Dreaming the Future for the Chinese Province

Fr John Lee SJ, Provincial of the Chinese Province
Fr John Lee SJ, Provincial of the Chinese Province

Matteo Ricci was the great missionary to the East. He arrived in China in 1583 and proved to be a wonderful missionary linking the East to the West. The Jesuit presence in China has not always been easy. A reason for rejoicing today is that Jesuits continue to be a wonderful and effective presence amongst the people and young Chinese Jesuits grow in number.

China has always been a dream for the Society of Jesus from the very beginning of its foundation. There have been high and low tides in the past four centuries. With so many memories and stories, the Jesuits of the Chinese Province continue to make this dream alive in our life and mission today.

The Chinese Province responded to the new call from the 35th General Congregation in 2008 to commit itself more fully to the universal mission in China. After the challenges in the past decade, we are trying again to find ways to make this dream come true.

We realise that how to be, the quality of our presence is much more important than what to do in mainland China. We now want to follow the GC36 instruction to be aware of the wider aspects of discernment, networking and collaboration. Therefore, we Jesuits are spending quality time to be together for the strengthening of our friendship in the Lord, through which we can together discern the voice and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

The most wonderful thing about our efforts in China is that we do not have any visible institution. This prompts and leads us to be open to the need of Christ’s mission and enables us to step out of our own predetermined or personal interests and take steps to respond to the real need of the people.

We are joining the people in their good work, being inspired by them and inspiring them to go deeper in encountering their neighbors and in loving God. It is always more consoling to see people getting closer to the Lord rather than to see ourselves making our own institutions successful. We do not need to raise our big ‘IHS’ logo in prominent places on the top of our buildings. On the contrary, we need to root Jesus in the heart of people.

Since we are making ourselves more available and flexible, we are able to connect and collaborate with many more people of good will. We want to be with others and to walk with others; we want to personally accompany them. However, we also need to face some challenges: ‘The harvest is indeed plentiful, but labourers are few.’ We will spend more energy to share the Ignatian Way with more people, so that they may also follow in the footsteps of St Ignatius, never stopping to look for ways to give greater glory to God.

I feel privileged and honored to be chosen to participate in this great mission. Together we want to share this grace and opportunity with more people and even with Jesuits, from near and from far, who may join this mission in various ways. Young Jesuits could spend some years in our province, allowing the rich Chinese culture to gradually make them into humbler instruments of the Lord. Lay collaborators can pray for us or financially help us to form more young Jesuits and collaborators.

I am convinced that God will be much pleased with our efforts if we work together to create spaces for more encounters in China: people with people, with God and with creation. May the Lord continue to inspire us to dream and to look for ways of making our dreams come true.

Fr John Lee SJ is Provincial of the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus. August 2017