Marching On: Jesuits in Macau celebrate the closing of the Ignatian Year

Marco Carvalho

A few days before the event, the question on everyone’s lips was how would the members of the Jesuit community in Macau celebrate the adjournment of the Ignatian Year? How big of an affair would that commemoration be?

But Argentinian missionary Father Fernando Azpiroz, the superior of the Society of Jesus in Macau, was confident that the closing Mass of the Ignatian jubilee would definitely take place, with or without Covid-19 related restrictions.

The Eucharistic celebration, nevertheless, would be dampened by the effort to avoid new Covid-19 infections, Father Azpiroz acknowledged, adding that the celebration of the Eucharist would be presided over by the Father Provincial, Stephen Tong.

The preparations were definitely in place but due to the ongoing fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, the possibility of a celebration with a greater magnitude seemed remote.

The Macau Government last Wednesday said that it did not record any new Covid-19 cases, the first time since the Omicron outbreak started more than a month ago. The local authorities have registered a total of 1,816 coronavirus infections since June 18th.

Macau’s casinos and other non-essential businesses reopened on a limited scale last Saturday, as the Special Administrative Region epidemic situation seemingly eased following a 12-day shutdown. The local churches, nevertheless, still remain closed.

In line with the “Covid Zero” policy established by the Chinese authorities, health officials told the press they are still unsure if the city has completely eliminated the virus. They will have a better assessment of the situation after another round of mass testing this weekend.

Nurturing the younger generations

Since May last year, the Society of Jesus has celebrated the Ignatian Year, an opportunity for all to grow in our relationship with God and our love for one another. It is also an occasion that marked the 500th anniversary of Saint Ignatius’ conversion, a process that forever changed the history and development of the Catholic Church. Ignatius, the soldier, struck by a cannonball, began his transformation into Ignatius, the pilgrim and warrior of God, changing from a person preoccupied with success and romance to a person on fire with the love of the Lord. In the SAR (Special Administrative Region), the result of this transformation was celebrated over the last fourteen months with several initiatives, inspired by the four major Apostolic Preferences. The last one took place on June 18th, the day before Macau’s everyday life was seized by the worst Covid-19 outbreak in more than two years of the global pandemic. “On June 18th, a Saturday, we organized the last activity of the Ignatian Year, focused on the topic ‘Accompanying the Young in the Creation of a Hope Filled Future.’ This was just the day before the Covid outbreak,” Father Fernando Azpiroz told O Clarim.

 “The gathering lasted two hours and combined young students and teachers from both our schools, Escola Estrela do Mar and Matteo Ricci School. Altogether, we had around seventy participants, a third of whom were students. During the gathering, we organized a series of activities aimed at gradually creating an atmosphere of listening, mutual interest, trust and dialogue between both adults and the youth,” the Jesuit superior in Macau explained.

For the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus, the last few months were, first and foremost, an invitation to conduct a deep reflection on the experience that gave rise to Ignatian spirituality. That meditation was based on four Apostolic Preferences seen by the Jesuits as essential: showing the way to God, walking with the excluded, caring for the environment and accompanying the younger generations.

After organizing initiatives aimed at the most disadvantaged and having called on children and adults alike regarding the importance of “taking good care of our common home,” the Society of Jesus dedicated the last major activity of the Ignatian Year to the younger generations. Father Stephen Tong, the provincial of the Chinese Province, was one of the virtual facilitators. “First we listened to  Father Provincial’s online sharing, regarding the importance that the Society of Jesus has given to the accompaniment of the youth from the very beginning. Then, we had an activity to check how much adults know about the youths’ desires and expectations,” Father Azpiroz recalls. 

The Argentinian missionary continues, explaining, “Before the meeting took place, we collected about two hundred answers from our students on different subjects and, during this activity, we asked participants to remember what answers they gave to these questions. Then, after watching a video in which different students from Jesuit schools around the world spoke about their dreams and expectations, we organized a small debate between a group of four students and two teachers, who were former students of our schools.”

The gathering was also an opportunity to take stock of the impact that the celebration of the Ignatian jubilee had in Macau during the challenging periodproduced by the Covid-19 pandemic. The work done during the last few months, Father Azpiroz proclaims, can only be seen in a positive light.  “At the end, I made a summary of what happened during the Ignatian Year until now, emphasizing the relationship between the experience of the personal conversion of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the four Universal Apostolic Preferences adopted by the Society of Jesus for the ten years ending in 2029,” says the superior of the Jesuit mission in Macau.

“I think that, altogether, everybody enjoyed the activity, which was not just aimed at students, but also had the purpose of helping adults to understand their mission to accompany them,” the Argentinian priest concludes.