Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An update from Santiago.

In my (still very few) years as a Jesuit, I've often had the feeling that the amount of time I'm able to spend in any one place is somehow too short. Just when I've gotten used to a place, it seems, I have to pack up and go somewhere else. Though saying goodbye to people and places I've become fond of is always difficult, the sadness I feel at such times paradoxically affirms my sense of vocation. St. Ignatius wanted Jesuits to possess the kind of indifference that would allow us to be sent wherever we are needed most or can do the most good. However, Ignatian indifference does not mean that Jesuits should regard the places where they live and work with apathy. If a Jesuit does not feel the sadness of parting, he may not have invested himself in his mission in a particular place in the way that our vocation demands.

This is my last full week in Santiago, and I'm sorry to have to leave so soon. Though the last month has been challenging in various respects - from having to communicate all day in a language I do not speak well to keeping warm during the Chilean winter - I've really enjoyed my time here. The Chilean Jesuits have been unfailingly kind and hospitable, providing me with regular reminders of what a great blessing it is to belong to a global Society. I've also come to enjoy living in Santiago, a capital with many points in its favor. For one thing, the city counts a Jesuit saint among its former residents: canonized in October 2005, St. Alberto Hurtado is widely revered in Chile for his work among the poor. The Jesuit community where I currently live is a few blocks away from the Santuario Padre Hurtado, which houses the saint's tomb as well as exhibits about his life. The headquarters of Hogar de Cristo, a social service organization founded by Father Hurtado, is located next door to the Santuario. Thus, appropriately enough, one cannot visit Hurtado's tomb without coming into contact with the people he served.

To the extent that I've been able to participate in the cultural life of the Chilean capital, I've been impressed with what I've found. Over the past month, I've attended two concerts given by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Chile as well as a sort of 'double feature' presentation of one-act operas (Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle and Puccini's Suor Angelica) at Santiago's venerable Teatro Municipal. All three performances were excellent and, I'm pleased to report, played to nearly full houses that included a lot of young people. (A couple of weeks ago, one of the local dailies ran an article on the great success that Chilean orchestras and opera companies have had in attracting more patrons in their twenties and thirties by offering deep discounts on ticket prices and performing more works by contemporary composers.) The two museums that I've visited here - the Museo Histórico Nacional de Chile and the Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda - were similarly impressive. I should note, too, that getting to these places and others has been fairly easy thanks to Santiago's clean and efficient Metro. Like any other public transportation system, the Metro de Santiago has its own particular flaws - it's packed to the gills at rush hour (think Tokyo) and has very little seating (even on nearly empty trains, I've always had to stand). With trains running about every two minutes on average, however, the system is much more reliable than the New York Subway.

I've been very neglectful of this blog during my time in Chile - my classes and community responsibilities have eaten up most of my waking hours - but I have been praying daily for family and friends who watch this space for updates on where I am and what I'm doing. I hope to resume more regular posting once I return to the United States next week. Until then, please know of my prayers and good wishes. AMDG.


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