In early 2022, the Jesuits of Canada’s Communications Department engaged in a two-day communal discernment exercise to help develop a common narrative for the province offices, with the primary goal of helping to develop its network of friends. This was to be an first contact tool to inspire content like the province magazine (Canadian Jesuits), social media, and main website pages. The model? The apostolic planning document, Pilgrims Together, and the Ignatian approach to spiritual accompaniment, both promoted by the province.
Indeed, as noted in the first two articles of this series (here and here), the apostolic planning document Pilgrims Together explicitly calls on the members of our province to put into practice the Ignatian approach to spiritual accompaniment beyond the typical individual context. In this article, the members of the communications office present their work as it pertains to this theme.
“We have seen, through our online analytics and though conversations with constituents, an increase in the involvement of those we are trying to reach,” says José Sánchez, provincial assistant for communications.
Meet people where they are
The participants in the communal discernment process initiated by the communications office included Jesuits and colleagues, laypeople and religious, men and women, English and French speakers, from different regions. All were members of the province in close contact with those we want to serve as a corporate body. The key questions to be answered were: What do we currently say that helps us to spark new relationships with others (e.g., potential candidates, potential donors, etc.)? and What can we offer that they already desire?
This listening exercise resulted in a shared framework or narrative, including key points that help to ground it. It is used as a resource for article topics, to help determine not only what to say but also how to express it. The framework is not intended to be a summary of Jesuit identity and attributes or an exhaustive description to be used internally with Jesuits and colleagues. Rather, it is a framework for external communications, a guide to help direct and inspire what we would like to say to people who do not know the Jesuits but are interested in learning about them. It provides key elements that, in our experience with people, need to be emphasized in order to facilitate an initial contact and enable us to be heard and to continue the conversation by building trust and credibility.
It provides key elements that, in our experience with people, need to be emphasized in order to facilitate an initial contact and enable us to be heard and to continue the conversation by building trust and credibility.
For example, our overarching narrative, rather than being expressed as “We walk with Jesus Christ, who proceeds from the Father, who was conceived by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, for the building up of the Kingdom of God on earth,” becomes “We walk with Jesus, Love incarnate, in the service of truth, reconciliation, and justice for all.” It is a relational language that is designed to meet people where they are today.
“The key is to start with what we know people already value, in order to create some sense of connection. Then, as trust evolves, we can perhaps help them appreciate what else we have to offer that we think is meaningful,” says Mr. Sanchez. “We don’t bombard people with messages that they don’t already appreciate or trust. We focus on the relationship first, confident that we have something of value to offer.”
As with the other examples in this series, the communications office seeks to be guided by the principles of Ignatian accompaniment, such as meeting others where they are, listening to their desires, moving slowly, and trusting that God is already at work in their lives.
“The key is to start with what we know people already value, in order to create some sense of connection. Then, as trust evolves, we can perhaps help them appreciate what else we have to offer that we think is meaningful,” says Mr. Sanchez.
“My job is to listen and to convey what I understand as best I can through the written word,” says Fannie Dionne, communications officer and writer, for whom the communications office’s model of accompaniment involves working with the team to create content that aligns with the province’s priorities and the desires of the publications’ target audiences.
For example, in one of the issues of the magazine on the third Universal Apostolic Preference we decided to explore the Jesuit expression “men and women for others.” Through an interview with Fr. Michel “Jim” Lefebvre, the communications office was able to express in simple and concrete terms (without using more specialized words such as consolations, desolations, the Spiritual Exercises, etc.) how each of the readers can reach out to others in his or her daily life, offering tools that are accessible to all. This text fits into each of the three fundamental elements of the province’s narrative (meaning, community, truth and reconciliation).
The subject matter itself resonates with our audience and so does the style. Web designer Camille Legaspi thinks carefully about the images and colours that she inserts into her creations and how they are perceived by the target audiences.
Web designer Camille Legaspi thinks carefully about the images and colours that she inserts into her creations and how they are perceived by the target audiences.
“Since we can’t assume that our audiences know us, we can’t rely on our own symbols or images in our magazine or social media. Instead we use elements that they already find meaningful. In an article about the Ignatian Examen, for example, instead of including the image of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which is probably new to this audience, we chose a photo of a person meditating in the midst of nature, soaking up the surrounding energy. Thus, by listening, understanding the context, and hoping that what we are trying to communicate is received, we are able to express our identity so that it is welcomed without any preconceptions.”
Being pilgrims with one another
The members of the team in the communications office are also engaged as pilgrims together through their work internally with members of the Jesuit province. Ms. Legaspi gives three concrete examples.
Every Monday, the communications teams (from Montreal, Toronto, and Chicago) meet together to share the consolations and desolations of the previous week and to plan the week ahead. For Ms. Legaspi, it’s a way to journey together and “to get to know each other by working together and participating in weekly reflections not only on work but also on what’s going on in our daily lives.”
She also feels like a pilgrim when working with Jesuits and colleagues as she discusses ideas and timelines. “I try to meet them where they are by understanding their needs and expectations, but at the same time I set healthy boundaries so that I can give each of them the time and attention they need for their projects.”
Finally, Legaspi highlights the discussions about her faith journey that she has had with those around her in the organization. “By also sharing my story and listening to theirs, I learn new things and gain inspiration.”