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‘ Communal reckoning’— Georgetown University, Jesuits ‘profoundly sorry’ for roles in sale of slaves

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WASHINGTON — Georgetown University and the Society of Jesus’ Maryland province apologized April 18 for their roles in the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved individuals for the university’s benefit.

More than 100 descendants attended a morning “Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope” that the university created in partnership with descendants, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Society of Jesus in the United States. Read more »

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Contrition and hope: Georgetown University, Jesuits apologize for roles in sale of slaves

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WASHINGTON — Georgetown University and the Society of Jesus’ Maryland province apologized April 18 for their roles in the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved individuals for the university’s benefit.

More than 100 descendants attended a morning “Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope” that the university created in partnership with descendants, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Society of Jesus in the United States.

Jessica Tilson, descendant of the Hawkins, Hill, Scott, Butler and Diggs family lines, delivers remarks at the dedication ceremony of the Isaac Hawkins and Anne Marie Becraft halls April 18 at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS/Georgetown University)

Jessica Tilson, descendant of the Hawkins, Hill, Scott, Butler and Diggs family lines, delivers remarks at the dedication ceremony of the Isaac Hawkins and Anne Marie Becraft halls April 18 at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS/Georgetown University)

“Today the Society of Jesus, who helped to establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors, stands before you to say that we have greatly sinned,” said Jesuit Father Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, during the liturgy. “We pray with you today because we have greatly sinned and because we are profoundly sorry.”

The event took place the day after the District of Columbia marked Emancipation Day, which celebrates the emancipation of slaves in Washington April 16, 1862. This year, the local holiday was moved to April 17 because the actual day fell on Easter Sunday.

In early April, Georgetown announced plans for the liturgy and a renaming ceremony for two buildings on campus previously named for priests who sold women, children and men into slavery for financial gain in 1838.

Jesuit Father Thomas Mulledy, as Georgetown president, authorized the transaction, and Jesuit Father William McSherry also was involved in the 1838 sale and in other slave sales.

Mulledy Hall was renamed after Isaac Hawkins, the first enslaved person listed in the sale documents. McSherry Hall is now named after Anne Marie Becraft, a teacher and free woman of color who established one of the first schools for black girls in the District of Columbia. She later joined the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

Sandra Green Thomas, a descendant of the slaves and president of the GU272 Descendants Association, spoke at length at the liturgy about the 272 enslaved people, her ancestors and her Catholic faith.

“The ability to transcend the realities of this life in this country has been a necessary tool in the survival kit of my people,” she said. “For the 272, I believe that their Catholic faith enabled them to transcend. No matter how incongruous their existence was with the gospel of God’s love and protection, they clung to their faith.”

President John J. DeGioia of Georgetown also spoke during the liturgy, saying that “slavery remains the original evil of our republic.”

The university “was complicit in” that evil, “a sin that tore apart families,” he said. “Through great violence, (it) denied and rejected the dignity and humanity of our fellow sisters and brothers. We lay this truth bare, in sorrowful apology and communal reckoning.”

Jesuit Father Robert Hussey, provincial of his order’s Maryland province, and DeGioia met with descendants in the afternoon.

Karran Harper Royal, another descendant, thanked Georgetown for its steps toward acknowledging its ties with slavery, particularly the students who took their concerns about the university’s history to the administration in 2015.

“The actions of Georgetown students have placed all of us on a journey together toward honoring our enslaved ancestors by working toward healing and reconciliation,” she said. Our history has shown us that the vestiges of slavery are a continuum that began with the kidnapping of our people from our motherland to keeping them in bondage with the brutality of American chattel slavery, Jim Crow, segregation … the school-to-prison pipeline and the over-incarceration of people of color.”

Other events included opportunities for members of the descendant community to connect with one another and with Jesuits through a private vigil the evening of April 17, a descendant-only dinner April 18 and tours of the Maryland plantation where their ancestors were enslaved.

DeGioia and other university officials have met with some descendants of the slaves on various occasions and they have had access to historical materials regarding the sale of their relatives.

Some of the families sold included adults and children the Jesuits had baptized. On March 12, The New York Times published a photo, the only known image, that an archivist in Thibodaux, Louisiana, found of one of the slaves sold by the Jesuits. His name was Frank Campbell and the story accompanying the photo said the slave was sold out of St. Inigoes plantation in Maryland, named after St. Ignatius. He had kept ties to the Catholic Church after gaining his freedom, the story said.

