Challenged to find the best paths led by the Spirit

Challenged to find the best paths led by the Spirit

Pedro Walpole SJ

In a recent communication with the Society of Jesus with reference to the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES), the current Superior General Fr Arturo Sosa SJ spoke of how we experience “the need to adapt its (the Society’s) governance structures to the new realities of the world. In today’s globalised context, we are confronted with the need to act as a universal body with a global mission, capable of integrating the diversity and uniqueness of the contexts, cultures, times, and peoples in which we live and work.”

How do we, as Ecojesuit, one of the four networks of the Global Ignatian Advocacy Network (GIAN) coordinated by SJES, understand our own governance for effective dialogue and advocacy? We also need to renew and understand other forms of global partnership in the Society to find the best paths as we face the challenges of today’s world and as we seek to find a diversity of new responses for changing the normal.

There is much we must pray through and many we need to pray with, and so we pray in the Spirit for guidance. We are coming through covid, but this is with those who are also suffering from inflation (whether real or because of “price gouging”), growing authoritarianism, a new war in Eurasia, while losing sight again of the growing numbers of socio-ecological disasters.

We need to address what we see are the limits: limits needed in carbon released and the commitment to meeting loss and damages, limits of food distribution and of public health, vulnerabilities of local livelihoods versus the profits, and the youth’s hopes and anxieties. All these concerns are integral in a world where learning and participation are critical in the drive for greater equity.

We are challenged to find new ways of operating across the silos of old. We need to find the discourse – a synodal way – in seeking new dialogues and partnerships along the path as we move in mission, institutions, lives and lifestyles that are coherent with the voices heard and services needed. These apostolic challenges face all collaborative efforts and ways of organizing and associating as partners of the Society of Jesus and with other groups globally.

These are the tensions we must hold daily and reflect upon, if we are to speak of the shared mission, of a world at peace with inclusion of all, with accompaniment of the youth and care for all life. “Therefore, the urgency of discerning together the appropriate apostolic structures to achieve the ambitious apostolic goals we have set for ourselves is evident.” (Fr Sosa)

What it takes to connect the dots

Fr Sosa continued to say:The 34th General Congregation (1995) called for the development of regional, international, and global networks. It recognized the existence of an enormous untapped potential within the Society for the effective implementation of our universal mission. It also invited collaboration with international organisations, NGOs and other institutions, groups or individuals aligned with the same objectives. “Initiative and support for these various forms of networks should come from all levels of the Society, but the Secretariats of the General Curia must continue to play an important role in establishing them (d.21,14).”

There are so many connections being identified in the calls for change. How we connect the dots is critical in making the right interventions in what is already operative and functional. We can be so much more effective in reaching others or in including others if we find the new relations of partnering and recognition that bridge us across the structures.

As we join the dots, we must facilitate the coherence of connecting so it does not increase administration or fragment someone’s work. We need to experiment with awareness and with openness the questions of how people participate, join reflection, set time, agenda, and coordination, share objectives, roles, decision processes and authorization. In the process we are transforming the way we engage as we listen deeply and seek to include the cry of the poor and the cry of the land. We can make the best uses of recent technologies and social media to channel resources and develop materials, while connecting personal commitments – all by forming a shared vision with gratitude and generosity.

Different approaches and growing flexibility to work with existing institutions and grounded context are opening “new times,” as we hear new voices shared at the center. In the different forms of collaboration, we do not need to do everything that secures intuitional permanence, but rather share in the work that is best within our scope of partnering. Here we find the solidarity upheld as a primary value in meeting the challenges we all face as community and broader society.

One great help in this is the attention being given to the Universal Apostolic Preferences and the shared sense of mission that can connect in so many ways and contexts, as we share in the experiences and dialogue that leads to commitment. If we manage the right models for collaboration, the social and educational pedagogies become more integral, and we experience this because of the synergy found.

Appropriate apostolic structures

“When properly conceived, networking provides a healthy balance between authority and local initiative. It strengthens local capacity and encourages subsidiarity while assuring a unified sense of mission from a central authority. Local views are more readily and speedily heard.” (GC36. d2.8)

There is much experience we can already draw on as we discern further paths. It is good to keep in mind the range of purpose-context and ways of organizing in and around the Society as we discern a path forward. Fe y Alegria, a movement for popular education and social development began in 1955 is spreading across the globe and is now connecting in Africa. Jesuit Volunteer programs have emerged across the world, often organized at the Jesuit Province level, and often having international commitments to service, though not working as a centralized organization but adapting to local capacities and connections.

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) that now celebrates 40 years of engagement, organizes relief services while accompanying people and advocating for policy change.

There is now a global network and multiple regional associations of Jesuit universities that have emerged in the last decade with considerable capacity for contributing not only to a more responsive change in education, but an ethical revision of greater responsibility for how undergraduate and graduate program students impact broader reality.

