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Renewing our commitment to “a faith that does justice”

AIDS is first and foremost an urgent challenge to social justice rather than a merely medical problem.

This was the main message of the director of AJAN, Fr Paterne Mombe SJ, to Jesuits gathered in Nairobi from 18 to 22 February for a seminar on justice. The Jesuit Africa Social Centres Network (JASCNET) organized the seminar that was entitled Justice as characteristic of all Jesuit apostolates: renewing our commitment to a faith that does justice.

Fr Paterne said AIDS has made a preferential option for the poor and that many of those who are affected count among the most marginalised of our communities.

Jesuits and their co-workers reach out to those affected in some 20 sub-Saharan African countries, offering a package of services and facilitating access to the necessary care and treatment that people living with HIV need to live life to the full – the vision of AJAN.

Among the key initiatives underlined by Fr Paterne, we find promoting economic self-reliance through income generating activities and ensuring equal opportunities by helping orphans and vulnerable children to access education, vocational training, counselling and food.

Fr Paterne also outlined the work of AJAN in regional advocacy that is focused on three thematic areas: researching access to essential medical care; sexual and gender-based violence; orphans and vulnerable children.

JASCNET issued a press statement summing up the conclusions of the seminar that we re-publish here in full:

Justice is integral to the living out of our Christian faith and Jesuit identity. Therefore, justice should permeate all our works and apostolates.

More and more people find themselves living on the margins of our world because of the growing gap between the rich and the poor. The Society of Jesus in Africa recognises the urgent need for a collaborative and strategic response from all its ministries as we continue to work for justice.

Under the auspices of the JESAM Social Apostolate Coordinator, a meeting was held in Nairobi, Kenya from 20-21 February 2015. Jesuits representing a number of works of the Society of Jesus – including Jesuit education, formation houses, parishes, chaplaincies, the apostleship of pray and HIV/AIDS ministry – gathered from all over the continent to share their experiences and reflect on how social justice is a key constituent of our mission and apostolic endeavours in Africa today.

Inspired by General Congregations (GC), from 32 to 35, we recognise the urgent need to overcome what Pope Francis has called “the globalisation of indifference.” We do this by ensuring that we form men and women who are sensitive to the needs of others – most especially the needs of the poor and marginalised.

We recognise that:

  • there will be no peace, stability, security and growth in Africa unless there is justice
  • all our works and apostolates must be concerned about the plight of millions of marginalised people in all forms on our continent
  • faith and justice is a key ingredient and permeate all works of the Society of Jesus in Africa
  • we cannot be silent and have to face the daily plight of our people: poverty, war, economic injustice, political corruption, disease and the lack of basic services
  • we have not always collaborated well between different ministry sectors and apostolates on the continent.

We therefore commit to:

  • renew our commitment to a faith that does justice and live with greater fervour GCs 32 to 35
  • heed the call of Pope Francis to be a “Church of poor” (Evangelii Gaudium #198) and combat the “globalisation of indifference” (Evangelii Gaudium #54) and realise its consequences for us in our communities and apostolates
  • not being afraid of the ever increasing challenges that require new and bold initiatives from us which will require that we return to our heritage, the Spiritual Exercises, to articulate the best way forward
  • strengthen our networks, especially in regions, so that we can respond more collaboratively and effectively to the many injustices we identify in our work in Africa today
  • ensure that young Jesuits, in our houses of formation, are well formed to promote a faith that does justice
  • find ways of sharing our resources more effectively within and across different sectors of ministry
  • seek ways of greater collaboration between all sectors and works (i.e. education, parishes, social centres, HIV/AIDS ministry, chaplaincies, apostolate of prayer, institutes and movements etc.) so that we ensure a synergy within the works in which faith and justice is the key constituent
  • strengthen collaboration with other religious and lay people so that our work of promoting a faith that does justice is shared
  • ensure that when Jesuits move to new works there is continuity and that the component of a faith that does justice is not lost

At the end of the meeting a number of recommendations were made to the JESAM Social Apostolate Coordinator for consideration by him and the JESAM leadership:

  • find ways of returning to the spiritual sources, most especially the Spiritual Exercises, so that we are renewed in our option for the poor and in promoting justice
  • explore practical ways in which we can create a synergy around the work of faith and justice across Jesuit ministries in Africa
  • collect stories of pioneers in works of faith and justice around the continent whose stories have not been recorded
  • find ways of being more in touch with the reality of the poor – being with them
  • allow ourselves to be empowered by Pope Francis, his affection for the poor and vulnerable and his vision for the Church, by studying documents written by him – documents like Evangelli Gaudium
  • increase our efforts to collaborate with others – clergy/religious and lay people – so that we can learn from them and also borrow best practices
  • find ways of increasing our inter-sectorial collaboration in provinces and in regions
  • find ways of increasing our inter-provincial collaboration – starting at regional level
  • find ways of looking beyond ourselves and current collaborators (perhaps to NGO’s and other like-minded organisations) so as to draw more people into our mission of a faith that does justice
  • review our strategy and not be afraid to change what needs change so that, for example, we do not lose brothers after ordination

The Society of Jesus in Africa renews its commitment to “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted.” (Gaudium et Spes #1) We do this because “these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (Gaudium et Spes #1) today. It is our expressed desire to follow Christ wherever we find ourselves ministering today.

The Jesuits of Africa are renewed and inspired and recognised that “the struggle for justice has a progressive and gradually unfolding historic character, as it confronts the changing needs of specific peoples, cultures, and times.” (GC 43 d3 54.5) In this moment of history we confront the needs of our peoples, cultures and times.

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