Chennai, 10 January 2013 – Pierre Ceyrac SJ died early on 30 May 2012 in Chennai at the age of 98. Pierre served with JRS in the camps of Cambodian refugees in Thailand from the early 1980s, indeed since the beginning of JRS. When Pierre died, a former JRS worker wrote, “an era of compassion without borders ends”.
Some years ago, Pierre wrote in a reflection for the JRS website: “Without any merit on my part, I have lived an extraordinary human and religious life for more than 60 years along the borders of millennial civilisations. I have witnessed situations, whether in India or Cambodia, where the forces of evil and the forces of good ceaselessly confront each other. My way of being a Jesuit has become greatly simplified by all that I have lived through in both these countries…
All this could be summarised in the great axiom of St John of the Cross: ‘My only work is to love.’ I find this phrase has two aspects that, more and more, become only one: first, a growing love for Jesus Christ – ‘He whom myheart loves’ – a love that increasingly pervades everything. But, secondly, this Jesus Christ is sought, found and loved in others, and above all in the poor and those who suffer. And so one increasingly becomes ‘a man for others’. To these two ways of identifying my way of being a Jesuit I would like to add a third: being a man of the Ignatian magis, striving for the greater glory of God in the footsteps of Xavier – always more, always further, always further to new shores!”
Born on 4 February 1914 in France, Pierre entered the Society of Jesus in 1931. Destined for India, he studied Sanskrit and departed for Chennai in 1937, where he studied Tamil literature in addition to studies for priesthood. He was ordained in 1945.
In 1980 Pierre went to Thailand with a Caritas India team to help Cambodian refugees who had crossed the border in great numbers as the Vietnamese army battled the Khmer Rouge. Pierre and several Jesuit companions, notably John Bingham and Noel Oliver, stayed on to be the founding members of a JRS programme for Asia Pacific. They accompanied the Cambodian refugees until their return in the early 1990s.
Pierre was fond of quoting a line of a Tamil poet, Thayumanavar: “Apart from wanting people to be happy, I want nothing else from life, God.” And he would refer to St John of the Cross, who said: “At the end of our lives we will be judged by love.”
Pierre was a wonderful friend of the poor – he had an infectious optimism, a deep sense of God’s love for all. On one occasion, at the Thai-Cambodian border, an exasperated UN official called Pierre an “unguided missile”. Pierre fretted for a short time, fearing the official would prevent him from entering the camps. But on seeing that he was still unrestrained, he delighted in the epithet, because it labeled him as a person who was free. He certainly was free, and his freedom brought joy to many.