As part of Jesuit Heritage Week, Jesuits and the Georgetown University Latin American Student Association co-sponsored a discussion highlighting the broad impact of Jesuit service in Latin America in McShain Lounge on Thursday.
The talk was led by panelists Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., Fr. John Montoya, S.J., Austin Rose (COL ’18) and Jessica Andino (COL ’18), who each spoke on the specifics and personal impact of service they undertook in Latin America.
Jesuit Heritage Week is a week dedicated to exploring and celebrating Georgetown’s Jesuit history and traditions. Following a Latin American-themed meal that preceded the event, Carnes opened with a speech describing his own experience serving in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in October 1998.
He described the variety of educational services that Jesuits provide throughout Latin America, including Fe y Alegría, a primary and secondary program run in poor communities; Guatemalan Radio Education Institute, a school teaching through radios; and Infocap, a university specifically for rural workers.
“[The programs have] been trying to open their doors more and more to a much broader population to be able to make sure that they can provide educational access that wasn’t part of Latin America traditionally. That’s where they’re trying to be transformative,” Carnes said.
Following Carnes’ address, Montoya spoke specifically on the education and human rights frontiers engaged through Jesuit work in Colombia. He praised Fe y Alegría, whose motto is “Educational communities where the pavement ends,” as a crucial program for the rural poor. The Jesuits run 20 of the 21 Fe y Alegría schools in Colombia.
“We’d like to transform the society of Colombia through education,” Montoya said.
Rose and Andino gave a joint address about their experiences on the Kino Border Immersion, an Alternative Breaks Program and a Magis trip, a partnership between the Center for Social Justice and Campus Ministry.
The trip’s participants partnered with the Kino Border Initiative, a Jesuit refugee service dedicated to protecting the rights of forcibly displaced persons and the promotion of respectful treatment for asylum seekers.
Andino said she was motivated to go on the immersion trip by her mother’s own experience crossing the border from Mexico into the United States in the 1990s.
“My ultimate goal is trying to find methods to make sure people like migrants are treated with dignity and respect,” Andino said. “We need to make the immigration system a more humane one.”
During their trip, Rose and Andino, along with their whole group, served with Jesuits and nuns in a soup kitchen and women’s shelter, both located near the U.S.-Mexico border, in order to best cater to individuals recently deported.
After an audience member addressed the element of “voluntourism,” a term used to define service trips that do little to help those on the receiving end and can even be damaging, Rose explained that he grappled with this concept during the experience, especially when his group visited a detention center.
“There are times when it feels like you are doing nothing, and are just a privileged person who happens to be walking around, just seeing what’s up,” Rose said. “But I would say there are plenty of opportunities for very authentic service, it just requires a little bit more.”
Carnes later addressed the idea of true service. He said that by spending time accompanying a particular community in its struggles, he feels he can fulfill his mission as an activist by spreading the story.
“What I hope inside of me is that all the people I have lived and worked with keep speaking through me in some way and I keep telling their story,” Carnes said. “And if I do that, it keeps me in a kind of solidarity with them.”
Carnes said that many Jesuits working in Latin America who speak out against injustices receive threats from people attempting to silence them. He commented on the bravery of these Jesuits as they continue their service and persevere with their cause despite obstacles.
“I wonder how often we get slightly complacent here, like we see something that we know is pretty unjust, but we choose not to make a scene,” Carnes said. “They’re a little bit more willing to make a scene.”
Manuel Knight, who audits classes at Georgetown and has visited 30 different Latin American countries through his work as a tourism economist, said he found the talk engaging and relatable to his own experiences interacting with Jesuits in Uruguay.
“In the more rural areas, such as the [Catholic University] in Uruguay, [Jesuits] do lots of work with rural farmers in terms of things like cattle production. In fact, they’re very proud that at our university in Argentina, there is a breed of cattle that is named after the university because of [their help],” Knight said.
Anne Ewing (COL ’16), a co-coordinator of Jesuit Heritage Week, said the most striking part of the talks was the main theme of “going to the margins,” something she views as very unique to the Jesuit service tradition.
“I thought it was interesting they look for that and they seek that out,” Ewing said. “Whenever you go to somewhere that’s the most remote and has the least amount of help, that’s where you’ll find the Jesuits.”