Though the phrase `frontier ministries’ has gained prominence rather recently, especially after GC 35, the concept itself and its realization is almost as old as the Society itself. Ignatius laid the foundation for it right at the start: while most of the religious orders and congregations had a specific ministry, for the order he founded no ministry was specified; it could be any, according to the time and circumstances, that would be for God’s greater glory and greater service of souls. In his prayer, he prays for the generosity to give without counting the cost, to fight without minding the wounds…
Our mission, says GC 35, is to discover Christ where we have not seen him before, and to reveal him where he has not been seen or heard of before. For us frontiers are not boundaries beyond which we do not venture, but challenges and opportunities to seek the magis, with creative fidelity and an `apostolic aggressivity’ (Arrupe). For his mission, a Jesuit, travelling by roads less travelled, has to find a way or to make one.
Roman Pontiffs have amply acknowledged this fact. Paul VI recognized that `wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the frontline between the deepest human desires and the perennial message of the Gospel, there have been, and there are, Jesuits.’ John Paul II reiterated it. Benedict XVI assured the Jesuits that `the Church needs you, counts on you and continues to turn to you with confidence’ to work `where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach.’
With the discovery of new lands, St Ignatius did not hesitate to send his sons to hitherto unknown territories. Xavier whose heart was larger than the world traversed land and sea up to Japan and eyed even the distant China. Ricci and de Nobili in the East, the Reduction Jesuits, Anchieta as well as Brebeuf and Companions in the West and countless others ventured to serve people of diverse cultures, climes and tongues, unmindful of hardships, hurdles and dangers.
As the world changes, the context of our mission changes too, and new frontiers beckon us. We cannot offer yesterday’s solutions to tomorrow’s problems, said Arrupe. No doubt frontier ministries have meant paying a heavy price at times, as we know in the case of Rutilio Grande and Ellacuria in El Salvador, A. T. Thomas in India, and many others elsewhere. The memory of the anxious days and months Alex Premkumar had to go through recently in Afghanistan is still fresh in our minds.
Karnataka Jesuits too have set us an example in the past. When the initial band of Jesuits who were just managing to cater to the mission assigned to them, were offered the St Joseph’s Institutions in Bangalore, they boldly accepted them counting on God’s providence and the strength of borrowed hands. When Fr General Arrupe, at the request of the Archbishop of Shillong, wanted JCSA to help him in the North East frontier, and when other Provinces said they had their hands full, Fr J.C. Pereira, Provincial, took up the challenge to work among the `head-hunting Nagas’. When Karnataka Province decided to move further into North Karnataka, the couple of pioneering young Jesuits asked the Bishop of Bellary to give them the most neglected area; they were offered Manvi-Pannur, which has now been developed beyond recognition.
However, we cannot rest glorying on the laurels of the past. I need to ask myself: Am I ready for a tough mission today? The answer is given not in words, but is revealed in my lifestyle, my attitude to comforts and conveniences, the depth of my prayer life, the extent of my trust in God, my readiness to face criticism, to work sometimes alone, sometimes in a team, accepting the strengths and weaknesses of each other. Dauntless Ignatius, lead us on!