work. In the first, we have had to put aside whatever reservations we may have had about our competence and leap into whatever job needed to be done. Now we sense that we are second-raters, even in our own small pasture. Our task now is to move gracefully to the sidelines, perhaps offstage altogether as roles are reversed. "We have no lasting home here," as my friend Dick Hoar used to say.
Fr. Kolvenbach, at a meeting of provincials in the Assistancy of East Asia and Oceania, once cited a French saying: "The missionary has two gifts to offer his people: his envoi and his renvoi-his arrival and his return home." The irony is that it takes half our lives to become comfortable in our new cultural surroundings, only to find out that we are called to surrender them-or at least to move aside to the margins. This, of course, demands a double renunciation: any mission requires at least as much effort to give up as it does to assume.
The Balance Sheet
If the goal of the missionary effort is to establish a self-sustaining church, then the islands may be considered a success. Just two years ago, the Marshall Islands were entrusted to the care of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, the religious order that initiated the first mission there over a century ago. Hence, the Society's efforts have become concentrated on the Caroline Islands. With fourteen local diocesan priests now in active ministry and another four young seminarians currently in preparation for ordination-not to mention the dozens of ordained deacons-the local leadership of the church seems to be guaranteed.
The handful of Micronesian Jesuits along with the dozen American Jesuits that constitutes the remnant of the New York Province mission provide additional support for the local church. Xavier High School, the Jesuit flagship educational institution in the islands, has consistently maintained its standard of academic excellence even as it approaches its 60th anniversary. It still draws many of the most talented young men and women from throughout the islands just as it always has. PATS, the Jesuit-run vocational high school on Pohnpei, was closed in 2005; but the Society had already started a regional education program, headed by Jim Croghan, to support the private schools from one end of the diocese to the other. Even more recently, the Society created a leadership training program under the direction of Greg Muckenhaupt. Micronesian Seminar, too, remains a major focal point of the Society's effort at community education.
This success was not purchased cheaply. The Society of Jesus has tended this mission for just short of 90 years, prodigally assigning manpower to staff these islands. Fifty-six Spanish Jesuits worked here, and another 92 American Jesuits were assigned to the mission for varying lengths of time. An additional 30 Asian Jesuits spent time in the islands, most of them at Xavier High School during their regency. In all, 178 foreign Jesuits labored in the mission-and that's not even to include the 71 Capuchins and 25 Missionaries of the Sacred Heart who served the area even earlier. Together Jesuits have dedicated over 2,000 man-years of service-two millennia of work-to establishing the church in an area that numbers fewer than 180,000 people. Was it worth it? Was the Society, and the church it serves, justified in lavishing resources of this magnitude on such a backwater?
The Value of a Backwater
In the 7th Part of the Constitutions, Ignatius lays down norms for the choice of ministries that are entirely reasonable: works in which "greater fruit is likely to be reaped", for instance, or service of those "persons and places, which once benefitted, are a cause of extending the good to many others"-in other words, ministries that promise a multiplier effect.20 Throughout this section, Ignatius insists on the importance of the more universal: large nations, important cities, numerous persons. Yet, he also recommends that we "select that part of the vineyard where there is greater need… because of lack of other workers." This last norm is precisely what brought the Society of Jesus to Micronesia in 1920-that and the important fact that the pope urged this mission on the Society. It is also the reason we've continued this apostolate since then, almost contrary to the norms most commonly employed for choice of ministry. Yet, a theological case, too, can be made for Jesuit involvement in such a backwater, I believe.
For the church to be credible and to be faithful to the original summons of Christ, it must reach out to all peoples everywhere in the world. There can be no limits placed on the evangelization of the church, just as there are no limits to the love of the Lord. Most of us today can easily imagine that isolated people, those who live and die outside of the church, can be saved without explicit knowledge of the gospel. But personal salvation is not the issue here. It is a matter of what the church must do to be true to its call if it is to truly stand as a sign of Christâ€™s saving summons to the world. The church must continue to cross borders, cultural and national, if only to testify to the universal saving mission of the Lord. There can be no people so marginalized, so remote as to be forgotten or written off by the Lord, or those who carry on his mission. Even backwaters have a claim on the Good News.
The word that we must speak with our lives is a word of love-something that is to be proclaimed in more than narrowly religious terms, in deed as well as in word. Our hope is that somehow this is communicated to the people we serve, even those who will never attend a church liturgy, through the service we offer. The obligation of Jesuits to embody this message of love in works of service is a theme as old as the Society itself. From the earliest days of the Society, Ignatius and his men busied themselves founding houses for fallen women, caring for orphans and tending to plague victims, among other things. Likewise today, schools, social involvement, healing of different sorts can speak of the love of the Christ who healed bodies as well as souls. So can economic development workshops and educational TV programs in a society that badly needs an understanding of its place in the modern world. The form of the service may change from place to place or from one age to another, but the underlying message is timeless.
