Father Peter had the opportunity to speak with a group of Boston College students to share his story and the mission of A Faith That Does Justice on Thursday, September 21. These students are set to travel to South Africa in January as a part of the school’s Arrupe International Immersion Program, a year-long engagement named after Father Pedro Arrupe, former Superior General of the Jesuits. The Arrupe program is based on the three pillars of faith, social justice, and community, and participants have the opportunity to grow spiritually in a small community throughout the year. Activities include weekly meetings, a retreat during each semester, and a mid-year trip to a foreign country for immersion in marginalized communities. Father Arrupe first coined the term “A Faith That Does Justice” in the late-20th Century, and his mission for the Jesuits played a role in Father Peter’s decision to join the organization in 2003.
Father Peter shared the story of his early medical training, his time in El Salvador, the process of joining the Jesuits, and the founding of A Faith That Does Justice. One of the group’s mentors, Emily Egan, invited him to speak so the students could hear about his experiences in El Salvador. He walked them through the history of the war, the tragic assassinations of Oscar Romero and six Jesuit priests, the contrasting viewpoints that Salvadorans had toward the US Government and the American people at that time, and some of his personal stories.
One experience that stood out was a Mass that he attended in a remote village. The members of the community held the service in a cemetery and dedicated it to those who were killed in the war. During a critical point, bombs from the nearby front started to fall close to their location, and Peter accepted that he may not even get out of where he was. He figured his Salvadoran friends would show him the way and seek for safety, but they made a point to remain in the location to read off every single name of those killed in the war. They finished the Mass in honor of their family members and friends. It was a powerful moment, and Peter told the students that it was a profound experience of God. The faith that he observed was a poetic and artistic sense of God that comes from the heart. His message to the group was to go beyond an intellectual ascent to faith to find this type of experience of a higher power. This message serves as the foundation of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, it was the core of Father Arrupe’s mission for the Jesuits at his time, and it drives the mission of A Faith That Does Justice today.
After his talk, Father Peter took the opportunity to answer some questions, discuss his knowledge of South Africa, and share the history of A Faith That Does Justice. He described his time doing AIDs research as a pediatrician in South Africa. The country has a strong infrastructure and the potential to grow into a leading economy in the region. The group can expect to see this potential alongside the lasting legacy of Apartheid on the country. Peter described how some pedestrian bridges still have separate lanes, which were once used to segregate people based on the color of their skin and their ethnic heritage. The students can expect to wrestle with questions of social justice and faith as they learn about this history and visit with the citizens of South Africa.
Peter’s parting advice to the students was to be willing to listen to truth in their lives. The #1 trait necessary for discernment is freedom, and this freedom can help one both identify truth and have the courage to respond to it. He described the two forms of compassion: One being a passive compassion that acknowledges suffering in the world, and the other being a deeper, active level, in which compassion becomes subjective and people actively walk in solidarity with those who suffer. AFTDJ’s two-sided mission is to serve marginalized people in society and give people of faith the opportunity to walk in solidarity with suffering. The BC students participating in Arrupe will have a similar opportunity on their journey this year.
The evening ended with a closing prayer, and one of the students played PJ Morton’s “Don’t Let Go,” a song from his faith-driven “Gospel According to PJ” album. The AFTDJ team wishes the group a formative and hope-filled experience this year, and looks forward to sharing stories and collaborating again in the future.