Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Jesuits as Bridge Builders (Martinson,SJ)

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 California Province’s 100th Anniversary. If our old friend 'Pop' Silva were in my shoes now, I’m sure he would quote Shakespeare's Juliet and say "This is an honor that I dreamed not of.” That is also my sentiment at this moment.

As you may know, I belong to that protected species formerly referred to as “foreign missionary;” and I’ve been living in Asia the past 42 years. Also, I’ve been working mainly in the field of communications and media; so I’m not sure how much my experience can help you in envisioning the future mission of the California Province.

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 China, for example. In the beginning, there was no one to tell Jesuits how to proceed in China and no model to follow.

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 Taipei and Jiangsu Broadcasting Corporation in Nanjing. It is being broadcast frequently these days in China and tells the story of the 17th century German Jesuit missionary Adam Schall von Bell who continued Matteo Ricci’s mission in China.

Adam Schall was assigned to China because he was a brilliant mathematician, scientist, and astronomer. His talents, determination, and ingenuity made him a valuable asset in the late Ming and early Qing Empires, where he became a friend and adviser of not one but three Chinese emperors.

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 Imperial Palace, and even attended the coronation of the Shunzhi Emperor, because the emperor’s uncle, the Prince Regent Dorgon, had learned that Schall had completed work on a new and accurate calendar, begun by Matteo Ricci and Paul Xu Guangqi during the former Ming Dynasty. For Chinese emperors, nothing was more important than an accurate calendar. If the emperor was able to correctly calculate time and predict celestial phenomena, it gave his dynasty great credibility, proving that it was synchronized with the Lord of Heaven and possessed the Mandate of Heaven.

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 China.

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 Forbidden City, Schall intervened. Schall suggested that recent signs and movements he had observed in the heavens indicated that it may not be a good time for changing residences. This alarmed the superstitious Dorgon, and he abandoned his plan, to the relief of the entire Imperial Court.

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 China.

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 China.

Schall never converted any of the emperors to Catholicism, but by his creative bridge building, he helped establish the Church in China and actually changed the course of Chinese history.

The first Jesuits in China—Valignano, Ricci, Schall, Verbiest, Castiglione—are often heralded as giants for their wise and creative initiatives in inculturation. Do all Jesuits have to be giants? Does this mean that the rest of us, who are not endowed with such brilliance and heroism, are inferior or ineffective Jesuits? I am convinced that this is not the case.

Once, I heard a Jesuit in the China Province speaking poetically about how Jesuits, following in the footsteps of a Generation of Giants, have a deep and mystical bond with China. True, I thought, but it is also true that most of us, more often than not—and please don’t be insulted by this—may bear a closer resemblance to a generation of hobbits—small, clumsy, and limited, but well-intentioned, hardworking and persistent in carrying out a mission that we are convinced is extremely important. We may not see too many Jesuits with the genius of a Ricci, a Schall, or a Castiglione, but we frequently see Jesuits bravely using whatever gifts they might have—even if only ‘hobbit sized’—energetically pursuing their mission. I think that this is all God asks of us.

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 China. You can imagine how superiors felt each time they received a letter from Ricci! He also proposed that Chinese Catholics be allowed to participate in ceremonies reverencing their ancestors. Many, outside and even within the Society opposed him; and for centuries Church authorities suspected Ricci of favoring Chinese rituals dangerously close to the worship of idols.

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 Imperial Palace—a lifestyle far removed from that of a simple Jesuit missionary. At one time, he was almost expelled from the Society because of this lifestyle. And yet without Schall’s relationship with the emperors it is almost certain that the fledgling church in China would not have survived.

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 China and admired for their contributions to Chinese culture and respectful service to the Chinese people. Most Chinese do not know the name of the Pope; but they do know the names of these Jesuit missionaries.

