For over twenty years now, my church and school community has had a special relationship with Jesu Ashram in India. Jesuit priest Fr Julius Kujur directs this charitable health care centre, reaching out to the poorest of the poor. We are grateful to Canadian Jesuits International (CJI) for being instrumental in facilitating and nurturing this relationship over the years.
I am a grade three teacher at Queen of Angels Catholic School, and attend St Edwards Catholic Parish (on the same property) in the small community of Duncan, British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada. Every fall, our church and school community hosts a plant and harvest sale. We send proceeds from this sale to Jesu Ashram to help them with their medical costs. Three years ago, our school custodian, Mike, suggested to me that my grade 3 students pick some of the lavender in our church garden and make lavender sachets to donate to the sale as a community service project. We took up his suggestion, and my personal relationship with Fr Julius and Jesu Ashram blossomed from there! My students write letters to those at Jesu Ashram and pray for them regularly. Our school staff takes to heart the mission our school strives to achieve: to prepare our students to be our future leaders. In these small activities, I hope to strengthen my students’ sense of social responsibility and understanding of the plight of many in the Global South.
Pieter Niemeyer, the Outreach Coordinator for CJI and who is based in Ontario, came to visit our church and school in June 2019. My students were so excited to meet Pieter, and we showed him our lavender garden.
In November 2020, Pieter invited our church and school to participate in a series of insightful webinars entitled “A JUST FUTURE FOR ALL.” The focus of these webinars was to collaborate with Jesuit partners in Africa, Latin America, and Asia to generate awareness for ways we can come to realize a more equitable, just world.
The first webinar took us to South Sudan. Since 1952, this country has been beaten and stripped of political, social, and economic structures due to many years of civil unrest and violence. It has also been affected by climate change. Additionally, girls are often discouraged from receiving a formal education and instead are encouraged to marry young and start a family. During the webinar, two remarkable young women shared their experiences as beneficiaries of the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS). Rachael attended school in Kenya. Supported by JRS, she became a nurse and returned to her homeland to serve her people. The message I took away from this webinar is no matter how hard things are, it’s important to reconcile, create love and find peace in our hearts. This peace in our own heart allows us to be at peace with others.
The second webinar shared experiences from Jesuit partners in Colombia, South America. The causes for concern in this country are many, including continued civil armed conflict, poverty, and the systemic exclusion of women. JRS accompanies forcibly displaced people, refugees from Venezuela, and the host communities of those seeking new homes as they journey together to find peace and solidarity. It is often women who shoulder the responsibility for food security and safe shelter for their children and elders, as their husbands often work away from their rural homes or have been killed due to the civil unrest. JRS is helping empower these women with a sense of belonging, value, and self-determination.
The third webinar, connecting with Fr Xavier Jeyaraj SJ of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES) of the Society of Jesus, was timely indeed. Originally from India, Fr Xavier voiced his concerns for fragile democracies around the world, especially in his country of birth. My reflection after the discussion was that democracy is not a noun; democracy is a verb in which we must actively participate and protect.
The campaign, “A JUST FUTURE FOR ALL,” concluded on December 1 (Giving Tuesday) with a celebratory Zoom event of gratitude featuring various musical and creative talents from around the world, including our own “angels’ from Queen of Angels School.
As my friendship with CJI and Jesu Ashram continues to grow, I am gaining a sense of strength and empowerment that will help me guide my students to think of the needs of others, and become servant leaders.
I can’t help but think of our own St Edward’s parish mission statement, which emphasizes that we are called to be Christ for one another and to foster unity with all peoples. I see the smiling, hopeful face of Christ in all of those within the dedicated CJI organization and their global Jesuit partners, and thank them for their vocation in helping those seeking justice and equality.