On the night before I entered the Jesuits, I had to say goodbye to the Malahide Sea Scouts. I had been with them for nine years and had acted as “Skipper” for four.
I had witnessed how many wild young fellows had rediscovered direction and purpose in their lives through the programmed activities of camping, boating and mountaineering. So when I was leaving I said to my best friend there who was taking over the troop after me, ” I hope that in the Jesuits, I will end up doing something as good as we have been doing here”. He replied, “Of course you will.
It has taken twenty years for his prophecy to come true. I enjoyed the novitiate in Dollymount, Dublin and philosophy in France. I relished the chance to teach during regency in Galway and in Site two refugee camp in Thailand. I reflected on all these experiences in theology and during the last part of Jesuit formation, tertianship, in the Philippines. Yet it was as if there was still something missing from my life. It is only in these last few years that I have felt a similar sense of awe and amazement in relation to young people’s growth.
A few years ago the bishop asked me to live with poor Cambodian students in Phnom Penh. It is my job to be present for these young men and women from the remote countryside as the try to cope with life in a big, underveloped city to help them live a community life as they study together. The Khmer Rouge regime tried to destroy all natural human solidarity but these students are the living proof of the regime’s total failure. The Khmer Rouge tried to uproot all religious feeling, Buddhist, Islamic and Christian, but these young people pray more easily than we do at home. Our house is cramped and hot. We sleep on mats. Our food is very plain but our conversation is full of fun and hope. Laughter and jokes ease the wounds of past sufferings and family break-ups. The students are so active in helping others that I cannot keep up with them. The boys and girls respect each other like brothers and sisters. Now I almost feel that I am finally doing what I am meant to be doing. It is a tiny drop of work in an ocean of tasks that I cannot do. The drop is signicant though.