Father Arturo Sosa, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, was in Hong Kong during his visit to the Chinese Province of the Jesuits in the third week of July. He was leading a gathering of the major superiors of the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific at Xavier House, Cheung Chau.
Seventy-one year old Father Sosa hails from Venezuela and was elected as the the 31st Superior General of the Society on 14 October 2016. Together with the General Council, he coordinates the missionary activities of the Society of Jesus. The 479-years old order has over 16,700 members under six Jesuit Conferences around the world. During his several days in Hong Kong, amidst the growing tensions on the city streets where thousands marched in protest, Father General met with students, teachers and alumni from the two Jesuit-run school and offered prayers for Hong Kong’s political situation.
On July 23, Sunday Examiner and Kung Kao Po caught up with him and Father Pierre Bélanger, the journalist of the General Curia, at Xavier House in Cheung Chau. Father General shared about his views on the vision of Jesuit education, Church in China in the changing circumstances, and the role of young people in the life of the Church. The following is excerpts from the interview.
On the vision of Jesuit education:
The challenge before us is to form men and women for the future. While being in the present, how do you form a person for the future, for a time of 20 or 30 years from now? Our challenge as educators is to form the young people to live in an uncertain world and to be ready to respond positively in any circumstances they would find themselves in. Education needs to be personal education and not mass education, by taking into account each person because each person is different and important.
Therefore, education is to teach a person to take responsibility of his own life, because the responsibility of the formative process of a person lies with the person himself. You can only offer an opportunity to form a person; young people should take advantage of the opportunities offered to them during the 20 to 25 long years of their formation.
Another dimension is to develop the sensitivity to the human context. A person does not live in his house alone. He has to develop the sensitivity to participate consciously in the struggles for social justice and human rights and in the dignity of the human being.
Another important concern for Jesuit education is to introduce to children the importance of the care for our common home: learning a lifestyle that can be part of the solution. It is a challenge for the schools to create the appropriate environment to introduce the desired lifestyle. They should realise that the future of the next generation depends on how we change our style of life.
Another dimension is to encourage young people to open the eyes, minds and hearts to the transcendent, to faith. Our schools must be a space where we give the opportunity and show them the way to faith and love that we have experinced ourselves so that they may freely choose the direction in their life. Jesuit Schools are committed to nurturing students to be competent and professional, but this is not the only or most important part of education.
On response to the spiritual care of young people:
The first thing for a Jesuit to do is to get close to young people to have a good idea of what they need in different dimensions of their lives. Our challenge as educators is to accompany them and learn from them and identify their spiritual and other needs. Being part of their world, we can share our faith with them. Our spiritual life is not just our relationship with God alone, but also our relationship with the humanity.
On Jesuit presence in higher education in Hong Kong:
Father Pierre Bélanger clarified that the plans for a university in Hong Kong was abandoned before the election of Father Sosa as the Superior General. But the Jesuits continue to reachout to the university students through the Ricci Centre.
For the Jesuits, the area of higher education is a space where you can contribute to dialogue with different sciences and different cultures. The Superior General says: “We, Jesuits, are present there because we have something to offer to promote the dialogue. Our evaluation of education is not how a person obtains a degree, it is based instead on what a man or woman does with his life. The network of Jesuit schools is preparing a document about the challenges of Jesuit education. Now we are working on how the Apostolic Preferences of the Society challenge the mission of education.”
On youth participation in the Hong Kong protests:
Father Sosa again: “I have witnessed the demonstations on the streets in Central on July 21 and also watched the photos and videos of what is happening in Hong Kong. I have a different view of these protests. Young people are on the streets as this is a way of manifesting their hope.
There are many reasons for the young people to be frustrated about what we adults are offering them. They may be frustrated about how the political and ecological systems are managed by the adults. Their protest is a way of expressing hope that they can do better. The protesters urge us to look to the future. I am happy that so many students from our (Jesuit) schools are participating in these demonstrations. It is important for the young people to be active in their context.”
Secularisation is sign of the time:
My message the intervention during the Synod of Bishops on youth and vocation was that “secular society is a sign of the time.” Secular soceity is a result of the complex process of secularisation and also overcoming the extremes of fundamentalism. The main characteristics of a secular society is liberty. It liberates you from being obligated to stereotypes of ideologies and belief systems.
A secular society allows you to choose your way of life according to your convictions. Thus, it guarentees religious freedom. Therefore, secularisation provides you with opportunities to preach the Gospel freely and it has to be received freely. Faith and religion cannot be enforced as it happens in the extreme fundamentalist societies.
Father Pierre Bélanger further clarified that those who are afraid of secular society are those who are afraid to lose their people, to lose money and their status or positions.
On Jesuits and the Church
The Jesuit missionaries pioneered the missionary works in China with an approach of dialogue and inculturation. The Church leadership in those days misunderstood and rejected it. Down the centuries, Pope Francis wants to engage in dialogue but critics say no dialogue is possible with a system that is evil. From this back ground, Father Sosa opened his statement saying, “I am not an expert in the China situation!”
When we say black or white, no one is only black or only white! We have no doubt that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church and Pope Francis is leading the Church through discernment.
The temporary agreement between the Chinese government and the Vatican is the fruit of a very long process of discussions, which involved many popes. No pope has ever said that dialogue was not possible with China. It is an opportunity for the unification of the Church in China.
Pope Francis was aware of the limitations and risks. At present, all the bishops in China are in communion with the pope, but it takes time to promote unity. The Jesuits hope to assist in the development of the Chinese Church and help the Chinese Church to promote unity in different ways.
According to the charism of Society of Jesus, following the orientation provided by the pope, the Jesuits want to help the Church in China to be more united. SE