The liturgy and building rededications were recommendations of Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation in September 2016. The group, which included faculty, students, alumni and descendants of slaves, had suggested the university offer some form of reparative outreach as well as a meaningful financial commitment.

“Our work as a group was to help tear down the walls, the walls of mystery and silence and (the) unknown surrounding Georgetown’s historical ties to the institution of slavery,” said working group member Connor Maytnier at the dedication.

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Jesuits called to reconcile humanity with God, new superior says

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Catholic News Service

 

ROME — Jesuits are called to face the challenges of today’s world and contribute toward “reconciliation among human beings and, at the same time, a reconciliation with God and creation,” the newly elected Jesuit superior general said.

“This is a great call to reconciliation. The kingdom of God cannot be present, cannot exist among us if we do not understand each other, if we do not recognize each other as people, if we do not try to have a situation in which the world can live in peace,” said Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa Abascal. Read more »

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Jesuits elect Venezuelan as new head of order

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Catholic News Service

ROME — Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, a member of the Jesuits’ Venezuelan province, was elected the first non-European superior general of the Society of Jesus Oct. 14.

Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa, right, the new superior general of the Society of Jesus, greets the previous superior general, Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolas, after his election in Rome Oct. 14. Father Sosa, 67, is a member of the Jesuits' Venezuelan province. (CNS photo/Don Doll, S.J.)

Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa, right, the new superior general of the Society of Jesus, greets the previous superior general, Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolas, after his election in Rome Oct. 14. Father Sosa, 67, is a member of the Jesuits’ Venezuelan province. (CNS photo/Don Doll, S.J.)

The 212 voting delegates to the Jesuit general congregation elected Father Sosa, 67. He succeeds Father Adolfo Nicolas, 80, who had asked to resign because of his age.

Pope Francis was informed of the election of Father Sosa before the Jesuits announced it publicly.

The election came after four days of prayer, silence and quiet one-on-one conversations among the voting delegates, who were chosen to represent the more than 16,000 Jesuits around the world.

In an interview Oct. 7 about the pre-election phase of the congregation, Father Sosa said delegates gathered come from different countries, but they share a common culture linked to their experience of the Ignatian spiritual exercises and practices of discernment. “We have a long tradition and a strong desire to listen to the same voice, that is the voice of the Holy Spirit,” he said in an interview published on the Jesuits’ gc36.org website.

Father Sosa was born in Caracas, Nov. 12, 1948. He joined the Jesuits in 1966 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1977.

Prior to the election, he was Father Nicolas’ delegate for the international houses and works of the Society of Jesus in Rome. He has a doctorate in political science from the Universidad Central de Venezuela. He speaks Spanish, Italian, English and understands French, according to a press release from the Jesuits.

The resignation of Father Nicolas and the election of Father Sosa came during the order’s 36th general congregation, which began Oct. 2. After the election, the gathering was to continue as delegates focus on questions of Jesuit identity and governance, vocations, mission and collaboration with the laity.

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Before St. Ignatius’ tomb, Jesuits begin process to choose new superior

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Catholic News Service

ROME — Jesuits gathered in Rome to elect a new superior general were invited to draw on “the audacity of the improbable” during a Mass to open their general congregation.

The order’s voting delegates, the outgoing Jesuit superior, Father Adolfo Nicolas, and Jesuits living in Rome celebrated the Mass at Rome’s Church of the Gesu Oct. 2, before the tomb of their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Jesuit delegates attend the opening Mass for the general congregation of the Society of Jesus at the Church of the Gesu in Rome Oct. 2. Jesuit delegates from around the world are meeting in Rome to elect a new superior general. (CNS photo/Don Doll, S.J.)

Jesuit delegates attend the opening Mass for the general congregation of the Society of Jesus at the Church of the Gesu in Rome Oct. 2. Jesuit delegates from around the world are meeting in Rome to elect a new superior general. (CNS photo/Don Doll, S.J.)

The principal celebrant at the Mass was Father Bruno Cadore, superior general of the Dominicans. He said in his homily that the Society of Jesus is called “to dare the audacity of the ‘improbable’” along with the “evangelical willingness to do it with the humility” of knowing everything depends on God.

In the day’s Gospel reading, the apostles’ request to Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith,” was an apt and beautiful prayer for opening the general congregation, the Dominican priest said.

Jesus teaches faith is necessary, even if it is “as modest in appearance as a mustard seed,” he said. Disciples must remember they remain “unworthy servants” while they dare to aim for the incredible and seemingly impossible, such as rebuilding and renewing a broken world.