Our hope is that what we do at the edge of the world is seen as a pale reflection of the love of Christ for allâ€“not just those who happen to be conveniently located in this world of ours. Our mission overseas can also serve as a reminder to fellow Jesuits in the US, as well as to others who share our faith, that borders are meant to be crossed if the gospel is to be proclaimed in its fullness. The church has been doing this since the days of Paul. Jesuits, too, have a long and proud history of crossing national boundaries and cultural barriers in proclaiming the gospel.21 Indeed, it has been the Societyâ€™s badge of distinction to minister to the left-overs of the world.
Other Forms of Border Crossing
Such a rationale, of course, can be used to explain our presence in so many other areas of ministry todayâ€“from soup kitchens to work on behalf of political refugees and illegal immigrants. Not long ago, Fr. Ken Gavin, the Director of Jesuit Refugee Service, and I enjoyed a dinner conversation in which we discussed our common concerns and hopes for the Society today. For anyone eavesdropping on the conversation, it would have been difficult to tell which of us was involved in refugee work and which was the foreign missionary.
Today as never before, the outside world has been coming to us in the person of immigrants, political refugees, the needy of our nation. There is no need to travel very far to find those who speak other languages or practice different cultural ways. We who have spent our lives abroad have every reason to be proud of the creative Jesuit response to the marginalized in this country. Nativity-type middle schools and Cristo Rey high schools have, in effect, been eloquent testimony to our readiness to cross such boundaries even within our own country. Moreover, these schools have offered models of education, just as the early Jesuit schools in Europe once did, for others to utilize and even improve.
Even so, the Society is still sending personnel abroad, although for limited periods of time and in response to particular needs in certain parts of the world. If traditional Jesuit missionary activity around the globe has declined, short-term carefully targeted missions abound today. The clearest example of this may be the work that Jesuit Refugee Services has been engaged in for over thirty years on behalf of the millions who have been dislocated, often forcibly, from their own homelands. In the US alone, JRS has played a major role in the relocation of three million refugees over the past quarter century. As crises arise in different parts of the world, JRS targets the areas that need assistance and, together with other relief agencies, dispatch men and supplies to the people in need. Hundreds of Jesuits throughout the world have served for at least a year or two with JRS to testify to the Churchâ€™s concern for the forgotten of the world.
We who are assigned to the overseas apostolate may be declining in numbers, but we have countless kindred spirits working today among those living at the fringes of society, both in this country and abroad. We join forces in proclaiming, each in his own way, that it is not power, fame and wealth that bestow the blessings of the Kingdom; but it is the lowly whom the Lord will search out and offer his love. For me, these "lowly" have been the people of the Caroline-Marshalls; for others they are the prisoners on Rykerâ€™s Island or the street kids in the South Bronx.
The Passing of the Foreign Missions
The foreign missionary, long the pride of the province, is close to becoming an anachronism these days. A few years ago, on a furlough to the province, I was invited to look through piles of photos and documents on the Micronesian mission and to take what I needed, since the venerable Jesuit Seminary and Mission Bureau was closing down. We were losing our home in New York, the place in which all overseas missionaries felt most comfortable, just a few years after the annual Jesuit Mission Dinner was discontinued. It was like returning to our birthplace to find that the house in which we were raised, the family homestead, had been torn down. The staff that had once sent out our Christmas letters, posted our supplies, and welcomed us on our return to New York was busy with other duties now. This gave rise to a nagging feeling in us old mission hands that we had become marginalized, just like the people we served.
In the past, the Jesuits who worked among the "savages" in New France, or among the Chamorros in the Mariana Islands, or among the Guarani in South America might have been the models of men ready to go to the extreme in their service of the Lord. Ignatius, after all, repeatedly uses the expression "even to the Indies" in describing how vast the range of our ministries should be. Today there are men serving in places like East LA or downtown Newark, places that are at least as challenging and probably more culturally diverse than many of the overseas apostolates we staff.
