There are many regions of the world, which are in quest of peace. However, the Jesuit Near-East Province is perhaps one, which unites a greater number of countries where tensions of diverse sorts weigh down on the life of people. The Provincial of the Near East, Dany Younès, has had the occasion to speak to the delegates about his province and its challenges. He was quite willing to share his experience of the Congregation also with us.
I am the Provincial of the Near East and the Maghreb. My province extends over several countries: Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine/Israel, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco. When I became provincial two years ago, many wished me good luck because of the conflictual situation, especially in Syria. In effect, since 2011, the whole region has been destabilized. We know that the sources of the conflict go back very far in history as well as in the collective consciousness of the communities, which constitute our societies.
The Society is not present in the same manner in the different countries, which compose the province. Lebanon, where the mission commenced in 1830, is endowed with the strongest institutions. Egypt comes next, in terms of the number of Jesuits and institutions. We note that Egypt is the country with the largest Arabic Christian community, the Copts, and that it is from there that the greatest number of vocations to the Society come. The novitiate of our province is found there. In Syria, Ours work in the formation institutions of the Church, with the young, in psychological accompaniment and in rural development. Since 2010, the JRS has accomplished there a work of prime importance, conceived initially for Iraqi refugees, then, since 2011, for the Syrian populations. There are actually ten Jesuits in Syria, among whom there is a bishop, who face difficult and often dangerous situations. We have lost two Jesuits in Syria: Fr. Frans van der Lugt, originally from Holland, assassinated April 7, 2014 in Homs, and Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian, kidnapped July 29, 2013 in Raqqa by the Islamic State. We have no news of him.
In Jordan, there is a Jesuit community, which does not belong to our province, but to that of the US Northeast. Turkey belongs to our province since the year 2000. Four Jesuits are there. They form a community in Ankara. The JRS is also present there. The work of a publication on Christian thought in the Turkish language is also largely dependent on our companions. The Maghreb (Algeria and Morocco) had been part of the French Province. Since 2013, the Maghreb has been part of our province. There are ten Jesuits in Algeria; in Morocco, one Jesuit of our province is in community with two Jesuits from the Spanish Province. Since June 30, 2016, following the decision of Father General, Palestine/Israel also belongs to the province. What this involves is one community, which lives in Jerusalem, on whom a small community in Bethlehem also depends. Nine Jesuits are there whose mission is polyvalent and begins with the service of the Biblical Institute in Rome, in the Jerusalem Campus.
Our province has always known a diversity of countries, which have supplied Jesuits. Living in the bosom of one of the most murderous conflicts of the present time, in the neighborhood of a fundamentalism without mercy, we bind ourselves in friendship with all the populations who surround us, whatever may be the religion, the race, the political convictions, or the social class of our friends. The diversity strikes us all the way to the heart of the Catholic identity, which is unfolded into seven Oriental Churches in communion with Rome: the Chaldean, the Maronite, the Melkite, the Syrian, the Armenian, the Coptic, and the Latin. This diversity is as enriching, as it is the source of many conflicts.
How do the companions handle this? There are often tensions and impatience, but also much humor, resilience, and mutual forgiveness. When one is “inspired,” he realizes that he is at the same time a witness to many stories, so valorous and undreamed of, in the context of war and of the erosion of political life. But it happens that one may be “exhausted” and that fatigue blocks communication; then he does what one can. In general, our province is alive and vibrant.
The drama of the refugees, Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians, or others, hits us in the gut. A person is not able to understand what passes in the heart of the refugees, not even the refugees themselves. I think that one of the greatest helps to bring along is to facilitate the word, the putting into words of this poignant sentiment of loss of reference. But there is a first act to do: an act of hospitality. I completely understand the fear that the multitude of those who seek refuge elsewhere engender. Fear for identity, for freedom, fear of losing the demographic war (after having won the military war). Questions of integration or disintegration pose themselves. On the capacity of Islam to adapt itself. All of this is important to scrutinize, and it would be strange not to give it the necessary reflection. But there is a first act, an eminent act: the act of hospitality
The General Congregation distances me from daily occupations. On the other hand, I must say that this is beneficial. The Congregation teaches me that I am not indispensable. The mission will continue after me, and this is good to know. “Lord teach me to rest myself, otherwise I will not know how to die.” This is a prayer that I had found on the door of my room when I entered the novitiate in Cairo 21 years ago. The Congregation reminds me that I am a member of a world apostolic body, and that I have a responsibility vis-à-vis the entire body of the Company. From this springs a great consolation, that of sensing myself next to Christ whose desires envelop the entire world, and whose heart burns for the entire world. This thought reveals to me that the two hundred and fifteen members of the Congregation interest themselves with me in the Near-East.