Talk delivered by Fr. Jerry Martinson, SJ on the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the California Province of the Society of Jesus
I want to thank you for inviting me to back to my native province on the occasion of the
As you may know, I belong to that protected species formerly referred to as “foreign missionary;” and I’ve been living in
On the other hand, I think Jesuits now are more conscious than ever of our common ‘global mission.’ In fact, the term “global missionary” should apply to all of us now. The boundaries between ‘foreign’ and ‘domestic’ missionaries are no longer clearly defined in today’s world. So as partners in our global mission, I hope that my experiences and reflections will stimulate some useful thought and discussion.
I would like to group these experiences and reflections under the general theme or symbol of bridge and bridge-building. There are all kinds of bridges. Huge bridges like the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay Bridges, graceful stone bridges over rivers and canals in China; and the practical wooden and bamboo bridges that connect people and communities throughout the developing world. Bridges are meant to be practical and functional, but can be creative and beautiful as well.
Jesuits have a long history of spiritual and cultural bridge-building, much of it very creative and ground-breaking. Take
Let me start by sharing with you an historical example of outstanding bridge building from a recent documentary co-produced by our Kuangchi Program Service in
Adam Schall was assigned to
Some of you may have seen Bertolucci’s film “The Last Emperor,” about Puyi. In our documentary, you see Puyi’s ancestor, the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty—the 6 year old Shunzhi Emperor.
Schall was allowed inside the
Schall became friends with the young emperor as well as his teacher and mentor. Shunzhi called Schall “Mafa” or “Grandpa,” and on more than one occasion, Schall was able to help the emperor and even change the course of historical events in
For instance, when Dorgon conspired to consolidate his power over the Empire by moving the young emperor and his mother to another residence outside the
From that time on, the Empress Mother and her son both regarded Schall as a holy man and someone who understood not just the stars, but human affairs as well. Schall became an intimate member of the Imperial Family.
When Shunzhi was older, he once took up with a concubine and abandoned the palace and his imperial responsibilities. The Empress Mother went to Schall and begged him to talk to her son. Schall convinced Shunzhi to return to the palace and resume his responsibilities. Never in Chinese history has a foreigner had this kind of influence over a Chinese emperor. It was simply unheard of.
Schall had become a master bridge builder, proving that it was possible to bridge geographic, linguistic, cultural, religious, and social barriers in
Finally, when the young emperor contracted small pox and was on his deathbed, he asked Schall’s advice on whom he should name as his successor. Generally, this would be the eldest son, but Schall suggested another son who had already survived smallpox. Knowing that he would be immune to the plague, he would be more likely to live a long life. Shunzhi followed his advice and picked the one who became the Kangxi Emperor—the longest reigning and most highly respected emperor in Chinese history. It was Kangxi who eventually issued the edict permitting legal status to the Catholic Church in
Schall never converted any of the emperors to Catholicism, but by his creative bridge building, he helped establish the Church in
The first Jesuits in
Once, I heard a Jesuit in the
Well, maybe God asks a couple more things: like cooperation; mutual tolerance and support; and encouragement to develop and use the talents we have.
Let’s take another, closer look at these heroic figures we have been talking about. While they are praised today as brilliant examples of inculturation, giants and saints—and this is true—they were also fallible and imperfect human beings. They could also be troublemakers. For instance, they were quite often the ones that caused the biggest headaches for superiors and church officials. To be frank, they were sometimes looked upon as the ‘bad guys,’ the ones that moved too fast, demanded too much, and stretched the rules and traditions to the breaking point.
Matteo Ricci, for instance, constantly pestered his European superiors to send more precious gifts, more books, more scientific instruments, and more brilliant Jesuits to
Adam Schall was forced by Chinese emperors to manufacture cannons, to adopt a son, and to live the life of a powerful Mandarin in the
Bro. Giuseppe Castiglione is famous for introducing color and perspective into Chinese painting, and yet for years his apostolic mission meant painting not only animals, such as birds and horses, but also the wives and concubines of the emperors. Not quite what you would expect from a pious Jesuit brother; and as you can imagine, he was not totally free from suspicion. Yet he, too, used his personal relationship with the Emperors to protect the life of the Church in critical times.
These Jesuits faced criticism, misunderstanding and sometimes condemnation from their colleagues in the Church and sometimes even in the Society. And yet they are now among the tiny handful of Catholic figures widely known throughout
These men were truly creative bridge-builders. They developed the necessary skills; they took the necessary risks; they pushed the limits; and they remained faithful to their mission. They are, I believe, models of what Fr. Kolvenbach called creative fidelity.
