How to nourish our social apostolate with hope

Fr. Ismael Moreno

Any reference I make to my life as a Jesuit these past 42 years inevitably refers to the mission of faith and justice, and to friendship with Jesuits in my province, in the Mexican province and in many other provinces, with whom I have shared this journey of a whole life of gift from God and of encounter with the poor from the social apostolate. Nothing could be more beautiful for my life than to have received this gift of defending the human rights of the most defenseless and oppressed people, and to do so in the name of God and from my fragility as a Jesuit. So many experiences of friendship come to my mind with many people with a rough face and tanned by the sun and the anguish of moving forward in life in the midst of multiple adversities.

I come from a country that in the eyes of the media, but also for various sectors of influence in the world, including the Church, is practically non-existent. It is not just a discarded country, as the Pope would say, but a non-existent one. I call it the country etcetera because it is not only difficult to find on a map, but even knowing of its remote existence, it is not even named. For that reason, I thank the organizers who give me this voice to speak about my experience of Faith and Justice, because that is how I name this Honduras, which needs to see, hear, approach, accompany, protect and defend it. And with it, millions of voices that squirm between ungrateful death and the desire to live. That is why they flee their land, wherever it may be, because they cling to the life that is taken from them in their homeland.

Many people ask me: where do you find hope in the midst of an impoverished and miserable country, non-existent and abandoned to the crumbs of the rich, the remittances and the government of the United States. I do not hesitate to say that it is precisely from the reality of my country and Central America where I find food for my hope. And this is so because the more anguish and closed paths I find in the struggle to defend life and the rights of the poor, the more I need to feed on faith in the God of Life. In the midst of violence and death, even threats, is when I receive more life, and my faith is stronger in my reality as the bearer of the Lord of Dawns, which makes us dawn just when the path is darker and darker. The more ungrateful the reality, the more longing for God I experience.

But I also nourish my hope in the memory of the martyrs. They are many, they are many. In these 42 years as a Jesuit I have known and been friends with dozens of women and men, simple and strong, thinkers and activists, believers and non-believers, academics and above all social, political and environmental fighters, who were murdered for their convictions, for their love and commitment to justice. With several of them I shared the table and the embrace, the word and the look, with several of them I debated and fought, several of them questioned me, incriminated me for my tepidity in my ideas and in my insecurities. And they killed them. I can mention many names. Today, 30 years ago, six of our Jesuits and two lay collaborators were shot to pieces by machine guns. And it is enough for me to name Berta Cáceres. That night of her murder I could have been with her, but something stopped me, and I reproached her because she had summoned me so inopportunely. “I have many things to do where you are,” I bluntly told her. And they killed her. She pushed me, questioned me, respected me, and encouraged me in times of discouragement. Martyrs have a known face, I knew them in their fragility, as imperfect human beings. But I met them ready to give their lives. Their memory does not leave me in peace, and they feed my dreams and my days, and refer me to Jesus of Nazareth.

I am also nourished by the hope of the generosity of the communities, which are very masters of their poverty, made up of families that enjoy our visit and where we are food for their lives. If necessary they stop eating to enjoy watching us eat their food loaded with simplicity and at the same time with love and gratuity. Not a few times I have come to one of the homes, and the family offers me the best bed for my rest, and for them, sleeping that night in discomfort becomes a blessing because their happiness is precisely in seeing that their visitors are comfortable and rest in peace. This generosity is neither bought nor sold, it is priceless, and I will never find it in the market. And it calls into question our practices and norms of community hospitality. I have been terribly embarrassed when one of those families who displayed all her generosity arrives in my community, and finds the frown of fellow Jesuits, for whom the mere presence of “strange people” destabilizes their daily comforts. That contrast between the generosity of poor families, and the coldness of our community spaces, becomes an attack on the generosity to which our vow of poverty calls us and our historical mission of faith and justice.

I am nourished by the hope transmitted to me by my work team, made up of a great number of lay men and women who, inspired by the spirituality of the Society of Jesus, dedicate their entire lives and risk their comforts until they give them up for work not always understood by the Jesuits themselves, and for a salary through which they will never make a fortune. And yet they do so with enthusiasm and joy. They strive day by day to scrutinize the dynamisms that produce inequality and violence, and envision an alternative proposal to the neoliberal model, from the perspective of the poor. In the midst of threats and when dangers lurk, a guitar or a rhythm of bachata, merengue, cumbia or salsa, many of the problems are alleviated by the tropical rhythm. And after the relief, they return to the burden of an apostolate that falls in love and challenges daily.

The Jesuit community, in the midst of its often gloomy environments, continues to be a source of hope, when I think that in these specific communities a mission is incarnated in men of flesh and blood, with their austere lives and their calm spirituality and proof of the ups and downs of reality. It is in these community conditions that it is time to confess the faith that nourishes hope, from the hopeless realities of aging men, tanned by years of service, often with burdens of bitterness. It is hope in the sober and strong daily spiritualities of our communities, so in need of new airs and new frontiers, of lay embraces and dreams to discover what GC-34 told us: communities of solidarity. It is the friendship of a community that is expressed in a specific place, but not reduced to it, because the Jesuit community is first and foremost friends in the Lord scattered throughout different territories and countries. After all, it is a community that is fully open to living and searching with many women and men with whom we share the same mission.

I cannot fail to say in this personal experience that this falling in love with the apostolate inserted in the clamorous realities of peoples, prepares one for not a few condemnations, both in the society of those who are well placed, as well as within the Church and also within the Society of Jesus itself. The social apostolate, in general, leaves one exposed to the suspicious gaze of institutionality, not only of the well-established powers of this world, but of the very institutionality of the Society of Jesus. As one gets deeply involved in this apostolic mission, one experiences not a small dose of the marginality that our people experience when they are cut off from the places and positions where decisions are made. We Jesuits are often suspected of heterodoxy, imprudence and being political and religiously incorrect. Something of that air that, without deserving it, reminds us of a certain Jesus of Nazareth, not well seen and accepted by the established powers of his time. This trait of suspicion towards what we are and what we do should never be lacking in our mission. It is distinctive of our life and of our contribution to the Society and to society.

To live and celebrate life and the struggle for the kingdom from that trait of marginality and to awaken certain suspicions because of our lack of calculation and friendship with the poor, always suspicious of the well situated world, will always be an unequivocal sign of being in the place from where God, the Lord of Dawn, continues to invite us to continue the cause of Jesus of Nazareth, and to risk sharing with him, from our condition as sinners, the fate of the poor of the earth.