It is understandable, then, that overseas work has lost much of its exoticism today. We can't expect Jesuit houses to roll out the carpet for us missionaries, nor do we expect the New York Province to restore the home away from home that we once found in the Mission Bureau offices on 83rd Street. The overseas apostolates can be folded into something broader, something that represents the wider spectrum of missions that Jesuits undertake today. In the past, the term "missionaries" was reserved for those who went overseas to work in foreign fields, presumably for the duration of their lives. Today, we have reclaimed the word "mission" for all Jesuits who are sent out to carry out an apostolate, no matter whether it is abroad or at home. Hence, we are all, in a genuine sense, missionaries today.
Still, there may remain a touch of the extreme in missions to the overseas apostolate. It may be that we haven't completely shaken off the exhilaration of that phrase "even to the Indies"â€“the sense that short of stowing away on a moon shot, we couldnâ€™t do anything more extreme than going on mission overseas. Indeed, an assignment to an overseas apostolate may remain the clearest and most radical expression of what it means to be a Jesuit on mission: one prepared to travel to the ends of the earth and remain there as long as needed. In their ignorance of what they will face, Jesuits have not always packed very well for their overseas assignments, nor have they always brought the skills that would have proved most useful, but they are forced to trust that they can pick up along the way what they will need. Disponability and confidence in the face of risks are features required in any Jesuit dispatched on a mission, even those sent to the parish or school down the street, but their importance is heightened for Jesuits sent to a place in the other hemisphere.
Think Big Even When Living Small
The symbols of the idealism that once moved people of my generationâ€“the quests of knights setting forth on heroic missions, the worlds to be won for Christâ€“may have faded, the victim of an increasingly complex world and a more sophisticated understanding of the limitations of what a single person can do. Certainly what prompted me to sign up for the missions by the pool side at Shrub Oak in 1962 is no longer the compelling motive it once was. If doing great deeds for the Lord was refined into something truer and more spiritual in the life of Ignatius, why shouldn't the same happen to his followers? Our hearts soften as we pray and age, and our thoughts linger less on what we can accomplish than on the fond hopes we have for the people we serve.
The mythology we draw upon to support what we do may change, but let's hope the grand idealism remains. It probably does, if the vocation promotion literature that is passed on to us by the province is any indication: "Do you want to make a difference?" it asks prospective candidates for the Society. Many years ago when I was in Rome attending the workshop that all new provincials and regional superiors are required to attend, I felt a thrill whenever I passed the statue of Ignatius in the Jesuit Curia with the challenging words inscribed on its base: "Ite incendite inflammate omnia." The old symbolism may have changed, but the challenge to attempt the impossible remains.
A half century ago, a Jesuit scholastic in our year scribbled in Greek on our classroom chalkboard the famous quote from Archimedes: "Give me somewhere to stand and I will move the earth." That scholastic may have been just trying out his Greek, but he was also expressing something more, something that resonated with most of us at the time. Move the earth… set fire to the world… but it has to begin somewhereâ€“we need a perch, a place to plant our feet.
Despite my early doubts, Micronesia has proved to me to be as good a place to stand as anywhere else. I think I can say with confidence that my Jesuit companions in the mission field, past and present, have shared my feelings. Whatever else Micronesia has done for usâ€“such as educate us as to how people of another culture view the world, and temper the convictions that owe as much to our ethnicity as to timeless principleâ€“it has also given us a pulpit from which to speak of the importance of caring for the forgotten people of the world. The edge of the world may not be a bad perch after all from which to try to move the globe.
1 Russell's novel The Sparrow and her sequel Children of God.
2 Francis X. Talbot, S.J., Saint Among the Hurons (New York; Mass Market Paperbacks, 1956).
3 Story of Noel Chabanel (English literature textbook)
4 Thomas J. Feeney, S.J., A Prospectus of the Physical Status of the Caroline and Marshall Islands (New York: Society of Jesus, 1955). Feeney, who in 1952 was appointed the first American vicar apostolic of the Caroline and Marshall Islands, issued this short publication to encourage burses and legacies that would benefit the mission. Feeney, who spent five years in the Marshall Islands before being name bishop, also authored Letters from Likiep (New York: Pandick, 1952), a compilation of essays on life in the Marshall Islands. Bill Rively, who served the remote atolls in Chuuk, describes being lost at sea in an outrigger canoe for four days after he and his companions barely survived a typhoon. When finally rescued, he determined to find the money to purchase a second-hand brigantine which he renamed "Star of the Sea." William E. Rively, S.J., The Story of the Romance (New York: Rhinehart & Co, 1953).
