Antarctic experience on a Jesuit bucket list

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I have a ‘bucket list’ of things that I want to do before I die, and one of those was to visit to the South Pole, writes Father Michael Smith SJ in Kairos and republished by the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.

I doubted I would ever tick off that item until I heard about the Antarctic Chaplaincy Program coordinated by Fr Dan Doyle of Christchurch Diocese in New Zealand. I emailed him to see if there was a possibility of my being a chaplain at McMurdo Station, the US research centre on the shore of McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. He informed me that a space was available in December 2012. I could go if I passed the medical.

Because Antarctica is so remote and medical facilities are limited, if you want to travel there you must undergo extensive medical and dental checks beforehand. I passed the tests and on 6 December 2012, flew to Antarctica from Christchurch.

I had researched Antarctica before I went, but nothing prepared me for the physical vastness and the beauty I encountered when I stepped out of the aircraft onto the ice runway. Psalm 8 expresses well the sense of being on the frozen continent:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars that you have established—what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

In the Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius of Loyola suggests that we consider how God works and labours for us in all things created on the face of the earth. In Antarctica, it is not hard to see God at work in the beauty of creation—in the mountain ranges, in the ice sheet, in the limitless blue sky, in the vastness of the continent, in the seals, in the penguins.

The aspect of life at McMurdo that will stay with me is the relationships. With about 1000 people at the station, and with us all eating together in the galley, a strong sense of community grew. I found the conversations over meals and the friendships that were forged very life-giving.

These conversations often turned to things of God and discussing the meaning of life was an important part of my role. I talked with all sorts of people, always trying to give them the time they needed to express themselves.

FULL STORY The Antarctic Jesuit (CAM)


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