Every session began with the Sign of the Cross in Salish, a Native American language from the Northwest, and, often enough, a hymn or prayer would follow in the same language. Intoned by a Salish woman from the Colville Reservation in Washington, the striking cadences of song and prayer carried the Jesuits gathered for their annual retreat back in history to some of the first Jesuits in the Western United States. They also carried us into the present as we were reminded that Jesuits continue to serve those same communities almost 200 years later and brought us also into reflection and prayer for the future of this beautiful ministry.
The sacred ways of the native peoples and the sacred way of the Ignatian exercises were beautifully woven together during the eight days of prayer for the annual retreat. The ties of Jesuits and these peoples have been close: a visionary leader of the Salish people, Circling Raven, saw the Blackrobes (Jesuits) coming to the tribe decades before they arrived. They were welcomed on the basis of prophecy and a deep and mutual affection has marked the ministry for the close to two centuries of its existence, an existence marked by tragedy, oppression, sorrow and perseverance.
What an appropriate way to celebrate the 500 years since Ignatius was wounded by a cannonball and converted during his painful convalescence. His conversion set in motion a sacred way to live for God which Jesuits still follow and has allowed them to dialogue with and deepen their appreciation for the sacred ways of the native peoples.
Fr. John Auther, SJ is a Jesuit for 42 years and a priest for almost 30 years. In his pastoral ministry he has devoted a good deal of time to Spanish-speaking work, detention facilities and retreats. He began working at JRC in January 2020.