The global demographic shift is compelling radical shifts in the status quo across numerous frontiers. Increasingly, the Global South is taking up roles and responsibilities that were, otherwise, the near-reserve of the Global North. The Catholic Church is no exemption with the age demographic and population shifts seeing more Africans and Asians taking up missionary roles in the West. Alive to this new challenge, the Jesuit Conference for Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) held its first ever Formation Assembly at the Chemi Chemi Ya Uzima in Karen, Nairobi, Kenya from December 8th to 14th 2019. The theme of the Assembly was “New Wine, New Wineskins: Transforming the Mission of Formation in Africa and Madagascar in the Context of Faith and the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAP)” and participants included Jesuits and lay collaborators of the Society of Jesus. In the Assembly that brought together major superiors, formation delegates, novice masters, rectors, principals, deans, tertianship instructors, spiritual fathers, vocation coordinators, beadles of formation houses, members of the Jesuit Curia in Rome, JCAM Secretariat, and lay collaborators, the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA) was invited to give a perspective on the UAP on ecology.
With the four UAPs being the fruit of a discernment process that lasted nearly two years, the JCAM Formation Assembly was grounded on personal Examen, communal discernment in groups of 6-8, Eucharistic celebration, and unified purpose to assist JCAM to establish a clear path to live up to the mission of the UAPs for the period 2019-2029. The dominant discourse centred around Jesuit formation and how to ensure that the undergoing formation authentically live up to the service of God through humanity and all creation. Participants heard about the status of formation in Africa and Madagascar from JCAM’s President, Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, SJ.
Fr. Mark Ravizza, SJ, the General Counsellor to the Father General, shared about the best practice of Jesuit formation and his sentiments would be echoed by Br. Reginald Cruz days later who underscored that formation is an ongoing, unending process for everyone and that God is the real formator and the formee is the main focus. Terming the UAPs the Universal Life-Mission Preferences, Fr. Ravizza, emphasized that the spiritual exercises, walking with the poor, accompanying young people, and collaborating in the care of our common home are, indeed, the time-unbound mission of every Jesuit for life. Fr. Mike Lewis, reminded the Assembly on the need for Jesuits to renew their identity, mission, and profile in formation and formators in Africa and Madagascar.
During this address, Dr. David Kaulem who lectures on economics and environmental studies at the Aruppe Jesuit University in Zimbabwe stated that the best formators interpret Jesuit formation into non-Jesuit language in response to the needs of the laity. He faulted the current market model for its consistent failure to, for example, acknowledge the impossibility of costing some valuables such as the contribution of the environment to the economy. Dr. Kaulem was of the view that the UAPs are an opportunity to bring all members to a common understanding.
Mrs. Catherine Waiyaki of the Christian Life Community (CLC) reminded the Jesuits that they are special and we do not have very many of them yet the world needs them. Ms. Nichole Facheux, a member of the Charismatic Movement spoke about the need for the society to combat clericalism in all its forms and to integrate with the communities that they are sent to shepherd while being role models to young people. Mr. André Atsu of the Jesuit Relief Services reminded the Assembly that refugees are people who have left everything they have to save their lives and that of their families; they are in human beings pursuing the restoration of their stolen dignity. As such, Jesuits who are missioned to work with JRS need to be open and empathetic. This demands conscious selection of men in formation by Provincials where they engage with JRS before missioning them to JRS and seek feedback after the experience. Ms. Phyllis Muraya reckoned how Ignatian Spirituality has transformed her profoundly, moving her to be more compassionate with the sufferings of humanity such that God has now become a living reality in our lives.
CYNESA’s Programs Manager, Mr. David N. Munene, shared CYNESA’s and his experience working with the Society of Jesus on matters concerning care for our common home. In his presentation, he posed the reflective question, “What is the point of the spiritual exercises if they cannot lead us to hearing the cry of the earth and the vulnerable poor?” Reflecting on Catholic Social Teaching Principles of Care for Creation, Solidarity and Preferential Option for the Vulnerable Poor and the encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, he called on accelerated, prayer-guided action through the UAPs to respond to the environmental challenges especially in light of the global temperature rise, the imminent 6th mass extinction, and biodiversity loss. David also linked the Spiritual Exercises, the UAPs and ecological conversion where all lead to a profound conversion with “our encounter with Jesus Christ [becoming] evident in the relationship with the world around us” and that, “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (Laudato Si’ 217). Finally, David invited the Society of Jesus to work with other institutions to ensure that the UAPs are implemented in line with 2020/2030 super decade on the environment.
David N. Munene,
CYNESA Programs Manager.