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May 16, 2019 — “Where do we want to be in 10 years?”. That’s the question that Fr. Arturo Sosa asked Jesuits and their colleagues and friends in 2017, as he initiated the process of discernment of new Universal Apostolic Prefences (UAP) for the Society of Jesus. When these preferences were announced in February 2019, Fr. Sosa called all Jesuit communities, works and provinces to begin the process of appropriating them in their local contexts.

And so from May 1 to 3, dozens of Directors of Apostolates gathered at the Villa St. Martin retreat centre in Montreal. They began to, among other things, reflect about that very same question: how to start appropriating the UAP in our local Canadian contexts.

According to Jenny Cafiso, director of Canadian Jesuits International, the topic of the UAP took a leading role in the two-day event. “The meeting was an opportunity to deepen our sense of communion among people and institutions in the Province which have diverse histories, different languages and perspectives and diverse points of view. And the rich reflection on the UAP provided the unifying thread which will weave a single cloth of differing patterns where we all seek to recognize ourselves.”

Listening to the cries of the world

“The Preferences are a path to renewal of the Society of Jesus. They can also help us to participate in the renewal of the Church today as the mínima Compañía colaboradora” Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ Superior General of the Society of Jesus.

The second day of the meeting included a presentation on the UAP and a reflection exercise, with times for personal prayer and spiritual conversations.

The address, which will be soon offered in a webinar format to all of the Province’s works and communities, lasted for about 30 minutes. It began by explaining the process of communal discernment that gave rise to the four preferences, a careful description of each, and points of guidance for their implementation.

Fr. Gilles Mongeau, Socius of the Province and facilitator of the content, reiterated that the preferences “should neither be treated as priorities, nor as items to check off on a list, nor as a list of apostolates to choose at the expense of others, nor as tasks to accomplish.” The verbs are the important part of each preference. It’s more about the « how » than the « what »

  1. To show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment;
  2. To walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice;

  3. To accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future;

  4. To collaborate in the care of our Common Home.

Instead, he continued, the UAP should be seen more as orientations, “as an itinerary for our pilgrimage, a horizon towards which we can journey, as four vectors of growth, four cries of the world to which we must be ever more sensitive.” “Each of these images,” he continued, “captures the intention of the preferences. It is to live the Magis today and now.”

“We’re being challenged to be closer to Christ… We’re called to go deeper, personally, communally and apostolically, to seek God’s will with one another.”

After reviewing the content from the presentation and spending time in personal prayer, participants were divided into smaller groups. Here, they shared their consolations, desolations and initial insights.

“The meeting provided a physical and mental space to reflect on the four apostolic preferences in a personal and existential way, to consider what they mean as orientations for ministry, and to pray with them together as a body of Ignatian believers,”  recalls Fr. John O’Brien SJ, Provincial assistant for vocations.

“Apostolic planning should give a body to the Spirit’s inspiration”

Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ—

“In one important sense, the preferences are a restating of the question: where and how do I accompany Christ as he carries his cross in this world? I’ve already made a few course corrections as a result of this reflection. I suspect this meeting has launched a line of ongoing discernment that will continue to unfold in the next decade,” adds Fr. O’Brien.

The province will be using the Preferences as part of its apostolic planning starting in the fall. Jesuits and their colleagues and friends across Canada will begin appropriating these Preferences with the help of the province-sponsored webinar, to help everyone participate in the planning process with greater depth and freedom.

“GC 36 asks Major Superiors to ensure that apostolic discernment and planning in their Provinces or Regions is consistent with the universal apostolic preferences of the Society and the apostolic discernment and planning of their Conferences, so that the mission preferences of the whole Society are taken into account in the ministries of their Provinces or Regions” (Decree 2, n.22).

Diverse, gifted and in common union

Greg Kennedy, assistant for the Spirituality Apostolate, and Fr. Erik Oland, provincial of the Jesuits in Canada, highlighted the communal nature of the two-day meeting.

“The Universal Apostolic Preferences were not only introduced, but also embodied. The fluidity with which our conversations flowed from heeding our call to greater ecological integrity as individuals, partners and collectives, to celebrating our unifying history of social and creational justice, to appreciating how our not-insubstantial investments are being used to benefit the common good, of which we are a part, shows how we are already beginning to communicate and operate in a preferential manner that is as much existential (being) as it is pragmatic (doing). The Spirit was good (it always is), and we could enjoy it in and amongst us,” said Fr. Kennedy.

Another significant moment in the meeting was the celebration of the golden jubilee of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat, founded by Pedro Arrupe in Rome in 1969.  “This means 50 years of its mission of promoting social and ecological justice and reconciliation.  Together we created a wonderful timeline to show the riches of these years.  We then looked ahead to the coming years and put a focus on the Provincial’s letter, Practice Resurrection!,” explains director of the Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice, Anne-Marie Jackson.

For Fr. Oland, “the content of the meeting was rich but even richer was the chance to be together and to get a sense of who we are, especially in our diversity and giftedness.”

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