How do you create a marathon in a time of pandemic, when almost everything is done virtually? That’s the challenge that confronted Oliver Capko, SJ, coordinator of the Ignatian Marathon, and the Ignatian Year Committee of the Jesuits in Canada. Questions that guided the committee’s reflections included, “How do we make conversion and poverty, which are two key themes, very real and incarnational to people? How do we create an experience or at least a meditation that touches people where they are?” The result of the reflections, in connection with Pilgrims Together (the incarnation of the UAPs in Canada), was the idea of a pilgrim artwork that would travel to Canadian Jesuit communities and works from December 2021 to July 2022.
In this interview, Oliver Capko explains the nature of this marathon, to which all Jesuits and colleagues are invited. In addition, artist Daniel LeBlond, SJ, describes what inspired him to create the pilgrim work.
Making the Ignatian Marathon a reality
The people in each community or work visited will be invited to view the artwork and reflect on their own conversion experiences as a community and as individuals.
“I contacted Daniel LeBlond, SJ, to give him Father Sosa’s invitation to the Ignatian Year,” explains Capko, “and he felt very challenged by the idea of conversion. Not necessarily conversion as something extreme, but rather as a process of transformation.” And the result of this collaboration is a painting on wood flanked by two banners with a poetic text in French and English.
The first stop of this “wooden pilgrim” will be Winnipeg. The people in each community or work visited will be invited to view the artwork and reflect on their own conversion experiences as a community and as individuals. “We will have to set up the banners and the small journal that will travel with the painting. The idea is that in a parish, school, or university, for example, the installation would be introduced within a particular liturgical context or in a separate event. When a pilgrim goes to a place, the attention is not focused on the person but rather on the story he or she seeks to inspire. The pilgrim’s passage can be profound because it takes place outside the usual routine. Our goal is thus to inspire deeper reflection.”
A common experience
Capko notes that what connects all Jesuits is the Spiritual Exercises. Similarly, seeing the pilgrim work will be a common experience of conversion and also of God. “Jesuits are very good at communicating with each other and working with this common experience. It’s something that unites us, that unites our minds and our hearts. We all share the same experience of God, but in very personal and unique ways and in local contexts.”
Capko hopes that the people who welcome this pilgrim painting will be moved and transformed. He closes with a connection to the current situation. “Perhaps the pandemic is our cannonball moment, and our hope is to recognize and believe that hope exists. We know that Ignatius went through his cannonball moment, we know that Christ went through his passion, death, and resurrection, and that this always leads to hope for a better life, a life better lived, and lives better lived as Jesuits in Canada. That is my hope.”
In the words of Fr. Daniel LeBlond, SJ, creator of the work…
My hope is to continue the incarnation of Ignatius’s experience, this profound conversion to which we are called in order to be of service—a conversion that emerges through the experience of fragility in the world and in our lives.
When the young Jesuits asked me to create the artwork, I said yes right away and was happy to collaborate with them.
I took time, first of all, to choose the wood, which inspired me because of the crack that reaches nearly a third of the way up the panel. I immediately saw it as a cannonball, the event in our life that completely shatters all that we have. I put it in my studio for a while, then I started to work on it. It’s a story of relationship with the medium.
I put gold in the crack to highlight the core, the heart of the suffering. And in this heart, a void is created, into which the grace of God comes rushing. Saint Ignatius experienced this.
There are three faces, and the last one is upside down, because the “old man”—who perhaps was preventing us from moving forward—is withdrawing.
It is like a tree: the tree is life. If you look at a tree as it grows, you can see all the stages of its life, even the new stages, as Ignatius experienced. After the cannonball, he left to begin his journey, like a pilgrim. That moment was an important step toward what he would become: for himself, for us, and for humanity.
I have always thought that artworks, rather than being displayed in museums, should be exhibited in living spaces. People’s experience is influenced by their environment.
My hope is to continue the incarnation of Ignatius’s experience, this profound conversion to which we are called in order to be of service—a conversion that emerges through the experience of fragility in the world and in our lives. I hope that this will touch the hearts of the people, as well as the Province, the works, and the communities. In fact, our communities and works are faced with the challenge of allowing ourselves to be touched by what we live… and hopefully not having to wait for a cannonball! As we in the Province are in a new stage of our experience, there are still great conversions to be made; there is always the Magis.