The first order of the day for Father General was to travel to Barangay Lumbia, a 30-minute ride from Cagayan de Oro City, to visit Xavier Eco-Village, a resettlement site for people who were displaced by a strong typhoon that struck the city years back. Xavier University donated the lot and helped manage the development of the community there. Present to meet the Jesuit General yesterday morning were not only the residents of Xavier Eco-Village but also the other beneficiaries and partners of the University’s social development programs, which included survivors of the war in Marawi City last year between the government and terrorist groups. In a short program, they were able to share with the General their plight as well as their gratitude for the assistance given to them. In his response, the General commiserated with them and talked about the need to uphold human dignity in a world growing darker and the continuing project of building human solidarity.
Next, just before noon, the General went to St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, which, for the last thirty-three years, was being run by the Jesuits in Mindanao. In those years, it has produced hundreds of secular priests for Mindanao including four bishops. Currently, however, there are only 46 seminarians under the tutelage of three Jesuit priests, six diocesan priests, and a lay formator. Father General was welcomed by the Seminary’s Rector, Fr. Norlan Julia, SJ in their Chapel, with a simple rite that led to the prayer of the noon Angelus. During lunch, Fr. Sosa was serenaded by the seminarians with their well-rehearsed Christmas carols. In his address to the seminarians, Fr. Sosa gave them the advice of Pope Francis to fellow priests or pastors: first, be close to the people, “smelling like your sheep”; second, listen to the people because “the presbyterium is not an exclusive group of experts”; and third, commit to proclaim the Gospel, which is the primary ministry of the priest.
Late in the afternoon, the General was back at Xavier University for an intimate meeting dubbed “Conversations with Fr. General: Jesuit Apostolate in Mindanao.” Present in said meeting were Jesuits from the three Jesuit universities in Mindanao and the Bukidnon mission district, and Xavier University leaders. Xavier University President Fr. Roberto Yap, SJ welcomed everyone by providing the context of Mindanao and presenting the Province Roadmap to Mindanao. Three short presentations were given: the educational apostolate in Mindanao, the state of Jesuit initiatives for inter-religious dialogues especially with Muslim communities, and the initiatives and challenges of the newly formed Jesuit ministry on indigenous peoples. For his part, Father General shared with the group updates on the “Universal Apostolic Preferences” of the Society of Jesus, as well as some urgent concerns, such as the challenge of Jesuits living the vow of poverty, the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, and the need to stop the culture of clericalism. In the open forum that followed, striking was the plea of some lay partners for hope and inspiration as the work or struggle for social development and justice was becoming wearisome for many of them.
It was this theme of hope that would be the focus of the homily of Father General in the Eucharistic celebration that followed the conversations. Aside from Jesuit and some diocesan priests, two prelates concelebrated with Father General: Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ of Cagayan de Oro and Bishop Jose Cabantan of Malaybalay. In his homily, Fr General talked about hope. He began by quoting Pope Francis who said that “our main task is to frequent or visit the future.” That, according to Fr. Sosa, was what hope meant, and in fact, he said, the Jesuits’ work in Mindanao was about becoming “universities of hope, parishes of hope, and seminaries of hope.” Hope, he continued, comes from inside, and not outside. And in fact we must protect ourselves from the outside world that tries to diminish this hope we possess inside. Secondly, the General counseled, to gain hope, we must do hope, that is, doing acts of hope for others. Finally, he said, hope means learning patience for many are opposed to the mission of Jesus, as the Gospel read in the Mass pointed out: “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence.” That’s just how it is, according to the General.
And that was how the General’s pastoral visit to Mindanao ended on an inspiring note: with a word or a sermon on hope. On Friday, he returns to Manila.