Fr Provincial in Asia
Mission Office Director John Guiney and Provincial John Dardis (right in photo, Freddie Deignan SJ on left) have just returned from a visit to Irish Jesuits working in Japan, Hong Kong, Cambodia and Singapore. AMDG Express has already featured their meeting with Fr Bill Johnston in Tokyo, and with Belvedere students in Hong Kong. John Dardis looks bandbox fresh and energetic after all those thousands of flying miles, and has plunged into a series of visitations this week, but he found time to share his impressions below. He notes in particular the vibrancy of the work being done by Jesuits throughout the continent, and the great hospitality which they extended to their brothers from Ireland.
THE ASIAN MISSIONS
John Dardis SJ
There is a sense of great vitality all across the Asian Church. Everywhere we went we encountered tremendous hospitality, life and energy and a positive appreciation of the Society of Jesus.
Japan: The Irish Jesuits in Tokyo are there in response to a call from Father General over forty years ago to help with the Japanese mission. Donal Doyle and Dermot Brangan are involved in a myriad of apostolic projects. Bill Johnston is in the Province infirmary recovering from a stroke. When we met him, he had just had a visit from some of his family in Ireland and was in good form.
The work in Japan shows the Jesuit commitment internationally to the intellectual Apostolate and to inter-religious dialogue. The Irish Jesuits who work there have mainly been in Sophia University, the Jesuit University in the centre of Tokyo. Bill Johnston’s many books and his international profile are testament to a life searching for God across different cultures and peoples. Gerry Bourke, now back in Ireland, but officially a member of the Japanese Province, continues that commitment in his work for Sacred Space.
We attended the Ordination of two deacons in Tokyo, one from Korea and one from Indonesia. In fact, this international flavour of the Society in Japan is a distinctive hallmark of the Province. So too was hospitality and the Provincial, Fr Sumita and the province treasurer, Fr Martín were very warm and welcoming. The visit was capped by a trip to Nagasaki to see the shrine to the Japanese martyrs and the memorial to victims of the atomic bomb. I also met there with Renzo da Lucca, a good companion from GC35..
Hong Kong. The Irish province has sent over 100 Jesuits to Hong Kong over a forty year period and we had a chance to catch up on some of them and to see at first hand the work being done. I feel proud that the Irish Province has made such a contribution to building up the Society of Jesus there.
We stayed at the student residence hall run by Sean Coghlan, where we also had a chance to chat to Tom McIntyre and to Freddie Deignan about educational issues in Hong Kong. I gave a short workshop to the Christian Life Community (CLC) with Sean Ó Cearbhallain (while John Guiney went to the rugby sevens!). We also visited Cheung Chau retreat centre where Ciaran Kane works. A particular memory is the visit to Wah Yan college Hong Kong where we met Belvedere students and their teachers who were on an exchange. Seosamh Ó Meallain is the only surviving son of one of the 1916 leaders and lives there along with John Russell. John works on canon law issues in the diocese. Another memory is our visit to Wah Yan college Kowloon and the welcome we got there from all the Jesuits of the region including Irish Jesuits Harry Naylor and Jimmy Hurley. The past pupils of the two Jesuit colleges were immensely generous to us, planning our schedule, hosting a dinner for us and organising a trip to Sancian island where Francis Xavier died. A special thanks to them!
The photograph shows: Standing, from left: John Guiney, John Russell, Harry Naylor, Freddy Deignan, Seosamh Ó Meallain, John Dardis and Jimmy Hurley. The two men seated are Ciaran Kane and Sean Ó Cearbhallain.
What is very consoling is to see a young Society of Jesus emerging with strong Chinese roots. We met three Jesuit scholastics from Hong Kong and mainland China who are studying theology in Hong Kong. And we also met Chinese Jesuits who studied in Ireland. Stephen Chow, who did novitiate and post novitiate studies here, is now playing a big role in education in Hong Kong, having got a doctorate from Harvard a few years ago. William Lo, who also studied in Ireland, teaches theology in the local seminary.
Cambodia: Ashley Evans went to Thailand in the ‘80s to help with Cambodian refugees in the camps on the Thai border. He has since remained with the Cambodian people, teaching maths and philosophy at the University of Phnom Penh. He also runs a student residence hall.
We met the students for dinner one evening– a great group of young men and women, full of life and energy. The majority are Catholic. Taking part in evening prayer with them was a definite highlight. Another highlight was a visit to the educational centre at Banteay Preab where people with disability caused by landmines or polio are taught skilsl such as carpentry, metalwork etc. Yong Su Kim ( Loyola Sandford Road) did regency there and is fondly remembered.
We travelled with Ashley to the coastal town of Kompong Som where on Palm Sunday we saw the local children perform a Passion play. It was full of energy, vitality, creativity. John and I also visited a Jesuit project in the North west at Angkor Wat/Siem Reap – also a famous site for ancient temples.
Singapore: Tom O’Neill and Gerry Keane are much in demand. Gerry writes for the parish bulletin weekly and also runs a prayer/scripture study group. Tom led that Good Friday ceremony and is very involved in liturgical life of the parish. The local Parish priest Philip Heng, who did tertianship here in Ireland gave us a great welcome. He introduced us to two of his friends, who brought us around and showed us the main sights of Singapore.
What struck me most of all was the life in the Singapore church. In our Jesuit church of St Ignatius, four ceremonies were held on Good Friday with about 800-900 people of all ages attended each one. A heading in the Singapore newspaper said that over 1000 people were going to be baptised at the Easter vigils around the city.
At a time in Ireland when faith is under pressure and when people question the value of belief, it was tremendously consoling to see such commitment and dedication.
I am proud of the Irish Jesuits and what they have achieved in these very diverse situations across Asia. Please keep them and their work in your prayers. And pray for the young Jesuits in Asia that God will bless them richly in their lives and in their work.