1. Bridging Time
While we were working on our productions of Adam Schall, Paul Xu and Matteo Ricci, we relied very much on George Dunne’s book Generation of Giants. It seemed to be the best and most dependable source we could find. And I could often sense George looking over our shoulders, encouraging us and helping us write the script. And of course, Kuangchi Program Service’s infrastructure, reputation, and experience—started 50 years ago by Phil Bourret—was indispensable in seeing our productions to completion.
So my first point this afternoon is that the Jesuit mission bridges time. It does not begin or end with any one of us. Jesuits stand on each others shoulders in mission. We build on what others have started. Each one’s ‘fire’ lights other ‘fires;’ and is passed on from generation to generation. That is why we don’t need to be too worried about our individual limitations and 'hobbit-sized' talents. Nor do we have any reason to be jealous of others who seem to be more gifted; because each one of us has a unique and indispensable role in the whole Jesuit drama. As we remember the Jesuit heroes of the past, it is helpful to recall that each one was part giant, part hobbit. Each one had his special charisma or talent, as well as his faults, weaknesses, and shortcomings. Each one’s contribution is important and unique. Over time, all these blend together and make up the complete mosaic, the whole tapestry, of the Jesuit mission.
Take George Dunne and Phil Bourret, for example. Without either of these men, TV viewers in
It might be helpful to examine ourselves on this point now and then. Sometimes the faults and shortcomings of our dear brothers may be so annoying to us that we are blinded by the role they are playing, or could play, in our on-going mission. Sometimes we may hinder, or even tear down their bridges because they look strange to us; they are not our style.
Superiors need to exercise shrewd discernment in giving freedom and encouragement to bold and creative initiatives and in exploring new vistas. They also need to know how to restrain the unprepared or ill equipped bridge builders from embarking on projects that are not needed, not safe, or not sustainable. Sometimes a Jesuit may think he is building a bridge to heaven when he is actually building a bridge to nowhere; or worse, he may unknowingly be building a wall that actually divides the human community rather than a bridge that connects it. As we know, Superiors do not have an easy job.
2. Bridging Space
Our documentary about Adam Schall, as well as many other projects that I could mention, was accomplished with the help of the Jesuit Provinces of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, China, and of course California. Without the combined support of Jesuits in different parts of the world, we could not have done it. I am convinced that an essential aspect of our mission is that Jesuits bridge space.
From the day I arrived in
Solidarity and interaction across the globe strengthens and activates our apostolic community. Through community, we reinforce and complete each other and our work.
This opens up new possibilities for Jesuits to bridge space and pursue our mission on a global scale.
3. Bridging Religions
Now let’s turn to a different kind of bridge building—creating bridges that extend beyond the borders of the Society of Jesus into very different communities, cultures, and religions.
The Buddhist monk, Master Shengyan, was a Zen Master and one of
Some years ago, Kuangchi had a weekly religious program called “Catholics around the World,” financed by the local church. I remember getting into a taxi one day in
Master Xin Dao became a close friend of many Jesuits. Although Buddhist monks don’t normally touch others, whenever he meets me he always embraces me; because in his mind, Catholics follow Roman customs and are always hugging and kissing like Italians. On the other hand, whenever I meet him or his disciples, I take care to bow and use the Buddhist greeting “Amitofo,” invoking a blessing of the Goddess of Mercy. Then, my Buddhist friends usually respond with a hastily improvised Sign of the Cross and a “Tianzhu baoyou”—or “God bless you.” It is one way of building small bridges.
If I ever had any doubts about the importance of interreligous dialogue and cooperation, they totally evaporated at that moment. The Holy Spirit is so obviously working through her projects and organizations to help the needy. Whatever we Catholics might have done to inspire her to take this direction in her life is something we can only be grateful for.
I believe that this kind of bridge-building is what our conflicted world desperately needs today; and GC35 reconfirms that interreligious dialogue, including dialogue with non-believers, should be one of the hallmarks of the Jesuit global mission.
Someone brought to my attention the other day that intra-religious dialogue is badly needed in the
4. Bridging Cultures
My Chinese friends sometimes accuse me of what they call “san ju buli benhang” or “unable to depart from my field of interest for even 3 sentences.” Well, let me try to drag myself away from communications and media for a few minutes and mention some examples of how Jesuit education can bridge cultures. Here is one example very close to home.
