The Following article written by Rodrigo Bustamante, a Belen Jesuit Prep Student after interviewing Fr. Cela, appeared in the bulletin of Belen Alumni Association in 2013.
By Rodrigo Bustamante
Father Jorge Cela Carvajal was born in 1941 in Havana, Cuba, and attended Colegio de Belen in 1949. Over the course of 10 years that he spent at Belen, Cela Carvajal grew in an environment that was committed to social work and justice.
“Belen was a true community with a genuine commitment to justice and morality that awoke my deepest concerns,” said Father Cela Carvajal.
While at Belen, he served at La Lisa – a very poor neighborhood in Havana, Cuba. His experiences working with the poor opened the door for a deeper understanding of their way of life. He began to see the poor as his brothers and sisters, and he felt he needed to do more. These experiences with the poor coupled with mentorship by Father Felipe Arroyo and Father Luis Ripoll, inspired him to greatly consider the priesthood.
Upon graduating in 1959, he immediately joined the novitiate in el Calvario in Havana. The following year he was moved to Los Teques in Venezuela to continue this part of his formation. After three years in Venezuela, he went to study philosophy in Alcalá de Henares in Spain. Upon completing his studies, he came to Belen’s new home in Miami and taught there from 1965 to 1966.
He went on to teach in the Dominican Republic and continue his studies at Regis College in Toronto, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Lumen Vitae in Brussels. In the midst of his most intense studies, he was ordained a priest in 1970.
From 1973 to 2003, Father Cela Carvajal lived with and served the poor in the Dominican Republic. During this time, he worked at two parishes: San Martín de Porres in Guachupita and Santo Domingo Savio in Guandules. Noticing a desperate need for social work and putting his passions to the test, Cela Carvajal created the Centro Bonó. This center works with the poor in Santo Domingo and the surrounding areas, giving them a concrete way to escape the constant cycle of poverty and inequality. Alongside these men and women, the Centro Bonó also works to help Haitian immigrants by giving them this same hope for a better future.
Father Cela Carvajal was not complacent and began working with the NGO Ciudad Alternativa, a group that builds houses for the poor in the areas around Santo Domingo. He eventually became the Director of this NGO.
His relentless spirit, passion for social work, love for the poor, and calling to serve God and others, continued to inspire him to do more. In 2003, he was named the Director of the Dominican chapter of Fe y Alegría and shortly thereafter, was named the International Coordinator for the International Federation of Fe y Alegría. This organization works to give all people the possibility to get an education, develop their passions and live with dignity, by constructing societies where the social and political structures are focused on human development. Their goal is to eradicate all kinds of inequality and poverty. Under his leadership, Fe y Alegría started chapters in Africa. Through his efforts, Fe y Alegría now has schools in 20 countries.
After this, Cela Carvajal was named the Superior of the Jesuit Region in Cuba. He had visited Cuba but this marked the first time Carvajal went to stay. During his two years as Superior of the Jesuits in Cuba, he brought his love for social work and conducted
a study on the Cuban church, hoping to create a pastoral plan. The studies showed him that despite not having any formal or structured religious formation, religion is still an essential part of the Cuban society.
“The Cuban people are awake, their hearts are always longing to be free,” said Father Cela Carvajal.
In 2012, Cela Carvajal became the President of the Conference of Provincials of Latin America (CPAL). This summit is organized by provinces and furthermore, by issue. All Jesuit groups meet and are then divided on the basis of what their mission is. Thus, the purpose of this conference is to create a dialogue between all Jesuit organizations and ultimately, create partnerships for projects to yield a greater impact.
It goes without saying that Father Jorge Cela Carvajal has lived the Magis. He has done more for God and others and then some. Cela Carvajal states that the Magis comes from Ignatian spirituality. He continued relating that too many people say they need to find God when in reality, it is God that will find us.
“What is God asking of me?” he said, “try to find God in everything you do and be open to him. Be attentive, have open eyes, and listen to what God wants,” stated Cela Carvajal.
He went on to add that the Magis is not a comparison between others but rather between God and oneself.
Cela Carvajal dreams of the day when we will be able to live out Christ’s proposal: A world where all people are brothers. He dreams of the day when there will be no war and when people will not insult one another. He urges all people to find God in others and to see no person as inferior but rather as a brother. By achieving this, Cela Carvajal knows that mankind will be able to change the world.