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Jesuits discern preferences for years ahead

A special meeting of the ‘Extended Council’ of the Jesuit Superior General, Fr Arturo Sosa, concluded in Rome recently, bringing a two-year period of collective discernment close to an end. The purpose of this discernment, following a request made at the 36th General Congregation in October 2016, is to identify the ‘universal apostolic preferences’ of the whole Society for the coming years, 2019-2029. At the end of the discernment process the Society will submit their conclusions to Pope Francis, and it will then receive its mission from his hands. According to the Jesuit Curia website, “The expected fruit is the proposal of Universal Apostolic Preferences that will help the Holy Father discern how the Society can, in a preferential way, serve the apostolic mission of the Church.”

At the opening of the recent meeting of the Extended Council, Fr Sosa stressed the need for the participants “to live in the spirit of discernment, the spirit that had characterized the deliberations of Ignatius and the first companions.”

“Our horizon,” he continued, “is the collaboration of the Society of Jesus with the mission of the Lord, from within the Catholic Church, as that mission has been defined since Vatican II and in harmony with the charism received by Ignatius and the first companions.”

In a recent message, Fr Sosa noted that these years are “a time of historical change for humanity”, and that collective discernment is necessary so that the new challenges are met with new or refreshed solutions. Also that it is not a time for fear or pessimism; rather, it is a time for responsible action.

We cannot pour new wine into old wineskins, as we are told by the Gospel. We cannot, like Peter, in a boat in the middle of the storm, start screaming “we are sinking” and “I found the Lord asleep” and be paralyzed by what is happening. At the same time we have to use our knowledge, our resources and our energy to seek reconciliation with God, with others and with nature – three dimensions that always form a unity.

The recent meeting is the culmination of a worldwide process to discern the Universal Apostolic Preferences, a process implemented by Irish Jesuit Fr. John Dardis, who is the General Counsellor for Discernment and Apostolic Planning. Participating at the meeting were the General and Regional Assistants, as well as the Presidents of the six Jesuit ‘Conferences’, the heads of the ‘Secretariats’ and other officials. In total, a group of about 25 people. Dr Christina Kheng, from Singapore, helped to facilitate the meeting.

For a fuller account of the meaning and role of ‘discernment in common’ in the context of this process, see Brian Grogan SJ’s booklet Shaping our future: Planning global Jesuit priorities for 2019–29 »