Over the Christmas break I had time to do a little Jesuit-themed reading.
The more scholarly of the two books I read is Trent Pomplun’s Jesuit on the Roof of the World (2010). It chronicles the life and travels of Ippolito Desideri, an eighteenth century Jesuit missionary to Tibet. Born in Pistoia, Tuscany, Desideri entered the Society of Jesus in 1700 and realized his dreams of becoming a missionary in a region almost completely unknown to Europeans. His detailed accounts of Tibetan religion, culture, and politics have led some to consider him the father of “Tibetan studies.”
Desideri’s career involved harrowing sea voyages, bouts of snow-blindness in the Himalayas, and fleeing from invading Mongol armies. Of his fourteen years outside of Italy, he spent six in Tibet and the rest of the time in transit—or trying to avoid superiors who might send him back home.
Desideri was a man of immense courage, intellect, and faith, but his mission was not ultimately successful. He finished his career as a missionary embroiled in ecclesiastical litigation with the Capuchins over which religious order had rights to the Tibetan mission. At times hotheaded and vain, Desideri launched an ill-considered lawsuit against the Capuchins, which ended his own missionary career and forced his return to Rome. His account of Tibetan life was published only after his death at the age of forty-nine.