By J. Leo Klein, S.J.
In 1951, the king of Nepal invited the Society of Jesus to establish a school there to prepare Nepali boys for European universities, even though Nepal was—and is—a Hindu country where it’s against the law to change religions. On a recent visit, I joined three classmates as they celebrated the 50th anniversary of that Jesuit mission to Nepal.
Over the past five decades, these and other Jesuits have done their work well. They now have several schools. Three American Jesuits earned doctoral degrees from Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu and, in turn, opened the Human Resources Development Research Center. Another American Jesuit established drug rehabilitation sites and a small orphanage for boys. Additional Jesuit efforts include care for mentally retarded children. Within 50 years, the Jesuit work in Nepal has come to mirror the range of Jesuit ministries worldwide.
Today the Jesuit “pioneers” are an aging group. Coming along behind them, though, are Jesuit seminarians as well as a promising number of candidates. No one doubts the work will continue; the question, rather, turns to what that work will be. We have all read the recent headlines about Nepal’s political uncertainty—the murder of royal family members, the tales of a Maoist uprising. As so often happens, however, headlines mislead and gloss over the complexity of facts. The major problem for Nepal seems to be instability. The present government contains representatives of so many political parties that unity and a subsequent shared vision remain difficult to achieve. Even the Maoist leadership cannot count on cooperation within its own ranks. If the present government could focus itself, it might well be able to address many of the Maoist concerns.
The Jesuits themselves are under no personal threat, but schools in Maoist-controlled areas might be in danger. Several schools run by Roman Catholic nuns outside of Kathmandu have already been closed.
Such actions could affect Xavier, too, as it regularly sends students to Nepal as part of its international service learning program. Although no plans to eliminate sending students to Nepal exist, that could quickly change.
Closing Jesuit schools wouldn’t mean an end to Jesuit ministry—even Jesuit educational ministry—in Nepal, but could force the Jesuits into a new era of planning. So much is uncertain. Yet on my last evening there, I shared in a gathering of several hundred Jesuit school alumni (known as the “old boys”) who came to honor their teachers. Almost all were Hindus, but they repeated often how much their Jesuit education meant, how it motivated them to embrace moral and spiritual values and support the less fortunate. One alumnus, who later graduated from Xavier, said, “Our spirituality is what unites us; religion is what so often divides us.”
I am certainly proud of my classmates and all they have accomplished in Nepal. They have helped plant the seeds of the Gospel deep in the soil, and despite the present uncertainties, their planting will bear fruit long into the future. Ignatius Loyola must be very pleased.
J. Leo Klein, S.J., is vice president for mission and ministry.