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"The wheels of mission are turning": Apostolic discernment and planning

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                                                       On Photo: "Consiglio Allargato" (Extended Council), Rome Curia

The President of JESAM, Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator SJ, recently returned from an extended trip to Rome to attend meetings with Father General and his counsellors and secretaries; and fellow Presidents. JESAM Communication Officer sat down with him for an interview.

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JCO: Welcome back, Fr. Orobator. What was the purpose of your trip to Rome?

AEO: Thank you. I was in Rome at the invitation of Father General Arturo Sosa SJ. He invited all the Presidents of Conferences to join him and his counsellors and secretaries (for secondary and higher education; and social justice and ecology), for a retreat and a planning session. We made an eight-day retreat together in a hilltop hamlet called Torricella in Sabina, somewhere north of Rome, and then returned to Rome for one week of intense discernment and planning; it was followed by a day of meeting of the Presidents. The theme of the whole experience was "Discerning future frontiers."

JCO: Sounds pretty remarkable. What was unique or different about this event?

AEO: Well, nothing and everything! Nothing, in the sense that the General regularly convenes and presides at planning sessions called Tempo Forte, in Italian. Everything, because it was the first time that this new General was gathering such a large group of assistants, counsellors, secretaries and Presidents together to pray about the mission of the Society, and to discern, review and plan our apostolic preferences. Ordinarily, the General would do this with his council or consultors. This time, it was with a larger group of about twenty-five Jesuits, called Consiglio Allargato or 'Extended Council.'

JCO: Why do you think the General opted for this "style" of leadership?

AEO: That's a very interesting question. The General's decision to proceed this way was not simply a matter of "style". I believe it was an outcome of our recent General Congregation 36. This Congregation addressed the question of leadership and governance in the Society and explored ways in which both could be renewed and strengthened to serve better the mission of the universal Society. The General was following up on this orientation and decided in his wisdom that the central governing body of the Society would not just be a small circle of advisers in Rome, but an expanded and inclusive group that represents more strongly the universal Society and actualizes the idea of co-responsibility in leadership. Hence, the Presidents were also invited. This way of proceeding was also intended to facilitate real-time two-way communication and interaction between the central government of the Society and the Conferences, Provinces and Regions.

JCO: What were some of the issues that the Consiglio Allargato dealt with?

AEO: We dealt with quite a number of issues – issues such as discernment, planning, apostolic preferences, strategies for mission, renewed governance, et cetera. Actually, I don't think at this stage it's the issues that matter. What was truly remarkable was the process. The event was an experiment in the process of common discernment, which, for us Jesuits, means seeking and finding God's will in order to more fully embrace and fulfil it. Through many ways, means and methodologies, we tried to live what it means to be a discerning community. So, we prayed and conversed together; we listened to accounts of challenges and opportunities for the Society coming from various parts of the world; we spent time with Jesuits of different backgrounds – listening to them and engaging them in conversation and dialogue. We heard inputs from some of our lay and religious partners in mission. As I said, we prayed together and, for sure, we also played together. We made efforts to carry out this exercise using a method of spiritual conversation that GC 36 recommended. The entire experience resembled a bonding session, but not a bonding session for the sake of feeling good. We were trying to know each other better, so that as friends in the Lord we could seek God's will with honesty, openness, generosity and trust.

JCO: So, was this a one-off event?

AEO: No, not at all. As I said, it's a process – it's ongoing. Discernment and planning never stop. Besides, this twin process is not limited to the leadership of the Society. Becoming and living as a discerning community is a call to all Jesuits in their communities, ministries and apostolates. GC 36 emphasized this strongly. In a way, you could say this manner of proceeding is communicating a message to the rest of the Society and inviting Jesuits and partners in mission to become a discerning community. The message is the medium. Planning doesn't happen automatically. It takes discernment and discernment takes time. In other words, both require patience and a fair amount of work. So, it's not a one-off thing; it's an integral part of our way of proceeding as Jesuits.

JCO: What should we expect to see as concrete outcomes in the future?

AEO: As I said, it's not so much about outcomes as it is about process – at least for now. We are trying to experiment with a way of doing things that represents and models the best of our traditions as Jesuits. If we can get this right, the rest will follow. So, we can expect to see an apostolic body that is steeped in discernment, practices networking and values collaboration. A body like this would be better positioned to move the Society towards new apostolic frontiers and strengthen existing ones that are most pertinent and decisive for our times. I should add that the process begun by Father General would also help us to review and evaluate our apostolic preferences and to discern and adopt new ones as the Spirits leads us.

JCO: You sound quite optimistic about this process?

AEO: No, I am not optimistic. I am very passionate about it! The wheels of mission are turning – not just spinning. We are moving forward as a Society and that's pretty exciting.

JCO: Any final word for the Jesuits of Africa and Madagascar?

AEO: I truly want all the Jesuits of Africa and Madagascar – young and old – to catch the same fire and get on board this renewed sense of vision and mission as a universal apostolic body. As Pope Francis would say, I want them to "live the present with passion and embrace the future with hope"!

JCO: Thank you for your time.
AEO: You're welcome.

IMG 2111                       On Photo: The President of JESAM, Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator SJ poses with Conference Presidents, Rome

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