Jesuit Companions in Indigenous Ministry: Around a fire that enkindles our hearts

Jesuit Companions in Indigenous Ministry: Around a fire that enkindles our hearts

Aerial view of the Mekong River as it winds its way through Ho Chi Minh City. Photo credits: Pedro Walpole

Jojo Fung, SJ

From Australia, East Timor, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, the Jesuit Companions in Indigenous Ministry (JCIM) gathered at Thu Duc, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from 20 to 24 September to reflect on our communal experience of accompaniment and formation of the indigenous communities in the light of GC 34, D. 4 Our Mission and Culture.

The document affirmed our engagement of indigenous cultures, enriching our understanding of the local knowledge and wisdom in a manner that brings about more context-specific and sensitive responses.  These responses range from proclamation of the Good News with the resultant baptism, pastoral-sacramental ministry, and more prophetic and social-action oriented services like community-based education, appropriate healthcare, income generation, concerted struggle for the rights to ancestral domains and sustainable livelihoods.

The meeting began with a sharing on the ministry of accompaniment and formation, giving us a corporate sense of our indigenous ministry in the Conference of Asia Pacific.  We have much to learn from the indigenous traditions and wisdom especially their cosmology on sustainability that speaks of a web of sacred relationships with the ancestors, spirit world, the land, and all of creation.

There was a short presentation on the Ignatian Pedagogy,[i] the common values of the indigenous peoples as highlighted by John Paul II and Asian theologians (Felix Wilfred and J. Gnanapiragasam),[ii] and the Rio+20 Declaration of the International Conference of Indigenous Peoples on Self-Determination and Sustainable Development and the Kari-Oca II Declaration of 2012, with the accompanying theological presuppositions and the call for Ignatian gratitude for God’s presence and actions in everyone and everything.[iii]

Graeme Mundine, Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in the Sydney Archdiocese in Australia, advocates Aboriginal rights within the Churches and broader community. Photo credits: Pedro Walpole

The plenary session enabled us to realize the importance of discernment in our community engagement so that we recognize what is good and noble in indigenous traditions (including the elders, spiritual leaders, reverential relationship with the land, spirit-world, ritual celebration of planting and mourning).  Instead of a tabula rasa approach, our Ignatian tradition proposes that we recognizes God’s antecedent presence and that God’s Spirit is already active in the community so that our accompaniment entails discovering and revealing God’s omnipresence and collaborating with God’s actions amidst the indigenous communities.  This incarnational approach calls for a prophetic engagement that involves personal sacrifices in which we take the risk in standing up against divisive and unacceptable practices in indigenous communities influenced by local politics of greed and selfishness.

To plan ahead for the 2014 meeting, the group felt that it is important to hold a meeting where we can learn how the local church engages with and responds to the challenges and issues of indigenous communities in the process of accompaniment and formation.  On the other hand, our presence needs to lend moral encouragement to efforts of a local church, Jesuits and indigenous communities.

Some of us articulated the aspiration of gathering approximately 25 to 30 indigenous Jesuits (scholastics and priests which may be the first of its kind in any Jesuit Conference) in the near future.  The aim is to reflect on the contribution of indigenous cultures to Jesuit religious life in Asia Pacific.

For the many graces of this gathering, we are grateful to God’s omnipresence and actions in all indigenous peoples as we strive for greater sustainability of indigenous cultures and traditions that webs humankind to the life-giving creation of God.

Jojo Fung, SJ is the Coordinator of Jesuit Companions in Indigenous Ministry (JCIM) of the Jesuit Conference Asia Pacific.

[i] In his 2010 Address at Mexico City entitled “Depth, University and Learned Ministry: Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today,” Father General highlighted an Ignatian Pedagogy “that involves a profound engagement with the real, a refusal to let go until one goes beneath the surface.  It is a careful analysis (dismembering) for the sake of integration (remembering) around what is deepest: God, Christ, the Gospel.  The starting point, then, will always be what is real: what is materially, concretely thought to be there; the world as we encounter it; the world of the senses so vividly described in the Gospels themselves; a world of suffering and need, a broken world with many broken people in need of healing. We start there.”

[ii] The common values highlighted are belief in God, their awareness of God’s presence, their ability to discover God in creation, their dependence upon God, their desire to worship God, their sense of gratitude for the land, their responsible stewardship of the earth, their reverence for all God’s great works, their respect for the elders, a sense of the sacred (space, life, ancestry and the land), a commitment to the pursuit of fullness, a thirst for self-realization, a taste for prayer and commitment, a desire for self-renunciation, a struggle for justice, an urge to basic human goodness, an involvement in service, a total surrender of the self to God, an attachment to the transcendent in their symbols, rituals and life itself, reverence for Creator, harmony with creation, sustainable livelihood.

[iii] The Indigenous Peoples International Declaration on Self-Determination and Sustainable Development during Rio+20 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil last 19 June 2012 emphasized the importance of the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for Sustainable Development and culture as the fourth pillar for development.  This includes the right to land, territories, and natural resources, the promotion and respect for traditional knowledge, the full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples for sustainable development that involves self-determination or Buen Vivir (Living Well) promoted by Indigenous Peoples, food sovereignty and right to food, and the role of women and indigenous youth.


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