Source: Jesuits. Global: From February 6 to 10, some fifteen Jesuits – all recently appointed treasurers of their respective Provinces – gathered to learn more about the various aspects of their ministry. Among the topics on the agenda: the functioning of the General Treasurer’s Office, the ways of communicating with its services, mandatory requests for use of Province funds, and FACSI (Father General’s Fund for Specific Needs). Financial planning, budgeting, investments, and financial reports were also addressed, as were the rules for acquisition and disposal of the goods of the Society. However, the meeting was far from a checklist of economic training. The lessons were taught hand-in-hand with time spent on the spiritual foundations of the treasurer’s work and the stewardship of the “funds”, the assets dedicated to specific purposes.
One of the participants, Isaac El-Fernandes, the treasurer of the Southern Africa Province, shared his testimony with us.
Before leaving Zambia to come for this workshop, my Provincial warned me that the team in Rome would work us hard. He was not wrong: they have definitely demanded their pound of flesh from us. All the same, it has been a rewarding experience. Beyond all that I have learnt about the Society’s way of proceeding in financial matters, I have been struck most of all by the humble and dedicated service of so many Curia officials here in Rome. As I reflect on their service to the Society, often carried out in the background, the film Hidden Figures comes to mind.
You might think that such self-effacing service would make the Curia a rather drab and dreary place. But it is just the contrary, with laughter and joy bubbling over in the most unlikely of places, like the archives for example! For many of us, the visit to the archives was a highlight of our week here, thanks to the infectious enthusiasm and wry humour of the assistant archivist – Fr. Robert Danieluk. He made the old Society come alive as he showed us the original letters of Matteo Ricci and the handwritten edits that St. Ignatius made to the original manuscripts of the Spiritual Exercises and Constitutions. It was fascinating to learn that we would have had none of these precious manuscripts and letters preserved had it not been for the forethought of Joseph Pignatelli who rescued these archives from the Gesù where the former Curia was located at the time of the Suppression. Had it not been for Pignatelli transferring these documents to a nearby presbytery where he was living with a few other Jesuits, they may well have become kindling for a fire to warm the hands of marauding soldiers.
Like Joseph Pignatelli, we as new Treasurer’s have been learning what to look out for in order to take care of the resources of the Society of Jesus. The didactic method of using case studies for discussion helped make the IAG (Instruction on the Administration of Goods) come alive and gave concrete expression to the gap between our spiritual ideals and the practice on the ground. Some of our discussions focused on methods of closing this gap, as it was acknowledged that many in our home Provinces had never read the IAG. The promulgation of the new IAF (Instructions for the Administration and Finances) which will replace the old IAG gives the Society an opportunity to remedy this situation.
However, we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that simply getting Jesuits to read a document would lead to a more faithful living of our vow of poverty. As the General stressed in his address to us, this will not happen without the personal conversion of each individual Jesuit as we all strive to better imitate our Lord. For many of us, new Treasurers, this week has been a step further along this lifelong journey.