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 China would not now be seeing and learning about Matteo Ricci and Adam Schall. George was an excellent scholar with a deep sense of justice and the courage to act boldly. By his own admission, he also had a prickly personality that frequently caused him to be misunderstood and got him in trouble. Phil Bourret had the vision and the expertise to launch Taiwan’s first TV production center at a time when there was not even a TV station or a TV set on the island. He was one of our greatest pioneers in social communications. Sorry, Phil, but as you know, you also lacked prudence, certain management skills and at times sound judgment, which sometimes led to disaster. But both of these men did things the rest of us could not do. Their ‘fire’ was passed on to other Jesuits and provided fuel and energy for the continuing Jesuit mission.

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 Taiwan, I was keenly aware of the indispensable role that the provincials and mission offices of the California Province, and other Jesuit provinces, played in establishing and building the Jesuit mission in Taiwan and China. Frs. Bill Klement, John Houle, Ed Murphy, Ted Taheny, all the way down to Ted Gabrielli—and their Provincials, including today’s John McGarry—have always been the ones we turned to when we had a great project, a good idea, an important initiative—but insufficient resources to complete it. And in all these years, I can never remember being disappointed or let down. The California Province helped build the current Jesuit mission that is now an important bridge between the Church and the Chinese people.

Solidarity and interaction across the globe strengthens and activates our apostolic community. Through community, we reinforce and complete each other and our work.

The China Province’s Assistant for Mainland China, recently announced a plan that makes it easier for Jesuits to participate in the China mission. No longer does one have to sign up for life. An interested Jesuits could volunteer for only 5 or 6 years. The first 2 years would be spent studying language and culture; then he would temporarily replace a Chinese Jesuit working in Taiwan, Macau, or Hong Kong. This would free that Chinese Jesuit for work in Mainland China. Why this system? Well, if a foreigner visits the countryside in the PRC, he is immediately surrounded and inspected by the local children; then a few minutes later, he is surrounded and inspected by the local police. It is more convenient for an ethnic Chinese Jesuit to work in the PRC, while foreign Jesuits temporarily relieve them of their duties elsewhere. After a certain time, that foreign Jesuit could return to his province, enriched by his experience of living and working among the Chinese people and learning to speak their language.

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 Taiwan’s most respected and scholarly Buddhist teachers. His writings were highly critical of the Catholic Church until he met and became friends with a French Jesuit, Fr. Albert Poulet-Mathis. Many meetings and discussions with Poulet-Mathis and other Jesuits gradually cleared up misunderstandings that Master Shengyan had about our Catholic faith. When he died last year, he had become one of the Church’s closest friends, collaborators, and admirers. And of course, his views influenced tens of thousands of his disciples and students.

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 Taipei and noticing that the driver kept staring at me through the rear-view mirror. Finally, he said to me “I’ve seen your TV program. How is it that you Catholics are so tolerant of other religions? Aren’t you here to sell your religion?” The driver had seen a number of our programs about a Buddhist monk, Master Xin Dao, and noticed that we were helping him raise funds for a “Museum of World Religions” that he was building in Taipei. He was surprised to see us using precious air time, paid for by the Catholic community, to promote a Buddhist project. This was indeed a far cry from the days of “rice christians” when only those within the fold were allowed take home the hand-outs.

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.

One of Taiwan’s—and China’s—most prominent religious figures is the Buddhist nun, Master Zhengyan. She leads a huge charitable organization with about 8 million followers called Tsu Chi that helps the poor and victims of natural disasters all over the world. They call her the “Mother Theresa of Taiwan.” Once I had the opportunity to congratulate her for creating a culture of giving among the Chinese people. She very humbly informed me that her inspiration to do charitable work came from Catholic nuns working near her home in eastern Taiwan. Later, she started a big TV station and called it “Da Ai” or “Universal Love,” a term that Buddhists rarely use. She asked me to speak at the opening of her station, after telling me that she wanted her station to be for people of all religions like Kuangchi Program Service. She said that that even before she had “shaved her head” and become a nun, she had watched Kuangchi's programs.

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 United States. The American Church itself is fragmented and split into conflicting factions. Jesuits are often well positioned and capable of initiating dialogue and building bridges to help bring these groups closer together.

