Pilgrims Together, A Joyful Gathering with Ignatius of Loyola, brought dozens of Jesuits and many of their companions in mission to Midland, Ontario, July 29–31, 2022. It was the first such gathering of the young Canadian province.
The meeting allowed participants to socialize “in-person” in a congenial atmosphere during meals and numerous breaks. They were also able to discover the talents of several Jesuits and colleagues in an impromptu karaoke show that featured, among others, Jesuits John Meehan on piano, Gabriel Côté on violin, and John O’Brien at the mic. But more than that, the weekend provided an opportunity to reflect on the Church and the Society of Jesus today while celebrating the end of the Ignatian Year.
Father Sami Helewa, SJ, described it as “a special time after COVID. I think we received many graces through this event.”
Times of sharing
The program included several talks. Dr. Susan Wood, SCL, gave a presentation entitled “A Missionary Church: The ‘Francis Effect’ on the Catholic Church.” She said that while the Pope’s agenda is inspired by Francis of Assisi, his approach is purely Ignatian. For Francis, the pastoral dimension, the need to touch people’s hearts, is more important than anything else. According to him, the Church of today must be local, pastoral, ecumenical, and intercultural.
A highlight of the weekend was an impromptu panel (Peter Bisson, SJ, Donna Naughton, Alan Fogarty, SJ, John Meehan, SJ, Robert Foliot, SJ, William Blakeney, Jeffrey Burwell, SJ, Erik Oland, SJ, Tom Dearhouse, Paul Robson, SJ, and Survivor Rosella Kinoshameg, DOS) whose participants had experienced various events of the papal penitential pilgrimage and shared their impressions of this visit. The sharing of the three Indigenous panelists was particularly eye-opening and gave those gathered a sense of how a number of Indigenous people experienced the pilgrimage and the pope’s apology.
In general, the pope’s visit was seen as an essential step for healing, but one that must be followed by concrete action. The visit also highlighted the lack of opportunity to listen to Indigenous voices and the lack of consideration for Indigenous people within the penitential pilgrimage itself, which was evident for example in the masses where very little space was given to the survivors and their culture. Ms. Kinoshameg ended her address by saying, “The Pope’s talks were not even the first step towards reconciliation. He has simply lifted his foot; we need to put that foot down on the ground and keep moving forward.”
For Brian Paulson, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, having the privilege of hearing from those who were present at the apology was an important and significant moment during the weekend.
A second panel featured Jenny Cafiso, André Brouillette, SJ, Ray Comeault, and Germain Clerveau, SJ, presenting “Various Perspectives on the Future Church.” Father Brouillette began with “I am Church,” noting that we are called to be ever more collaborative. Ms. Cafiso, drawing on her text “The In-Between Place,” mentioned that we must live in the space “in-between.” The Church, rather than asking if it is doing enough for marginalized groups, must always choose to play a greater role. Mr. Comeault reminded us that nothing can separate us from God, even if many churches close: people continue to be spiritual. He has no fear for the Church, because transformation is the essence of life. Father Clerveau pointed out that the churches of the “Third World” are taking over from the Eurocentric Church, despite the latter’s resistance.
Father Leonard Altilia, SJ, noted that one of the points of consolation during the gathering was precisely “the honesty of the speakers who presented their impressions of the current reality of the Church, of the Society of Jesus, of the world situation, without avoiding the problems and wounds in the Church or the challenges that the Society and its collaborators face.” This was also the impression of Jenny Cafiso, director of Canadian Jesuits International: “It was probably one of the best meetings of the Province that I have attended. People spoke from their hearts, without filters, with a lot of trust and honesty.” Father Marc Rizzetto, SJ, particularly appreciated Ms. Cafiso’s intervention during the second panel, as she drew attention to another dimension of the peripheries. “There are many boundaries in the Church that either bring us together or separate us. As citizens of a country, but also of a religious community, this speaks to us about how we interact with people, how we need to move closer and look at our shadow areas.”
In addition to times of prayer led by Rosella Kinoshameg, Erik Sorensen, SJ, Abin Mathew, SJ, and Marie-Gabrielle Vallet (CLC president), participants were able to participate in two masses at locations that are significant for the Society of Jesus in Canada.
After a visit to the museum and the Sainte-Marie among the Hurons site, Jesuits and colleagues gathered in the open air for a quadrilingual mass, with Jean-Denis Saint-Félix, the superior of the Jesuits in Haiti, as presider. Frédéric Barriault notes: “Important elements, in addition to alternating between French and English, included the purification ritual with the sacred sage and the prayer in Anishnaabe-mowin (by Rosella Kinoshameg) accompanied by the sound of the teweikan (by Tom Dearhouse), as well as the Eucharistic prayer in Creole. The celebration was not only beautiful, it was coherent.”
The same Indigenous elements were incorporated into the mass celebrating Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the end of the Ignatian Year held at Martyrs’ Shrine on the morning of July 31 in a church packed with Jesuits, colleagues, and pilgrims from various backgrounds.
According to the participants, being able to gather and share with their confreres and lay colleagues was a great joy. Father Clerveau sums it up this way: “It was good to be together, to walk together, to listen to each other and to discover how God works in our midst and invites us to walk with others.” For Father Paulson, being able to meet with his fellow Jesuits and Ignatian collaborators from Canada was a privilege.
In this “big family meeting,” as Brother Daniel Leckman, SJ, described it, the discussions were rich. Scott McMaster noted, “The Jesuits shared from their hearts through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which had an impact on me personally.” Marie-Gabrielle Vallet adds, “We came with good questions, humbly, and not with answers, which gives space for things to happen.”
Finally, Father Altilia spoke of the hope, joy, and trust that the collaborators have in the grace of God as they work with the Jesuits to create a more just and peaceful world.