September 7, 2017 — On Aug. 29, Pope Francis appointed Fr. Anthony J. Corcoran, SJ, to the office of apostolic administrator of the Catholic Church’s Apostolic Administration in Kyrgyzstan. Fr. Corcoran, a member of the Jesuits' U.S. Central and Southern Province, has served since 2008 as canonical superior of the Russian Region of the Society of Jesus.
Born in 1963, Fr. Corcoran entered the Society of Jesus in 1985 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1996. He has served as a missionary in Russia since 1997, shortly after the end of communism there.
Kyrgyzstan, in Central Asia, was once part of the Soviet Union. It has a population of about 6 million, of whom only about 500 are Roman Catholic. Jesuits have served at this Catholic mission since it was established 20 years ago.
Kyrgyzstan is predominantly Muslim, with a sizable Russian Orthodox minority. Its constitution guarantees religious freedom.
Fr. Corcoran was interviewed for America Magazine in August 2014. Excerpts of that interview with Fr. Sean Salai, SJ, appear below.
Although several Jesuits worked underground during the Soviet era, and many others were victims of the Soviet regime’s anti-religious policy, the Society of Jesus now operates openly there. Today Jesuits of the Russian Region work in five countries of the former Soviet Union: Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Belarus.
The former Soviet Union is primarily an Orthodox Christian population. Who are the people you serve?
In our work in education, people from different nationalities and religions participate; however, the majority of our students and professors are Russian Orthodox. In Southern Kyrgyzstan, most of the people with physical or mental challenges our Jesuits and lay volunteers assist, as well as the majority of students participating in youth camps or who study foreign languages with us, are Muslims.
What is the goal of our Jesuit ministries in Russia?
We strive to serve with the same goals, or priorities, with which the Society of Jesus everywhere serves.
Our Jesuits work in the intellectual apostolate, in pastoral and social ministries, and in the apostolate of the Spiritual Exercises. I don’t want to exaggerate the scale of our work here — we are very few in this area and our works are limited. Still, we are committed to being present and do strive to deepen the quality of these works. Really, St. Ignatius’ passion for finding the best method of offering various “ministries of consolation” should be our defining character here. And, of course, there is no limit to the possibilities to serve in these ministries, if we remain focused on what — or Who — is at the heart of this vocation.
What are some signs of hope in our Jesuit ministries in the region?
Even if we are few and our strength and capacity to serve limited, God works.
What strikes me is the continued interest by some in genuine dialogue on the intellectual and cultural level, the request for the pastoral “approach” that the Society can provide, and an obvious desire for the Spiritual ministries of the Society — the Spiritual Exercises, sacramental ministry, preaching, spiritual direction.
As an American Jesuit overseeing Catholic works in the former Soviet Union, you are often on the go, traveling to remote areas. How do you pray?
I often think of St. Teresa’s advice that fundamental to a fruitful prayer life is the commitment to “keep at it.” Fortunately, God “keeps at it” in trying to find us; I find this consoling to remember.
I also find it helpful, when on the road, to grasp at any reminder God sends to pray. For example, in many of the towns I visit in Central Asia, Muslim prayers are loudly broadcast throughout the area by loudspeakers five times each day from the local Mosques. I try and unite my prayers with theirs at these times.
Of course, for those trained by St. Ignatius, the spirituality of the daily examen, of searching — often, on the move — until we find God in all things, shapes prayer and entails a willingness to let it be shaped by the real events in which we find ourselves … including, probably, even jet lag, different physical conditions, and long travel. Obviously, this is a challenge which is ongoing and which I have not yet managed to perfect. [Source: Central and Southern Province Jesuits, America Magazine]