The Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice may have a small team, but its impact is significant because seeks to engage people—from all backgrounds and spiritual traditions—in some of the most significant concerns of our time.
“The Forum is really a way to give people a space, in small groups, to talk about social and ecological concerns,” says Trevor Scott, SJ.
“Our hope is to foster friendship, transformation, and a deeper understanding of the world in which we live in,” notes Victoria Blanco.
The Forum organizes webinars, edits a quarterly publication, Open Space, publishes dialogue guides, and facilitates small-group conversations.
Mark Hathaway, executive director, Victoria Blanco Salcedo, program manager, and Trevor Scott, networking coordinator and assistant for Ignatian identity, speak here about the Jesuit Forum’s mission and its new guide, Listening to Indigenous Voices, to be published by Novalis in both English and French in May of this year.
Listening to Indigenous Voices: A New Dialogue Guide
“It’s about listening to Indigenous voices and understanding, not only Indigenous worldviews, but also the history and ongoing legacy of colonization,” says Mark. The new guide builds upon the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, which provides a two-hour introduction to the historical experience of dispossession experienced by the Indigenous peoples of Quebec and Canada and its consequences today. The guide seeks to take the next step, “It’s about engaging people in a deeper dialogue and seeking meaningful ways to work for right relationships and justice,” says Mark.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Murray Sinclair, reminds us that we are all part of a heritage and reality of colonialism and that we must “question what we’ve been taught and explore the possibilities of how things should be in the future.”
Listening to Indigenous Voices offers valuable guidance for carrying out this essential work of decolonization. It is a starting place, especially for those who do not know where to begin. The guide offers eleven sessions of approximately two hours each on various topics, such as Indigenous worldviews, their territories and languages, residential schools, and the challenge of righting relationships and creating a post-colonial society.
“We hope that this guide may create spaces where we can rethink and reimagine ourselves in relationship with one another sharing Mother Earth,” says Victoria.
The guide was created with the guidance of an advisory and editorial group including both Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons. The editors identified texts and artistic pieces by Indigenous authors and artists from across Turtle Island that were reused, with their permission, in the guide. “I am very grateful for the generosity of the people, especially Indigenous persons, who shared their gifts in this way and helped to produce the guide,” notes Mark.
Why publish this guide?
“We all have to take responsibility,” Mark explains. “As allies, we need to find ways to educate non-Indigenous people about this history and the problems associated with colonization. We certainly do not claim to be experts on these issues, but we feel a moral obligation to do what we can to live up to our responsibilities regarding the ongoing legacy of these injustices.”
“It’s important to remember the idea of metanoia, or conversion,” he continues. “I think that ultimately decolonization must take place at the level of structures, policies, and governments, but it also has to happen within each one of us.”
Guides for all
In addition to Listening to Indigenous Voices, the Forum has published other dialogue guides, including Living with Limits, Living Well and On Care for our Common Home. The guides can be used in many contexts, with groups of adults and secondary students, who want to participate in a process of learning, discussion, and engagement.
“The purpose of the guides is really to invite small groups of people, in their own settings, to enter into discussion,” says Trevor. “The goal is not just to get people to sign a petition or write a letter to their MP, but really to bring about a deep and lasting change in participants, a personal and social conversion.”
Victoria notes, “Our work approaches justice through an intersectional lens. As Pope Francis has observed, ‘we cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships.’ We want to integrate questions of justice in our conversations so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
“You don’t need to be a specialist or expert to use the guides,” says Mark. “They are stand-alone kits, and I think the work quite well that way. But we’re also aware that people don’t always feel confident, and we’re developing online training to support those who want to facilitate the dialogues.”
“The guides can be used in schools or in various ministries, as well as in Catholic communities,” Trevor adds. “They can be a way to grow in prayer by exploring issues of social concern. They can also be used as material for retreats, for example, in a context where people try to grow in their relationship with God and deepen their prayer.”
“But it is difficult to do this in a vacuum,” he continues. “How can we relate to God in a vacuum? We grow in our relationship with God, we deepen in our prayer life through the society that surrounds us, through our relationship with ecology. One of the beautiful things about Ignatian spirituality is that it really emphasizes the fact that God is present all around us, not just at mass on Sundays.”
What is the work of the Jesuit Forum?
The goal of the Jesuit Forum is to create spaces for discussion and to facilitate exchanges. “If you want to mobilize people around issues of social and ecological justice,” explains Mark, “you need to change hearts, not just present facts or convince people that the ecological crisis is real. It’s more than just an intellectual process, it’s also a change of attitude.”
Victoria notes that ultimately, the Forum is about finding ways to “live well”—something that has traditionally been sought by many Indigenous Peoples and which can also be found in the idea of seeking the common good. “To live well, requires work, both learning and unlearning, but if we begin by taking the time to listen and open ourselves to change, we can create a world based on love, reciprocity, and gift economies that seek to restore human dignity and heal the entire Earth community.”