Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Jesuit Mission

A historically important form of travel has always been missionary work. This is closely linked to the ideas of imperialism and colonization, as a number of those who first went to the New World of the Americas did so in order to convert the indigenous "heathen savages." Some of these missions were successful, but many were not. It's easy to think that we can just go somewhere foreign and help the local population, but even the Jesuits, whose ideas we like to promote here at Loyola, were sometimes unsuccessful in these endeavors.

The article, "The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education" by Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, modernizes thic concept of Jesuit missionary work. Kolvenbach emphasizes the role that Jesuit universities must play in the world community, by demonstrating a strong commitment to justice and service. Reading this article, you can see a definite shift from the way Jesuit missionaries during the Age of Exploration thought and acted to how goals should be accomplished today. Kolvenbach writes, "Faithful to the Vatican Council, the COngregation wanted our preaching and teaching not to proselytize, not to impose our religion on others, but rather propose Jesus and his message of God's Kingdom in a spirit of love to everyone" (26). In the missions in South America, or other culturally different places, it is my understanding that there was less "proposing" and more "imposing." Due to the small amount of information then known about these New World natives, missionaries assumed that by coming in and converting the population to Christianity, they were in fact saving their souls and improving their lives. Kolvenbach openly points out that the history of the Jesuits' promotion of justice has not always been smooth. He mentions, "In some ears the relatively mild expression, 'promotion of justice,' echoes revolutionary, subversive and even violent language" (27). He hopes that while the basic mission is remaining the same, the way others perceive it is becoming more favorable.

As we well know, the Jesuit universities strive to develop the "whole person," forming students into positive contributions to society. Kolvenbach points out that "tomorrow's 'whole person' cannot be whole without an educated awareness of society and culture with which to contribute socially, generously, in the real world. Tomorrow's whole person must have, in brief, a well-educated solidarity" (34). Contact with our world community is an important part of a Jesuit education no matter what you're actually majoring in. As Kolvenbach says, "Every discipline, beyond its necessary specialization, must engage with human society, human life, and the environment in appropriate ways, cultivating moral concern about how people ought to live together" (36).

When reading this article, however, in my opinion, Kolvenbach seems to come across a little strong at points, specifically when he describes the service opportunities at a typical Jesuit university. He explains, "Our universities also boast a splendid variety of in-service programs, outreach programs, insertion programs, off-campus contracts and hands-on courses. These should not be too optional or peripheral, but at the core of every Jesuit university's program of studies" (35). Not that helping others isn't important, but if these programs are forced upon students, won't many of those students end up feeling resentful and as though this service is simply an unwanted obligation, rather than an act of kindness and goodwill? In another section, Kolvenbach states, "the students need the poor in order to learn" (37). Well, yes, interaction with the real world through the many service options availlable will indeed make a student aware of what is happening out in the world and what he or she can do to help. My problem with this statement is that Kolvenbach seems to imply that the Jesuit mission relies on the existence of poor people in order to function properly.

Perhaps I'm simply reading too much cynicism into this article. Ultimately, the Jesuits are really just trying to help us travel outside our own spheres of comfort and witness how other people in the world live. When and where it is possible to help them, we have an obligation to do so, as fellow members of the human race. As Kolvenbach puts it, "How can a booming economy, the most prosperour and global ever, still leave over half of humanity in poverty?" The answer: we can't; it is our responsibility to go out there and help.

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