By Ted Penton, SJ
Secretary for Justice and Ecology, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the US
January 10, 2020 – Last November the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat in Rome marked its first fifty years with a Jubilee gathering. Over two hundred delegates representing every province in the Society of Jesus came together for a week of celebration, networking and discernment. Each day focused on one of the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs), with plenary presentations, guided prayer, and small group sharing. Over the course of our time together, four key themes emerged as important to our ongoing appropriation of the UAPs.
First, we felt called to deeper conversion and transformation, both at the personal and institutional levels. The UAPs are less about deciding on new things to do, and more about the way we carry out our mission, which is Christ’s mission. We need to allow ourselves to be changed by the work we do and the people we walk with, and we need to continue our work to transform the structures that perpetuate injustice.
Second was a desire for greater collaboration—across provinces, across apostolic sectors, with lay partners, and with other faith-based and secular organizations. The social contexts we work in vary greatly, but many of the same issues arise and there is much we can learn from one another. While this gathering brought together representatives of the social sector, the need and desire for deeper collaboration across sectors was evident. While it can be tempting at first blush to assign primary responsibility for each of the UAPs to a particular apostolic sector, we are all called to live out all of the UAPs, and to find creative ways of doing so together. We are already engaged in collaboration at this level—e.g. some of our JCCU delegates came from high schools and universities, forming young people to live a faith that does justice—but there was a distinct sense that we can go further.
Collaboration also includes working with our many lay partners. Having entered the Society only ten years ago, my own experience has always been one of close collaboration in this respect. Most of my theology professors were lay. At my regency placement I was the only Jesuit, an increasingly common experience. Thus it was somewhat startling to see photos from the previous global Social Justice gathering in Rome which, only twenty years ago, was an exclusively Jesuit affair. This time the participation was one third lay, including 34 women, a very welcome development. Again, though, there is room to go further. One point Fr. General specifically challenged us to look at was the “role women play in processes of discernment and decision-making for our life-mission.” Perhaps the most interesting fifteen minutes of the week were a meeting on this issue between the women delegates and Fr. General (Jenny Cafiso has written more about this meeting here). I was not present myself, but will be following the next steps of this process closely. It is one that promises to involve all sectors of the Society’s work, and which I hope will prove fruitful.
The third theme was synodality, a word that was much used given the number of delegates who had participated in the Synod on the Amazon which had concluded only a week earlier. I personally preferred the companion terms consultation, communion, inclusive participation. Whatever the word, there was a recognition of our need for greater mutuality, for reciprocal listening, for praying together. How are we making space for those who have been excluded to take on leadership roles? Walking with one another is not simply a way to serve others, but an encounter which transforms all who are involved, and which impacts our work, our lifestyle and our decision-making.
Fourth, there was a call to create new narratives, particularly ones that bring people from the margins to the center of the stories we tell. Our communication needs to inspire hope and witness to the ways that change is possible, that ways that God can open our eyes to new perspectives.
These four themes are also reflected in the ongoing apostolic discernment process in our own province. Prayerful reflection and wide consultation across all our works and communities have contributed to a communal discernment that engages many voices. Bringing together directors of works and superiors of communities from across the province to pray and discern together significantly furthers our ability to collaborate in the larger mission we all share. In learning each other’s stories, and in finding new ways to work together, we grow in communion, being transformed as individuals and as a province. The complementary processes of discernment at the provincial, conference and global levels in turn help us to connect our mission with that of the wider Society of Jesus.
Photos: [ Jesuit Curia ]