The audacity of evangelization is about pointing people to the one who “has done the improbable when he destroyed death and made life and immortality shine through the Gospel.”

Jesus still invites everyone to make themselves servants of a table, “a table of sinners, a table of welcome for all to which are invited the blind and the lame, Pharisees and publicans, adulterers and good people,” he said.

He also urged the Jesuits to find the strength and creativity of fidelity to the Holy Spirit “as he leads us to encounter and to listen to the other.”

The current superior, Father Adolfo Nicolas, formally presented his resignation Oct. 3 and named U.S. Father James E. Grummer, provincial of the Wisconsin Province, to be vicar general of the Jesuits for the period up until a new superior general is elected, probably around Oct. 10.

Father Nicolas announced in 2014 that he would tender his resignation this year after more than eight years in office. He turned 80 in April.

Like the pope, the superior general of the Jesuits is elected for life, although the Jesuit constitutions include provisions for the superior general to resign. In 2008, Father Nicolas succeeded Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, who resigned at age 79.

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Jesuits say South Africans’ violence against foreign nationals a disgrace

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa — A week of violence targeting foreign nationals and their businesses in Soweto and other Johannesburg townships is a national disgrace and “continues South Africa’s shameful history of xenophobia,” said The Jesuit Institute South Africa.

The attacks and looting that left at least four people dead started Jan. 19 when a Somali national allegedly shot and killed a 14-year-boy who was among a group attempting to break into his shop in Soweto. By Jan. 26, police had arrested more than 160 people for the attacks.

“The savagery demonstrated and the failure to put a stop” to the violence “is deeply disturbing and displays a failure of the state to put an end to such behavior, both by the enforcement of the law and the education of citizens in respect of the rights of foreign nationals,” the institute said in a Jan. 23 statement from its Johannesburg headquarters.

With some South African officials denying that the attacks are motivated by xenophobia, The Jesuit Institute said, “An attack on and the systematic looting of a shop that happens to be owned by a foreigner may not necessarily be xenophobic, but a systematic series of attacks on over 80 such shops and foreign-born persons cannot simply be explained away.”

The fact that the attacks appeared to be coordinated “makes this not so much acts of criminality as acts of political violence against a group. That’s xenophobia,” the institute said.

Xenophobia “is a flagrant act of contempt for the culture of human rights central to our constitution,” the statement said, noting that the bill of rights “does not discriminate between citizens and noncitizens.”

Many young South Africans feel hopeless, The Jesuit Institute said, noting that frustration among the poor is mounting with the government’s failure to address “the growing gap” between the rich and the poor.

Xenophobic violence “is symptomatic of the deep structural problems in South Africa, and foreign nationals have become scapegoats,” it said.

South Africa “must put an end to the shameful phenomenon of xenophobia and xenophobic violence by systematic civic education and by facing the social, economic and political cocktail that leads to fear, hopelessness and anger,” it said.

The institute and its partner organization, Jesuit Refugee Service, called for “all parties involved in these criminal acts to allow the law to take its course and to refrain from targeting vulnerable sectors of the community and victimizing foreigners.”

They urged dialogue “between church leaders, community leaders, local businesses and foreigners” and warned communities “to be wary of being used as pawns” by local business owners.

“Let us look for ways of working together and peaceful co-existence,” they said, noting that the government should educate citizens on the positive social and economic contributions that migrants make to South Africa.

In another Jan. 23 statement, Father David Holdcroft, regional director of Jesuit Refugee Service, called on people “to remain calm in this climate of increasing fear and discontent toward refugees and foreign traders and where opportunistic criminals are targeting vulnerable sectors of the community.”

The Jesuit Institute said that “welcome and hospitality” are key concepts of the Christian faith.

During apartheid, South Africa’s system of racial segregation and discrimination that ended in 1994, other African countries gave refuge to anti-apartheid activists, “often putting themselves at risk of attack by the South African war machine,” it said.

“Our people were treated with warmth and generosity. They were not robbed, murdered, or attacked,” it said.

“Successful states welcome migrants, who bring with them skills, knowledge and a spirit of enterprise that builds up nations,” the institute said, noting that “all research points to the fact that immigration supports economies, generates jobs, and makes societies prosperous in the long run.”

More than 60 people were killed and more than 30,000 people were displaced in attacks on foreigners around South Africa in May 2008.

— By Bronwen Dachs

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