Ecojesuit has been working with many such networks particularly in the sharing and development of research on the social and ecological impacts of development programs and corporate activities.

In recent years, Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL) has developed an alliance structure with committed partner universities, taking the best opportunities for tertiary education in the social and cultural margins of the world. JWL also draws on the collaboration of those committed at the community or country level for the best learning facilitation possible. This includes tapping the local knowledge, making for a more integral and purposeful learning beyond the classroom while promoting a leadership of service.

There are many other platforms emerging and providing great energy and change within and beyond. The Society has called for a particular commitment to the Laudato Si’ Action Platform of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Jesuit networks and movements continue to interact with UN offices like the UN Environment Programme or UNEP, the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN General Assembly and the COP (Conference of the Parties) process which is the formal annual meeting of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

These are all expressions of one mission, combining our personal lives, hopes, and commitments. In the process, these humbly become the change we seek, respecting the authority of the administration of the Society while working with the subsidiarity possible and the solidarity on the ground. This allows us to go to the frontlines nimbly, without the financial framework needed by institutions.

SJES coordinates the platform for the global justice networks, through GIAN

Fr Sosa invites superiors in the Conferences to “assimilate and apply the document… taking advantage of the richness of the international and multicultural nature of the Society in this fragmented and divided world.” The effort is to find ways to make the governance more flexible when relations are streamlined, recognizing the apostolic challenges.

SJES in its governance document explains advocacy: “Helped by the understanding from experts and by the living experiences of some Jesuit-inspired institutions we understand advocacy is a necessary way of proceeding in our justice and reconciliation mission. Fr. Arturo Sosa in April 2018 said, ‘GIAN is relatively a new project. Being an interprovincial network, in a largely provincial Jesuit structure, it has encountered many difficulties. Hence, I invite you to find the passion and the mission that can re-energize these structures. I ask you to identify, very specifically, the changes you want in each of these areas and then to map out how to get there with an outline of resources needed and a time frame.’”

The new GIAN governance document outlines its Ignatian sense of networking for advocacy in a global world, its basic structure in line with the Conferences, core group member participation, roles and relations, leadership, evaluation, monitoring and modification in reference to each area of work.

Ecojesuit’s efforts in networking and collaboration

Ecojesuit sustains a website platform for sharing what are the ongoing Conference events, stories and reflections as well as important global dynamics. In its core member and partner meetings and webinars, it listens to the work and challenges of each Conference member and his or her connection with the different social institutions and others as they connect on the ground. In this way it seeks to build the broader dialogue to engender greater consciousness and commitment with growing advocacy. Importance needs to be given to building the strategic apostolic guidelines and orientation.

Ecojesuit at the global level works with this collaboration given the Conference commitments of dedicated people. More often it hosts webinars with organizations sharing similar themes of agroecology or energy, for example. As a core team, it may develop statements of collaboration and “social delegations” that join the international social forums of multiple organizations, youth, and Indigenous Peoples calling for greater climate action and accountability, food security, and broader human development with care for creation.

Ecojesuit finds deeply valuable the renewed commitment of appointed core group members from each Conference and others who share their knowledge, experience, and interest in global networking and advocacy works, while networking within the Conference and dedicating time and energy to the network. This calls for regular meetings of the network team within the Conference and to update and report to the social delegate regularly.

This combined networking within the Conference at the same time is critical in building a team that may encompass several apostolic areas and forming clear lines of action regionally that can then strengthen the global commitment. In this way, participation in the design of the strategy and action plans at the global can be much more responsive and creative.

Promoting Ecojesuit and the call to actively participate

We need to dedicate time to plan, organize, and promote Ecojesuit within the Conference while raising the concerns and challenges, We need to establish the links within the Conference and also at the global network forums. It is crucial that the communication of actions and advocacy is led at the Conference level. With this broader reach, there is a greater contribution to the global efforts to identify and explore collaboration and links with other regional networks, faith-based organizations, the local Church, secular organizations, and groups beyond the Ignatian family that share a common agenda.

The call is to participate actively in regional and global efforts and network events, in regular virtual meetings and face-to-face meetings that Ecojesuit or SJES requests. It is important to share information on issues, events, and programs through the network leader, other core-group members of Ecojesuit, and the SJES Secretary.

Ecojesuit is challenged to offer orientations and strengthen capacities for advocacy action at local/provincial/conference levels, while making proposals for advocacy at the global level in support of local struggles and priorities. We continue to seek to establish strategic alliances; and implement common actions.

It will take some time for Ecojesuit to develop the network across Conferences so as to participate in citizen-centered advocacy at the global level and strengthen the participation of the margins and of youthful generations calling for greater accountability of power.

Pedro Walpole SJ is the network leader of GIAN-Ecojesuit, and with a core group, coordinates Ecojesuit actions that listen to local concerns from the margins and that contribute to global efforts in caring for our common home.

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