Paying tribute to Fr James (Jim) Webb SJ is no easy matter: how can we sum up a quest for social justice that spanned nearly 50 years and left behind a lasting legacy in Canada and Jamaica?
Fr Jim died on 9 August at the age of 68. Since his ordination in 1973, he had worked incessantly for social reform, bringing justice, development and support for people who were poor and marginalized. Situations of injustice tolerated by others drew him like a magnet. Fr Jim’s initiatives were creative, pioneering and lasting. Many people in his native Canada, in Jamaica — his beloved second home — and elsewhere enjoy a better life today thanks to Fr Jim.
Fr Jim occupied many important positions throughout his years as a Jesuit, twenty-two of which were spent in Jamaica. When cancer struck in late 2011, he was Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in English Canada, a position occupied since 2008.
Shortly before he was taken ill, Fr Jim wrote an article called Renewing our sense of mission for Mission News, the newsletter of Canadian Jesuits International; it would be his last. He wrote: “The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius help us to be aware of Christ’s presence in our world, a presence particularly made manifest in the poor, whom we are called to be with. We are called to respond to the poor with charity and more comprehensively with justice.” Fr Jim practised what he preached for this is what he devoted his life to doing.
In his priceless legacy, Fr Jim’s example is as important as his considerable achievements — “the seeds that one day will grow” in the words of one of his heroes Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. These testimonies from his Jamaican colleagues are evidence that the seeds are indeed growing.