5 Thomas J. Burke, S.J. Beyond All Horizons: Jesuits and the Missions (New York: Hanover House, 1957).
6 Mention of the hostilities between the Spanish and local islanders is bound to trigger memories of colonization in New Spain and evoke comparisons with the pillage, cultural depredation and depopulation that occurred there. There were similarities, to be sure, but it was cultural misunderstandings, personal offenses and perhaps quarrels over women, not the desire for gold or spices, that incited conflict in the Marianas. Jesuits were not entirely blameless throughout the twenty years of guerrilla warfare, but they played a much less invidious role than was attributed to them by some early authors. It should also be noted that the rapid depopulation of the island groupâ€“a decline of 40,000 to 4,000 in forty years timeâ€“can be blamed largely on the diseases that the foreigners brought rather than the carnage wrought in war. For a history of this period and assessment of the causes of hostilities and their cultural cost see Francis X. Hezel, "From Conversion to Conquest: The Early Spanish Mission in the Marianas," Journal of Pacific History, 17 (1982), 3-4; 115-37; and Francis X. Hezel, "From Conquest to Colonization: Spain in the Marianas 1690-1740," Journal of Pacific History 23 (1988), 137-55. A fuller version of this second article was published as a monograph in the Micronesian Archaeological Survey Report Series: Francis X. Hezel, From Conquest to Colonization (Saipan, Division of Historic Preservation, 1989).
7 Shijiro Yamamoto, not to be confused with Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto of World War II fame, came from a longstanding Catholic family and was a legate to the Vatican in 1920.
8 Fr. Luis Blanco Suarez, Fr. Bernardo de la Espriella, and Br. Francisco Hernandez, were ordered out of Yap and relocated by the Japanese military on Palau early in the war. There they joined Fr. Marino de la Hoz, Fr. Elias Fernandez, and Br. Emilio del Villar in a remote area where they were placed under house arrest. In September 1944, at the time of the US invasion of the southern islands of Palau, the six Jesuits were executed along with the family of a Guamanian weatherman who had been working on Yap.
9 Xavier High School was originally opened as a minor seminary in 1952. A year later, when it was clear that the seminary project was overly ambitious, Xavier was converted into a boys boarding school that immediately attracted the brightest young men from the entire mission. It still does, even though an opportunity for a good high school education is far more common today. The entire school then was housed in a poured concrete building constructed by the Japanese as a naval communications center on mission land the Japanese military had confiscated at the beginning of the war. With three-feet thick cement walls and steel-shuttered windows, the building was designed more with an eye to protection against bombs and shells than for comfort, as we quickly discovered.
10 Mt 28.19. The command appears in slightly different form in Mk 16.15 and in Lk 24.47.
11 Karl Rahner first presented his position in the article "Anonymous Christians". Theological Investigations 6 (1969): 394-? Baltimore: Helicon Press). Rahnerâ€™s position was soon incorporated into missiological works of the day such as Eugene Hillman, The Church as Mission (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965) and Heinz Robert Schlette, Toward a Theology of Religions (New York: Herder and Herder, 1966).
12 Lumen Gentium 5 & 9.
13 Nowhere was this message made more clearlyâ€“and stridentlyâ€“than in Illichâ€™s address to the Conference on InterAmerican Student Projects (CIASP) in Cuernavaca, Mexico, on April 20, 1968. Illich began his speech: "For the past six years I have become known for my increasing opposition to the presence of any and all North American "dogooders" in Latin America. I am sure you know of my present efforts to obtain the voluntary withdrawal of all North American volunteer armies from Latin America – missionaries, Peace Corps members and groups like yours, a "division" organized for the benevolent invasion of Mexico."
14 The Vicariate Pastoral Planning Council was summoned by Bishop Kennally in 1971 and finished its work the following year.
15 St. Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 4.20.7.
16 See, for instance, Mac Marshall, Weekend Warriors: Alcohol in a Micronesian Culture (Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield, 1979); Francis X. Hezel, "Suicide and the Micronesian Family," Contemporary Pacific 1:1 (1989), 43-74; Michael Kenney, Youth in Micronesia in the 1970's: The Impact of Changing Family, Employment and Justice Systems (Saipan: Trust Territory Government, 1976).
17 Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Herder and Herder 1970).
18 For those who may be interested, the titles of these books, along with a brief description of each, may be found on our website: www.micsem.org
19 Benedict XV mentions this in Maximum Illud (1919), and the point is reasserted by Pius XII his two mission encyclicals, Evangelii Praecones and Fidei Donum.
20 Constitutions SJ, VII, 622.
21 Numbered among these Jesuit border-crossers are two men, Eusebio Kino and Jacques Marquette, who have been acclaimed for the contributions they have made to our own country and whose images are to be found in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington.
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