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Jesuit Father General outlines path for the future

Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, the leader of the Jesuits worldwide, has announced his four priorities (universal apostolic preferences) which will guide Jesuits and colleagues globally, as they plan their work for the next ten years. In a letter made public today, Tuesday 19 February 2019, Fr Sosa addressed his fellow Jesuits saying, “The Universal Apostolic Preferences, which I promulgate with this letter, are the fruit of an election. A choice has been made among several possibilities, all of them good. Our desire has been to find the best way to collaborate in the Lord’s mission, the best way to serve the Church at this time, the best contribution we can make with what we are and have, seeking to do what is for the greater divine service and the more universal good.” Read the full letter here.

Fr Sosa said that a 16-month process of discernment involving various levels of the Jesuit Order had led to the emergence of the four preferences. Former Irish Provincial John Dardis is now in Rome working as an assistant to Fr Sosa. He was part of the discernment process. In this interview by phone from Rome, with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, he outlines the four preferences, which are:

A. To show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment;
B. To walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice;
C. To accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future;
D. To collaborate in the care of our Common Home.

John says the preferences have the blessing of the Pope, whom Fr Sosa consulted before making them public. “They’re not just my preferences…,” said John. According to Fr Sosa, the Pope wrote a letter of confirmation to Jesuits, observing that “the process that the Society followed to arrive at universal apostolic preferences was (…) a real discernment.” Fr Sosa also added that Pope Francis affirmed that the proposed preferences “are in agreement with the current priorities of the Church as expressed through the ordinary magisterium of the Pope, the Synods, and the Episcopal Conferences, especially since Evangelii gaudium.”

The four apostolic preferences are not meant to be imposed rigidly on Jesuit Provinces around the world, according to John Dardis. He says it is up to Provincials in every country to start a process of consultation, conversation and discernment around them with their own Jesuits and colleagues. From that, a tailored way of proceeding should emerge, embedding the priorities fruitfully into the cultural context of any given place.

Regarding the first preference, John says Fr General wants people to be creative around the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. The Exercises are a compilation of meditations, prayers and contemplative practices to help people deepen their relationship with God. According to John, the preference points to “finding God in a personal way, a passionate way… really putting fire into your faith.” The Exercises of St Ignatius are a real gift to the Church, he says, adding: “We need to offer them with more creativity, we need to emphasise discernment in a world where there just so many choices today… People are really looking for help. How do you find God in a world where there is often so much noise going on?”

The second preference addresses many groups of people, according to John, including migrants, victims of war, and survivors of abuse – “The marginalised, those that our culture can throw aside…those who are injured or hurt by life.” He says this second preference involves “identifying people who sometimes you don’t even see see, they’re so invisible.” But we need to identify them, he says, see them, reach out to them, lend a helping hand, take on their sufferings. “If we and our partners take this preference seriously and start making changes, it’ll change the whole way we live…every Province of the Society will interpret that differently…Who is God calling you to pay attention to? Who are you ignoring in your society? That’s what we’re being asked to wake up to”.

Jesuits have contact with lots of young people through their schools, retreat centres, and chaplaincy work in universities, says John, referencing the third preference – ‘To accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future.’

Young people bring us a lot of vitality,” John says. “Can we journey with them?” he asks: “Can we understand better their questions? Can we bring up the question of faith to them in a way that changes their perspectives? Through World Youth Day or the Jesuit Magis Programme, you see young people really alive with faith, but then you also see Churches where there are very few young people, and for many of them the question of faith maybe doesn’t even arise. So we think that for the next ten years the Society should say “Yes”, we want to put an emphasis here, we want to look at this group and see how to work better with them.” This may mean identifying areas where we are not present to them, listening to them and offering them opportunities and challenges, he says.

Regarding  collaborating in the ‘Care of Our Common Home,’ the final preference, John speaks about the environmental crisis that our planet is facing today. He notes that,”It’s a big issue in secular society and we’re speaking with Pope Francis, we’re making it our issue too because it’s an issue for the future, the future welfare of all peoples, and the more our planet is neglected, those who are poor, who suffer, they’re the ones who are at the receiving end of bad environmental practices and poor management of our planet through poor decisions.”

You can find out more about the four universal apostolic preferences by visiting this website.