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 Cebu Island in the Philippines. Among the handful of guests at this remote place were two American girls. One evening after dinner, John and I were sharing our snorkeling and diving adventures, and then began to talk about more familiar territory: Santa Clara University, LMU, USF, etc. Soon the two girls came over and asked, “Hey, did we hear you say 'Santa Clara University?' We just graduated from SCU.” Well, John and I really hadn’t expected that topic of conversation to attract female company! We asked what they were doing so far from home. We supposed they were vacationing or taking a trip around the world. They said they had been volunteering in a poor clinic in Cebu. With obvious admiration and affection, they spoke of Jesuits at SCU like Sonny Manuel, “Papa” Locatelli, and other Jesuits that had influenced them during their university years. Clearly, they had absorbed the right values. They were spending their vacation serving the poor on the other side of the world. They were being women for others. They were building bridges.

Former California Jesuit, Dan Ross, has taught Sociology for many years at Taiwan's Catholic Fu Jen University. He noticed how much Chinese love to travel around Asia; and how they spend most of their time on these trips eating, shopping, and taking photographs. Chinese business people travel with sharp eyes on the look-out for money making opportunities, frequently at the expense of the local people and their environment. Dan began taking groups of students to poorer parts of Asia, such as Cambodia, and giving them the opportunity to serve the people there. Needless to say, in addition to making many friends for Taiwan and improving the reputation of the Chinese, their experiences of service, advocacy and solidarity with the poor marked these students for life and helped transform them into men and women for others.

Now Dan is now engaged in cooperative educational projects called Partner-based Learning in China, Cambodia, and other countries, building bridges between well-established educational institutions and areas that still need assistance.

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 California Province where Jesuits build bridges with Hispanic and Asian cultures and other minorities, with the poor, with youth who have been drawn into the urban gang culture, with people afflicted with various addictions, etc. You know better than I all the other groups and cultures that need to be bridged and connecteds; e.g., the world of pop culture, the mall culture, entertainment and music cultures, art and drama cultures, the sports culture, the business community, and so many more. All are in need of bridge builders connecting them with the wider community and the right values.

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 Taiwan. Nevertheless, he went on to be ordained and, full of optimism, returned to Taiwan where he worked for 30 years in the rehabilitation department of one of Asia’s best hospitals. His work was designing programs that helped mentally and physically challenged patients discover what work they were best suited for. He also started an organization called “Operation De-handicap.” In spite of his own very serious physical limitations, Bob became one of Taiwan’s most respected and loved Jesuits. When he died in January of this year, it was obvious how many people his life had touched deeply.

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 Superior for approval. Then for 30 years he proceeded to use his expertise to open doors and build bridges. No one could ask for a more meaningful life or ministry.

Fr. Chuck Welsh, originally from the California Province, noticed long ago the need in Taiwanese society for facilitators of group communication and for group counseling. Year after year, Chuck took courses, acquired a degree, and regularly upgraded himself with the skills needed for this work. Now, he is highly sought after and valued as someone who can facilitate communication and increase understanding among members of organizations and communities. All he does is build bridges between people and light fires.

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 Taiwan. He began learning the art forms of that tribe in order to help the people recover a sense of respect for their traditional culture. Then, with the help of one of Taiwan’s most popular writers, he published books relating his experiences with Taiwan’s indigenous peoples and illustrating them with his art and photographs. Soon his books and murals and mosaics were famous and attracting visitors from all over the island. Now he also runs a small workshop that designs and produces stained glass windows for churches throughout the island. While to some Barry looks more like a resident artist than a parish priest, I’ve had many of his parishioners tell me that without Barry and what his art and writing has done for them, they don’t know what would have become of the people of Chingchuan. He just followed his instincts and did what he felt he could do best.

Some years ago, the Australian Province had a vocation promotion activity with the simple but effective slogan “We do that.” They distributed posters, leaflets and cards listing all the activities of Australian Jesuits—from bee keeping to parishes, from advocacy to wine making, from large educational and media organizations to small day care centers—with the claim “We do that.” The impression given was that there wasn’t too much Australian Jesuits did not do. Jesuits made room for all kinds of people to build all kinds of bridges.

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.

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