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Touching the audience

Christian spirituality as an academic discipline has been developing now for some time. Last month marked another milestone in that development when the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality (SSCS), the premier society of its kind, held its first international conference outside North America in South Africa. Michael O’Sullivan, SJ was a member of the planning committee. He chaired a panel of presentations, and gave a plenary paper on ‘Authentic Subjectivity and Social Transformation’ on the day Oscar Romero was beatified in El Salvador.

The Questions-and-Answers session about his “inspiring and excellent” paper led to a request to tell his story of working in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship and his experience in El Salvador. According to the feedback, his “powerful and moving sharing” brought the academic conference to a new level.

One strong affirmation came in a message from Viv Stacey: “I am not a regular at conferences these days, but I found the Spirasa one affirming and helpful – and delightful and moving. One memorable moment was your presentation and the sharing of your experience. I happened to be sitting behind a row of African women whose faces showed how you spoke to their experience and your story retold something of theirs (or ours)  in a healing way.  I am sure you appreciated that – but thank you from me. I would like to read your paper in a more leisurely way.  Not only its content but its s/Spirit touched something in me.”


  1. Are Fr Michael O’Sullivan’s comments about his experiences in Chile and El Salvador available online anywhere?

  2. Michael O'Sullivan

    What I said was spontaneous, Colm, as part of the Q & A after my paper. However, Jesuit communications could direct you to some podcasts I have done in the past where I tell some of my story. Two of these podcasts can be found under podcasts on this site: what does spiritual capital mean?; reflections on Pope Francis. However, I notice that the podcast ‘Dare to Judge’ is no longer to be found there. Please contact Pat Coyle to see if that podcast is still available. Those 3 podcasts have material that relate to some of the things I shared in South Africa.

  3. Michael O'Sullivan

    Colm, I don’t remember if I spoke about Mabel in the podcasts. I did speak about her in South Africa. She was gang raped by the military after returning from Mexico where she had gone following the night she and 99 others on a youth retreat found themselves faced with tanks and machine gun fire from the military who drove into the church compound, killed the parish priest, and some of the young people. Those who survived fled to the hills (and Mabel to Mexico) as they knew they could be snatched from their homes if they went there. When I met Mabel in San Salvador she had a ten year-old daughter from the gang rape and could not accept her, while the daughter continued to want to know who was her father. I have written about Mabel’s experience in the past. Only four of the young people from that night were still alive. This piece of sharing led on to a point about the justification for self-defence violence which I said Mandela came to after a while.