There have been hundreds of congresses around the world that carry the label “Jesuit”. They have brought together members of the Society of Jesus, along with partners, guests, and sometimes a wider public for the purpose of discussing topics related to the Society’s commitments. What makes the 50th Anniversary Congress of the Secretariat for Social Justice and Ecology different from so many others? The nature of Jesuit meetings has evolved a lot since the Society’s 36th General Congregation, which was held in 2016.
The dimensions of information, research and sharing of experiences that are part of any international meeting of high learning are now woven into a spiritual atmosphere, marked by prayer. Much of the satisfaction of the participants in the SJES congress comes from the fact that they are allowed ample space and time for prayer. The official program includes a half hour of prayer to start the day. Each of the Conferences, drawing on its own resources, has the opportunity to help the assembly to pray. The daily Eucharist is simple, but it reflects the diversity of cultures that characterizes the Society of Jesus of the 21st century.
Moreover, the program includes special times of prayer that are planned and animated according to linguistic groups in various chapels of the Curia. There are also exchanges in small groups – 15 of them – that are based on the method of “spiritual conversation”, which encourages attentive listening and prayer rather than discussion. All this imparts a special tone to the assembly. Differences are no longer obstacles; union of minds and hearts is guaranteed by the illumination that comes with prayer.
For example, the Conference of Latin America led the Monday morning prayer by focusing on the memory of several important figures of the past 50 years. Most of them were “martyrs” for the cause of justice and reconciliation: Pedro Arrupe, Ignacio Ellacuría, Rutilio Grande, Alberto Hurtado, Franz van der Lugt, Berta Cáceres. A chorus chanted the prayer: “Give us a heart big enough for loving. Give us a heart strong enough for the struggle”. The next day, the Conference of Canada and the United States invited us to engage in an Ignatian “examen”, using questions related to the Universal Apostolic Preferences: with whom are we invited to walk? with whom are we invited to be reconciled? who are the ones we are called to defend? what structures do we ask the Holy Spirit to help us transform in our Jesuit Provinces, in the Society of Jesus, in the Church, and in the world? On Wednesday, it was South Asia’s turn to lead the prayer, and with the help of colourful and expressive religious symbols from that part of the world, they highlighted the theme of caring for our “common home.”
In short, the 50th Anniversary Congress of the SJES is a powerful experience for all because of the quality of the speakers and the opportunities for exchange it offers, but also – and just as centrally – because it is illuminated by prayer.