From Monday August 20, 32 Jesuits and collaborators from all the provinces and regions of the Asia Pacific Conference gathered in Chiangmai, Thailand, for a meeting of social apostolates. This social apostolate meeting is held every year to communicate with and support one another in the social apostolates of the Conference. This time the theme was “Building Capacity” and the meeting focused on learning new techniques which will help us work more effectively and deeply in our mission. However, before joining various workshops 1 we had time for sharing about new frontiers 2 we have encountered since the last meeting. Father Patxi, Fr. General’s Delegate for Social Ministry and Ecology, shared with us the Ignatian characteristics for Social Action and gave us some updates on Governance in the Society of Jesus. Father Denis Kim, Coordinator for the Social Apostolates of the Conference, gave some updates about the present social situation of the social apostolates in Asia Pacific. Here, due to their importance, I would like to summarize some of these updates, Ignatian Characteristics for Social Action, and Strategic planning.
- Workshops: Leadership; Communication; Strategic Planning; Research and Advocacy, Fundraising.
- In sharing about our own new frontiers, Fr. Koyama spoke about the new frontiers of Japan regarding electricity from nuclear power. He also introduced the book “Healing a Broken World,” focusing on ecology. A network of NGOs working for refugees in Japan has been started. We have also developed a cooperative relationship with the Korea Province.
Updates on the social apostolates
We face an inhumane economic system ? ever-growing inequality, non- sustainable systems and culture and human relations adopting a market approach. Since the 2008 crisis, the world’s economy has become an “untamable beast” that no one seems to be able to control. We also see that the global culture excludes national, ethnic, and religious minorities. It is amid this culture that we face both opportunities and threats. In this economic and cultural situation the Society of Jesus acknowledges that there are some areas where we can accompany people, like mining conflicts, ecology, migration movements, democratization, and violations of human rights. With regard to work in these areas, at the meeting in El Escorial, Spain, in 2008, the Society established the “Global Ignatian Advocacy Network” (GIAN) with five criteria for action?the right to education, peace and human rights, ecology, migration, and governance of natural and mineral resources.
To work more effectively, the internal structure at the Curia of the Society also underwent some changes. The Committee for Mission was renewed, more reflection was given to mission, and there has been greater focusing on mission and collaboration among provinces.
Fr. Denis Kim also spoke about “Social Context.” In his talk he listed some elements which have a strong influence on social ministry, such as globalization, changes in the Church and the Society of Jesus, and the rise of China. In Asian societies, we see suffering people among farmers, the urban poor, disposable workers, people displaced by development, and ethnic minorities. As we agreed in the previous meetings, the common priorities for social ministry of the Conference still are migration and environment.
Deepening the Ignatian Spirituality of social ministry
Father Patxi Alvares invited us to see how St Ignatius understood and engaged in social ministry.
St Ignatius’ motivation in working for the poor was based on his experience at the Cardoner, where he saw God present and active in life and history. God was inviting him to commit himself to helping others. Father Patxi pointed out that, as a Jesuit social ministry, our ministry has to have 5 characteristics: gratitude, making friends with the poor, interior knowledge, the spirit of magis and being friends in the Lord. We also learned that there are many tensions in our ministry when we commit ourselves to serving the poor. But we should not ignore or try to avoid these tensions because as normal tensions will bring new energy for our commitments.
An essential dimension of our social mission is that its main spiritual source has to start from prayer and closeness to the poor. We respond to the poor with all our compassion by engaging in social and spiritual ministries and research. To serve this ministry effectively, we need strategic planning to attain social awareness. Based on these characteristics, our key components in social ministry can be listed as follows: Related to the mission, we have to promote justice and solidarity. Moreover, our services have to be services of faith.
Related to action to develop social centers, the focus must be the centrality of the person. Our centers should also be places for communal discernment, for magis. Networking is always an important element and the governance of the centers must accord with the governance of the Society.
Related to community building, our centers have to promote a community of love, discernment, and commitment. They also have to train, accompany, and promote the development of people.
(Presented by Ms. Christina, collaborator of the Conference)
This was the main focus of the meeting. We need to do strategic planning when we are thinking to open a new frontier, to close a mission that is no longer relevant, or to maintain missions we have undertaken. The process of planning should be done as follows: Strategic planning should be done when we are faced with changes in the ministry, such as new leaders, new social contexts, the need to evaluate an ongoing ministry. We should do this planning during a peaceful period, when we can take the time for a lengthy process. Normally it will take from 3 to 6 months. Every person who is engaged in the ministry will attend the planning process (not only the leader).
The process will start with time for prayer, time to collect data, time to share research and feelings, and time to evaluate the new decision. The strategic planning should bring the organization out of “the still situation.” That means it should bring it to a new horizon of ministry, where we will not just maintain our works but go out to “the leading situation,” to the frontiers.
On the last day, we all discussed our Conference’s needs regarding the social apostolate. We agreed that we need to focus more on spirituality, communication, engagement with the poor, collaboration, inviting more scholastics to the workshop, and full-time coordinators.
The meeting was really a blessing for all of us. We felt a strong relationship among our companions, both Jesuits and lay people.