John Guiney SJ, Director of Irish Jesuit Missions travelled through Spain last month, attending the European Social Delegates Meeting in Bilbao, a meeting of the Xavier Network in Madrid and several other ecology projects and Jesuit social works in the interim.
The annual meeting of Social Delegates was marked by a moment of transition when José Ignacio Garcia SJ, Director of JESC (Jesuit European Social Centre) and European Social Coordinator handed over to Peter Rožič SJ of the Slovenian Province. José Ignacio served in the position for almost seven years and has moved on to become the Director of Jesuit Refugee Service Europe.
The role of a Social Coordinator in each country is to encourage, animate and accompany the social projects in the Province. The meeting in Bilbao had updates on environmental projects, an input on spirituality and justice and questions about the role and future mission of such a network.
The group was inspired by their visits to different Jesuit social works, including the Fundación Ellacuría centre of hospitality in Bilbao which welcomes and supports migrants from countries including Cameroon, Senegal, Syria and Ecuador to settle into their new country, and a Jesuit community in San Sebastián that is shared with ex-prisoners who are recovering from the experience of incarceration and who are supported by professional social services for reintegration into society.
A visit to Alboan (an international Jesuit Development NGO) provided a window into the international justice projects of the Jesuits. The organisation is working with other NGOs including Amnesty International to focus on the issue of conflict minerals. It aims to educate people about the link between natural resources and human rights violations in the global supply chain of these minerals, and is demanding that European Union introduces legislation for mandatory regulation of minerals from conflict areas.
In Valladolid, Spain, the Social Delegates took a tour of an ecology project run by the Jesuit College of Agriculture (INEA). The project includes a programme for retired people, who are given a small allotment of land in the college gardens to cultivate produce which they can then sell at the local food market. This provides them with an income and with a hobby where they have the opportunity to meet other people. The produce is all grown organically, linking farming to the community and putting abstract ideas of ecology into agricultural practice.
Felix Revilla is the director of the project in the INEA Jesuit college of agriculture in Valladolid, Spain. Take a look at this video where he discusses the evolution of the project, how it involves the local and migrant communities, and its relevance to Laudato Si'.
The group was impressed by the creativity and enthusiasm for the project, which included a beautiful eco-chapel – where all of the religious imagery and even the altar were inspired by tools used to till the land. The allotments are also given to ex-prisoners and to people with disabilities so that they too can benefit from being part of the community created by the project. The INEA programmes provide an inspirational example of how Jesuit green spaces can be used creatively for the good of marginalised groups, which could be applied in an Irish context.
Madrid - Xavier Network
A few days after the Social Delegates meeting, delegates from the Xavier Network met to discuss Jesuit global protocols for disaster and emergency response. Discussions at the meeting were informed by the experiences of Jesuit Refugee Services and associated organisations of the network, who have in recent years been involved in responding to emergency situations in Haiti, Nepal, the Philippines and South Sudan.
The Xavier Network is a group of thirteen organisations from across Europe who are closely related to the Jesuits, and are each committed to justice. In attendance at the meeting were delegates from organisations including Alboan, Entreculturas, Jesuitenmission and Magis.
Jesuits involved in disaster response and social and global justice issues attended the meeting, including Pau Vidal SJ of South Sudan Jesuit Refugee Services, Peter Rožič SJ the new Director of the Jesuit European Social Centre, and Fr Xavier Jeyaraj SJ, the new Secretary for Social Justice and Ecology.
Peter Rožič SJ, shared his thoughts about the future of the Network. He feels that the first priority for Jesuits should be networking with each other and with other Jesuit works which have shared values and interests; including ecology, migration, Ignatian spirituality, speaking for the voiceless and solidarity with the marginalised. He emphasised the need to understand the consolations and struggles in each of the countries that Jesuits work in, to be more effective and to truly have an impact.
Peter also highlighted the need for Jesuits to give and receive training as providing education is key to the mission. There has been a lot of work done in education and training in Ireland, France, Italy and Spain and he would like to see Ignatian spirituality be brought to the fore in the work the organisations do.
Xavier Jeyaraj SJ of the Calcutta Jesuit Province, took up his new role at the General Curia in Rome in June. His position in the social justice ministry led him to reflect on the nexus created by politicians, corporations and the media. Fr Jeyeraj is concerned about the divisions being created by ecological issues, climate change and the destruction of the environment as resources are exploited for profit. The growing refugee and migrant crisis is being exacerbated by climate change, and the quality of life of children is bring affected as they have no citizenship, and their education is disrupted. He feels that the Jesuit organisations should be focused on responding to these issues.
(The Ellacuria Centre is named after Fr Ignacio Ellacuria, who was the Rector of the #Jesuit University of Central America who was assassinated by the Salvadoran military in 1989 during the civil war in El Salvador).
Irish Jesuit Missions, 11th October 2017