Continuing our series Sacraments and Social Mission: Living the Gospel, Being Disciples, full-time volunteer and communications associate Michael Carlson interviews Fr. John Swope, S.J., President of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore, MD where Michael used to teach. Fr. Swope has been a Jesuit for 38 years and served in Chile from 1980-1983 and from 1991-2000. 

1. During your time in Chile, what were your experiences of celebrating Eucharist with the Chilean community and how were they similar or different to your experiences in the US?

For nearly ten years, I had the privilege of celebrating the Sunday Eucharist in a small shantytown chapel in Santiago named Jesus Vida Nueva or Jesus, New Life. The centrality of Christ in the Eucharist was the same as here, but the joy and the exuberance in our Sunday celebration were sometimes overwhelming.

2. When you were serving on mission in Chile, how did the dignity of True Presence affect the way you viewed the people you served?

As a young priest in Chile, I had a deep appreciation and love for the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but as my priesthood wove its way into my life each day, the presence of Christ in God’s people deepened my appreciation of His presence in the Eucharist and vice versa. It was. and continues to be, a kind of dialogue.

3. A) How is the notion of inculturation Eucharist-inspired? B) What has been your experience with inculturation in your various ministries?

As a Jesuit, I aspire to continually dialogue with the culture in which I find myself. The challenge of finding ways to evangelize the culture in which I live is an exciting part of my Jesuit ministry. It is very much wrapped up in the Incarnation.

 As the same time, I feel called to be countercultural, and this is less related to the Incarnation and much more to the Passion. While seeds of the Word exist in all cultures, other negative forces exist in cultures that prevent us from developing the common good in which all have a claim.

To be faithful to the mission that I share with all Jesuits can bring me into conflict with long-standing injustices that prevent us from building the Kingdom of God.

Street view of CRJ courtesy of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School

4. Near the end of the film “The Mission”, Fr. Gabriel is martyred on mission while holding a monstrance with the Eucharist, a particularly poignant image for many viewers. Does that image resonate with you?

For me, it is a beautiful example of truth speaking to power. While that scene represents a time long ago and a place far away, it should never allow me to escape the profound reality that the message of Jesus Christ and the values of the Kingdom of God are tremendously challenging for those holding power. Christ invites all Christians to live their faith in community and to carry on his mission, announcing the Good News and denouncing the injustices and violence that plague our world.

5.Your current mission is President of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore. How did your mission work in Chile spiritually prepare you for your current ministry?

Having lived in Chile under the Pinochet military dictatorship with the restriction of freedoms that we can all too easily take for granted, many families suffered greatly. It was a bleak time for the country.

Yet God raised up men and women in service of the Gospel to denounce injustices and violence. In Baltimore, I am blessed to collaborate in a beautiful countercultural project, bringing a rigorous college prep education to the young men and women from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods of Baltimore City.

Christ is present in the daily Eucharist celebrated each morning, and Christ is present in the mission of the school to provide a transformative educational experience for our promising young men and women. Both of those presences are true and both are real.

6. Franciscan Mission Service missioners primarily serve a “ministry of presence”. As an administrator, how can you fulfill a ministry of presence to the faculty, students, families, and communities you serve?

In the living out of my Jesuit priesthood in the Cristo Rey Jesuit school community, “being present” is certainly important, but striving for the greater good in all aspects of my life is paramount. In our school community, I try to be a voice that calls others to the greater good, to strive in their work so that our students can be loving, intellectually competent, religious, committed to justice and open to growth.

Fr. John Swope, S.J., courtesy of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School