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Companions! XJs Narratives: A Groundbreaking Book

The Society of Jesus, whose members are called Jesuits, was at its peak in 1965 when they numbered 36,038 worldwide, making it the largest single religious order in the world. But like any other religious order, the Jesuits have experienced a decline in numbers following that tumultuous period when the Second Vatican Council addressed the issue of how the Catholic Church must deal with the modern world.

According to Wikipedia, as of 2018, there were 15,842 Jesuits in the world, including priests and Jesuits in formation. That’s a decrease of almost 56%.

In the Philippines, it is estimated that some 400 Jesuits have left the Society from 1954-2020 (from Ed Garcia’s introduction to Companions! XJs Narratives). I was one of those who left the Society in 1976 after eight years of being a Jesuit.

Joining the Society is tough. One goes through a rigid application process. But, just like any other way of life, nothing is really absolutely conclusive. Conditions do change.

There are many reasons why Jesuits leave the Society. The reasons for leaving vary from inability to cope with certain religious structures to realizing that the Society has changed much since one entered; from realizing after prayerful reflections that one joined the Society for the wrong reasons to questioning the written and unwritten rules of religious life; from discovering after discernment that one is called to married life to doing something outside the scope of work that the Jesuits are doing. Some would even leave long after ordination.

I left the Society because I wanted to join full-time in the struggle for national liberation against the Marcos dictatorship during the martial law years. I was convinced at that time that the best way to be “men for others,” as St. Ignatius exhorted the Jesuits, was to organize the poor and the marginalized to fight the dictatorship at whatever cost.

Leaving the Society is always a personal decision. Speculations why Jesuits leave the Society, known for its reputation as educators with a commitment to the promotion of justice, will always remain a topic of conversation. But it’s never because one is a failure or a loser. Many of the Jesuits I know have left on friendly terms and with greater clarity of purpose on how they want to live their lives productively and meaningfully and still be “men for others.”

When a Jesuit leaves the Society, students and colleagues often ask: What happened? Why did he leave, he is such a good Jesuit? What is he going to do now? There’s always a feeling of “sayang (too bad).” I remember how shocked I was when I heard that a favorite Jesuit teacher in high school at the Ateneo de Naga left the Society.

A good number of books has been written about the Jesuits in the Philippines. Some of them are historical; others are about the great work done by the Jesuits in the field of education, social justice work, psychology, spiritual retreats, and other scholarly endeavors.

But nothing has been written about those who have left the Society and what has happened to them. I dare to guess that there’s a significant lesson to learn from the lives of these former Jesuits. After all, the history of any religious congregation can be better understood in terms of the stories of those who have left.

As if by God’s design and in time for the “Ignatian Year” beginning on May 20, 2021 – the anniversary of St. Ignatius’ injury on the battlefield that eventually led to his conversion – and ending on July 31, 2022, the feast of St. Ignatius, a book that documents the lives of former Jesuits in the Philippines or XJs, as they call themselves, will soon be released by San Anselmo Press, Inc.

Edited by Gemino H. Abad, Ruben L. F. Habito, and Ed Garcia – all former Jesuits – the book, “Companions! XJs Narratives” is a collection of stories of XJs who have decided to frankly disclose their collective experiences in and outside of the Society in a manner that will answer most of the questions often asked why Jesuits leave and what they have become.

The book also pays tributes to some former Jesuits who passed on.

The back cover of the book carries testimonials from respected figures, including Fr. Antonio Moreno, SJ, former Provincial Superior of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus, who wrote: “These inspiring and fascinating stories of former Jesuits and tributes to their deceased companions bring to life the legacy of Ignatius of Loyola whose 500th anniversary of conversion is on 20 May 2021. These stories contribute fittingly to the celebration of the Ignatian Year that commences on that date, as they are a living testimony of people who were moved by Ignatian spirituality. These XJs may have left the Society of Jesus, but the touch of Ignatius stayed with them.”

Dr. Peter Phan, Professor and Ellacuria Chair of Catholic Thought, Georgetown University, wrote: “What a timely moving tribute to what the Jesuits and the XJs have done for the reign of God in Asia, especially the Philippines. May their work continue to bear abundant fruit in the Asian churches today!”

People say that books are like people. This is a truism as the book reveals to the readers significant human experiences of ordinary mortals struggling to make their lives meaningful in the service of God and promoting God’s reign of peace and justice outside of the Company they once committed to spend their lives.

Most Rev. Antonio Ledesma, SJ, Archbishop Emeritus of Cagayan de Oro, wrote in his blurb: “In many ways, they (XJs) continue the living out of their Jesuit vocation in a seemingly disjointed world.”

Although the life stories of the XJs spread over many years, they unfold across 400 pages plus of narratives and present an extraordinarily clearer account how these XJs managed to exist and live in a world that may not be totally strange to them but still full of challenges. How they responded to the myriad challenges will help the readers understand who these XJs are and expose them to a world once shrouded in secrecy.

The number of Jesuits who have left may not tell the readers much as we’d like to about the future of the Jesuits who remain, but it tells us that there’s still a meaningful life for those who leave.

The readers will meet in “Companions! XJs Narratives” former Jesuits who might be initially thought of as “guilty” of failing the Church for taking different paths. But after reading their stories, the readers will come away enlightened and will find the book a groundbreaking one.

Dr. Maria Luz C. Vilches, Vice President for the Loyola Schools, Ateneo de Manila University, describes the book as: “Riveting narratives of audacity, hope and gratitude…Truly inspiring.”


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