A Spirituality of Mission
Since the time of Ignatius, the Jesuits have been on mission. The legacies of Jesuit missionaries like Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci inspire generation after generation of Jesuits to journey to the margins, to accompany the excluded and to work for a more just, peaceful world.
Today’s Jesuits are no different.
In Amman, Jordan, the Jesuit Center practices a tenacious hospitality, opening its doors to migrants and refugees, local Jordanians and international diplomats, Muslims and Christians alike. The Center is a place of encounter, where no one is excluded and all are challenged to see themselves as members of a shared community.
Where many have been forced to flee their homes, to watch family members suffer and die, the Jesuit Center creates a new home, a new family.
And all the while, the Jesuits accompany each individual who passes through their door on a spiritual journey that rarely ends in Jordan. From refugees seeking resettlement to transient parishioners working for international nonprofits, the Jesuits walk with each person for a while, ultimately entrusting the God of all people to call these many sojourners where they are meant to be.
A unique spiritual experience: these Jesuits are living out one of St. Ignatius’ dreams for the Society of Jesus – to work in the Holy Land, to breathe the same air, to walk the same streets that Jesus of Nazareth and his contemporaries once did.
"If you're in the Holy Land and you begin to adapt to it," says Fr. Michael Linden, SJ, the superior of the Jesuit community in Jordan, "you begin to establish in your imagination and in your prayer life what some people call the fifth gospel."
On beholding the city, Ignatius was deeply affected, and the rest affirmed that they experienced a sort of heavenly joy. He always felt this same devotion whenever he visited the holy places. — The Autobiography of St. Ignatius
A Brief History of the Jesuits in Jordan
The seeds of the Jesuit mission in Jordan began in Iraq. In 1969 – amidst the aftermath of a coup and a new government – the North American Jesuits were expelled and forced to abandon the highly successful and influential Baghdad College. The Jesuits were distraught, and many sought ways to stay active in the region.
The Filipino Community
Elisa Estrada is a member of the lay Teresian Association, founded by St. Pedro Poveda in 1911. Members of the Association live and work in countless settings, promoting social transformation through education and culture, and the empowerment of women. The Association in Amman, under Elisa’s leadership, manages the Pontifical Mission Library – the very library that began under Fr. Ryan’s leadership.
“He supported us in building up this library for the locals,” Elisa recalls. “Fr. Ryan sowed the seeds. And now, other Jesuits that are coming, they are enjoying the seeds that have grown.”
The Filipino community is one such seed – and it has grown considerably. The Jesuits, responsible for the pastoral care of the English-speaking community in Jordan, have walked with this community as it has evolved.
“We invite Jesuits to give retreats, for confessions, for spiritual talks, for human development,” Elisa says. "For people who are working here, it gives them energy. It helps them to live their vocation as a Christian, as a Catholic.”
“Jordanians seem to have a capacity to absorb, to welcome,” reflects Fr. Linden. “It’s a resource, if you will, in human spirit and in cultural orientation that has become, in a modern way, marketable.”
Jordan shares a border with Syria and with Iraq; it was nearly unavoidable that the country would be thrust into the refugee crisis. Fortunately, the country’s (Jesuit-educated) king, Abdullah II, continues to welcome the stranger.
And the strangers – the refugees – come from vast and varied places: Iraq and Syria, yes; but also Sudan and Somalia, Yemen and more. Often young people fleeing violence and persecution, these refugees find their way to Jabal Hussein – the hill upon which the Jesuit Center sits.
What brings them to the Jesuit Center? Many are seeking an opportunity to continue their education, to learn or improve their English or just a community where they are welcomed and made to feel at home. And the Jesuits and their collaborators make sure that the refugees check their differences at the door.
“We call ourselves here one big community, Jesuit Center community,” says one Sudanese refugee, Ahmed. “Our diversities always help us to share our stories. Most of us lost our family members, but these are our new family. We feel like brothers and sisters.”
But no matter how welcome these young people might feel at the Jesuit Center, nothing changes the fact that life as a refugee is hard – even in a country as hospitable as Jordan. Refugees aren’t permitted to work – at least, not legally – and they live in constant flux, waiting to see if they qualify for resettlement elsewhere.
“For all of the refugees, 100%, this is a way station,” says Fr. Rob McChesney, SJ, the mission integration officer for the local Jesuit Refugee Service office. “They don’t want to stay in Jordan; they want to get to the West.”
Even the most hope-filled story has a bitter edge. Mandela and Aisha, for example, Sudanese and Somali respectively, met in Fr. Rob’s English-language class. They developed a friendship – and eventually something more. In January 2020, they were married. Their wedding was a huge celebration, attended by refugees from across Amman.
“For your wedding, sometimes you don't see yourself,” Mandela says, thoughtfully. “You see the people, you know people are happy, dancing, singing.”
“I felt happy because I saw that each person we invited came to the wedding,” Aisha adds.
It was a joyful start to a married life. But these young people are big dreamers, talented, with aspirations for their future. Aisha wants to be a social worker, to give back to the community. Mandela is worried about his home country, and wants to pass on his culture.
That means having kids.
“The first thing we thought about was having children,” Aisha says. “But it’s really difficult.” Aisha and Mandela want to start a family, but they’re worried they won’t be able to provide even the most basic necessities.
“We’ll try to work, like to work on ourselves, studying, and at the same time look for resettlement.” Aisha shrugs. “That’s our only chance, I guess.”
How can we fail to think of all those young people affected by movements of migration? — Pope Francis, Christus vivit
Signs of the Times
The Jesuit commitment to continue walking with refugees, to accompany young people like Mandela and Aisha remains – stronger and more determined than ever. But the particular Jesuits doing the work come and go.
What was a ministry of the USA Northeast Province of the Jesuits has now changed hands; the Near East Province – which includes other Middle Eastern countries and is based in Beirut – has assumed leadership in Jordan. That means new Jesuits, and renewed commitment to the local culture. What was once an English-only ministry is expanding to include opportunities in Arabic, like retreats and spiritual direction.
This is what discernment looks like in real-time, a fruit of Ignatian spirituality lived out in a particular time and place. An openness to a God who surprises, who invites, and who walks with those who have been forgotten.
A preferential option for local culture and language. The empowerment of leaders — lay and ordained — that are products of that culture, that speak that language. A spiritual accompaniment of young people that recognizes and affirms where they are — and where God is calling them to be. The Jesuits in Jordan are already grappling with the message of Pope Francis's recent Apostolic Exhortation, Querida Amazonia.
But these Jesuits are just one community, in one place, in the global human family of God. The challenge of Querida Amazonia is for each of us: How can we make room for the lived experiences of others in our lives, in our communities, in our world so as to better serve God's dream for humanity?