What do Ignatian Universal Apostolic Preferences have to do with the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

What do Ignatian Universal Apostolic Preferences have to do with the UN Sustainable Development Goals?


Pedro Walpole SJ and Brex Arevalo

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), have gone through a long process of over 20 years of refitting and reviews, while being discussed by 193 member countries. Today they include developing and developed countries and have a vision of eradicating poverty and leaving no one behind by 2030 (Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development).

At the High-level Political Forum (HLPF), the UN’s central platform to follow up and review the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs held in New York this month, matters are of course very far from the desired reality and are not on track as projected.

The frustration in not being able to significantly move many of the goals in the last five years is exhausting, but there are many initiatives sustaining the commitment and perhaps the best come from where civil society and government efforts are combined. The reporting of civil society organizations and government units from Ghana and Kenya, during meetings organized by Caritas, was impressive as to how people have organized collectively around the 2030 agenda.

In 2015, at the adoption of the SDGs at the UN in 2015, Pope Francis spoke of the challenges and need for universal fraternity:

“Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.”

And again in March this year, Pope Francis affirmed the ethical values needed in a global conversion to care for the poor, calling all religions to participate fully in the SDGs when he hosted a conference in the Vatican.

Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) and engaging in the SDGs

Just before that event, Pope Francis approved in February the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus for the next 10 years.

Eradicating poverty, hunger, inequality and providing better health, education and safe water all sound a little like putting the poor at the center of our concerns and walking with the excluded.

Balancing the planetary budgets and boundaries sounds like journeying with the youth with work opportunities, reduced inequalities, clean energy and sustainble cities. This expands out to care for our common home connecting us with the goals of climate action, life under the water and on land.

Of course partnership and peace are fundamental, and for Ignatian advocacy, meanwhile all this is underwritten with a practice of the spiritual exercises and discernment.

 An Ignatian group participated in the HLPF  and took part in reviewing the SDGs. While listening to the reports and discussions, the Ignatian group members also engaged in several side sessions held by faith groups that included: Caritas Internationalis, the Salesian Mission, the World Council of Churches with the World Communion of Reformed Churches, Council for World Mission, Lutheran World Federation, and United Methodist Church.

The group met many others along the way who share the commitment to radical change. The meetings with the youth from Papua New Guinea to Peru describing their context, care and commitment for people, land and sea.

So can we, as a broader Ignatian network seeking to collaborate beyond our institutions, find depth and conversion in laboring with others for the SDGs?

Challenges and positive disruptions

There are challenges in such an engagement that must be weighed up in terms of depth of commitment and length of stay, as the UN processes take time and often have a slow pace.

There is the needed deepening of the general consensus and understanding of the group to move forward the SDGs as a framework in the Social Apostolate and the Higher Education institutes. This can happen at the local level where we are engaged and at the national level in collaboration with working groups. At the international level we may be able to contribute by supporting others to share their story.

How can engagement be increased with each other? How can we collaborate together with consistency and joint initiatives? How do we collaborate with Fe y Alegría and work more closely with Christian Life Community for example, in terms of international communications? In organizing activities for the climate strike in September, connecting with the Right to Education Network and the Ignatian Solidarity Network could be a further step.

Youth participation through greater involvement in the SDGs in the different networks are urgently needed and though they are not usually discussed in Jesuit schools, some of the goal can be highlighted using the UAPs.

There are many groups that are starting out at this stage of communication development and awareness but need to be both strategic and inclusive in understanding what and with whom they want to communicate, developing a broader database and joining networks and research engines.

If we seek to be universal, how and where do we want to communicate and collaborate with faith-based organizations in facilitating real stories from the ground – stories of positive disruption and creative radical efforts that can “disrupt” the daily patterns in the world that call for for change?

For most people with a stable job and a daily routine who expect changes in how they address global issues, the tendency is to work with the changes around their lives similar to how shifts in taxes and politics are managed. They may be disturbed by the facts of life and of living in today’s world, and maybe sometimes shunted off track. But they get back to normality again – business as usual.

Only on a few occasions in life, if at all, are people “disrupted” deep down, so much so that they see things differently; that the world and their relationships are suddenly changed for them and they find themselves on a mission.

What is it that can disrupt us so much that we don’t go back on track?

Are we like ageing world rulers who are unfit to tackle climate change – their politics suited to inaction at best?

What volition is left to journey with the youth in the creation of a hope-filled future, or are they just going to take over a social, economic and environmental disaster of global proportions?

These are the challenges we face when ever we seek to collaborate.



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