Not too long ago, I took a short break with my good friend John Privett and a couple of Filipino Jesuits at a tiny and very remote beach resort on
Former California Jesuit, Dan Ross, has taught Sociology for many years at
Now Dan is now engaged in cooperative educational projects called Partner-based Learning in
Many Jesuit educational institutions—hopefully all of them—run similar projects providing students with exposure and service opportunities, advocacy and solidarity experiences with the poor, with refugees, prisoners, the homeless and the marginalized. What impressed me about Dan’s work was that he did not have to do it. He was busy enough with his teaching, administrative work, Assistancy job, etc. To make these projects work he had to find resources, sacrifice his free time, establish contacts in unfamiliar surroundings, take risks and accept added responsibilities. He did this all on his own initiative; to build bridges that he saw needed to be built; and to ignite this same flame in the lives of his students.
I think the best way to evangelize cultures is first of all to identify and promote the values of the Kingdom already embedded in those cultures. GC35 (II, 8) reminds us that the Jesuit “mode of proceeding is to trace the footsteps of God everywhere, knowing that the Spirit of Christ is at work in all places and situations…”
In Taiwan, Kuangchi Program Service makes it a priority to produce TV series and documentaries for marginal groups like the indigenous, aboriginal tribes, foreign migrant workers, the mentally and physically challenged, refugees, even smaller groups like so-called “mail order brides” purchased from other countries and married—not always happily—into Taiwanese families.
Jesuit Refugee Service in the Asia Pacific and Jesuit Cambodia Service does tremendous work in areas afflicted with particularly insidious and devastating situations like widespread land mines and cluster bombs. These create a culture of fear and misery. Jesuits help to remedy those situations by creating a culture of hope through their bridge building.
I have always admired the great work done here in the
5. Bridging People
In Fr. General Nicolas’ letter on The Universal Vocation of the Jesuit (April 2009), he recommends that we “encourage our men to be exceptionally good ‘at something’” so that “the world will need us and our expertise. Some parts of the world are regulating and reducing more and more the role of so-called ‘outsiders’…” “…Special capabilities will open many doors for new apostolic opportunities.”
Some years ago, the Beijing Transportation Department conducted a world-wide search for an expert to re-design their traffic light system. Guess who they found? A Canadian Jesuit. At a time when not many religious personnel could conveniently work in that country, the doors opened to this Jesuit because of his particular and unusual expertise.
During one of our China Province Assemblies, everyone was brainstorming on the Province Plan—which ministries should be continued, which ones abandoned or restructured, etc. Former California Jesuit Fr. Bob Ronald, sitting in his wheelchair, added his suggestion. He thought our work would be most effective if every Jesuit were allowed and encouraged to do what he does best; as opposed to letting a man join an apostolate which needs someone, but for which he is not qualified or has little or no interest.
Those of you who knew Bob remember that he contracted polio as a scholastic in
Bob assessed his options, discovered what expertise he might have or be able to develop, and where this expertise was needed. He then he presented a plan to his
Fr. Chuck Welsh, originally from the
My brother Fr. Barry Martinson’s first and only assignment was to Chingchuan—a village parish of the indigenous Atayal tribe in the mountains of northern
Some years ago, the
Conclusion: Discerning our Mission Today and Tomorrow
Based on the assumption that one of the best things every Jesuit can do today is to be an effective and creative bridge builder in any area where there is a need and where we are competent, I would like to conclude with a short list of questions for reflection.
1. In promoting creative fidelity among our Jesuits, is creativity valued and encouraged just as much as fidelity? Or is it regarded with some fear and suspicion? If so, what can we do to correct and maintain a balance?
2. In assigning and directing Jesuits in their various missions, is care taken to see that their talents are identified and then fully developed and used in their mission? Is this aspect properly balanced with the needs of our institutions? Could still wider use of lay partners be employed to fill positions where no competent or suitable Jesuit is available, contributing their expertise and creativity, and at the same time freeing Jesuits to do what they can do best?
3. In our Province Planning, do we leave room for adjustments that might be called for by the occurrence of unexpected and unplanned events and opportunities? Are we sufficiently sensitive to the kairos as it unfolds in the world around us? Do we allow for serendipity to change or modify our carefully and logically planned programs?
4. Finally, in planning and executing our Jesuit mission, how can we effectively increase the levels of:
• Imagination in uncovering hidden opportunities and brand new possibilities for mission?
• Desire, motivation, and initiative among our men in vigorously pursuing and participating in our mission?
• A resilient and irrepressible hope that simply smiles and serenely moves ahead, with confident discernment, whenever we encounter obstacles, disappointments, or apparent failures in our mission of responding to the call of Christ.