In these first weeks of our Tertianship we are encouraged to reread the autobiography  St Ignatius, plus read other accounts of his life. Reading them in a ‘sapiential’ way rather than in a mechanistic way – i.e. listening with our hearts for the wisdom of the story.  At the moment I am making my way through  The Pilgrim Saint by the Basque historia, Tellechea Idígoras.   Alongside this private reading, as a group, we are also taking our time and sharing with each other our own life stories – in the form of presentations. Preparing these presentations itself has had hidden graces, whilst looking for photos from my youth (pre-digital / pre-internet days!) I have got back in touch with old friends, even getting a school photo from 30 years ago ( I will spare you the details).  This process has been surprisingly energising – it has reminded me of something I discovered when investigating grief counselling – a report in the BMJ about the importance of listening constructively to patients stories. I think this is now  called ‘narrative based medicine.’ This may seem obvious to you and me but the authors are critical of how so many time-strapped doctors seem to display superficial listening skills ( I think time -strapped may be the clue there!). The simple reality seems to be that storytelling, when listened to actively and empathetically can be inspiring,  encouraging, healing, clarifying and helps us to remember important truths. It is a privilege having these two weeks to do this, and also to be reimmersed in the remarkable story of Ignatius Loyola.

We are now half way through this process d and we have all shared the story of our early lives and calling finishing at the point where we entered religious life.  It has been quite moving to hear how God has worked in different ways, through different cultures from East Africa, North America, South Asia and Europe. What has struch me is how He has overcome the various resistances that we all placed in His way.

Three of our group are Vietnames Jesuits – although now working in California, Oregon and Australia respectively.  Their stories have been breathtaking -the three of them were young boys when Siagon fell to the Communists in 1975.  They all escaped in the wave of immigration known as ‘the boat people’ -they endured dehydration /starvation / Malaysian pirates / rape / death and many trials on the overcrowded and ill-equipped boats. Incredible and breathtaking stories. Estimates vary,  but the respected Professor Rummel from University of Hawaii claims that 500,000 died, mainly on the South China Sea, from 2million in that first wave of refugees.  Terrible and shocking to hear the first hand accounts. What has been a source of reflection for me, listening to my fellow tertians,  is that after this traumatic exodus / redemption / and then achieving the American Dream ( through hard work and serious levels of intelligence) they found their vocations. They had been to hell and back – achieved a life of luxury and still weren’t satisfied. On his final speech leaving Germany last night the Pope said ‘History has shown that, when the Church becomes less worldly, her missionary witness shines more brightly‘ and that is certainly true about what appears to be the vibrancy of the Viatnemese Church. I am very grateful to have heard their stories.

A final aside – it was the plight of the Vietnamese Boat People that led to the then Jesuit General, beloved Pedro Arrupe to set up the Jesuit Refugee Service – otherwise known as JRS.