Collaboration and the promotion of the Spiritual Exercises

Fr General in South Africa

The last leg of Fr General’s five-country visit to the Southern African Province took him to South Africa where he visited the Jesuit Community in Johannesburg which doubles as the home of the Jesuit Institute South Africa (JISA).

Fr Sosa took advantage of his visit to meet with a group of about 50 partners in mission with the Jesuits in South Africa: representatives from the Christian Life Community (CLC/CVX), the schools and parishes where the Jesuits serve, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and other groups. After an address by the General, the meeting provided some time for a question-and-answer session where Fr General provided clarifications on some of the topics raised by the collaborators. Fr General stressed the importance of true collaboration, underlining that Jesuits are the first collaborators – not forced to collaborate because the Society is short on Jesuit personnel, and not treating collaboration as some idea where everyone is just equal and the same.

These partners collaborate with the Jesuits in JISA and in other apostolates as they jointly seek to bring about a better world through their service to God’s people. The Jesuit Institute was founded in 2007; the Superior General at that time, Fr Peter Hans Kolvenbach, wanted the Jesuits in South Africa to have their own visible work. Before that, the Jesuits had been working in South Africa for many years, serving in parishes within the dioceses. JISA was created with the idea of having two major departments: one for theology and the other for philosophy. Through these, the Institute would focus on generating critical political commentary as well as useful social analysis on the country.

The Institute has gone on to also create the “Center for Ignatian Spirituality” which was started by a group of lay people with the support of the Jesuits. This center is dedicated to promoting Ignatian spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises. It aims to empower people to give the Exercises to others and prepare them to become spiritual directors. The course for spiritual accompaniment runs for three years; two of which is classwork and reflection, while the third year requires participants to do 50 hours of spiritual accompaniment under supervision. Another course offered by the center is the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises Training (ISET) which attracts a number of participants joining in online via Zoom, especially from the US. This is a year-long course that trains people to give the Spiritual Exercises.

JISA also has a communications department that focuses on producing videos to highlight important societal issues. Recently, it put out a video on the situation of migrants and refugees in South Africa. Another one highlights the huge gap between the rich and the poor in Cape Town; it is titled, “Capetown: The tale of Two Cities”. The communications department was particularly helpful during the Covid-19 pandemic as it could film lectures for various courses offered at the Jesuit Institute.

Looking ahead, the director, Fr Russell Pollitt, says that JISA is getting involved in an educational campaign ahead of the national elections in South Africa next year. He holds the opinion that JISA can help citizens consider the elections from a perspective that goes beyond manifestoes and political parties, towards examining values and the true needs of the country from an Ignatian perspective, as they head towards the polls. JISA is doing this in collaboration with the Bishops Conference and other groups in the Church, as well as with other faith communities.

In addition to giving retreats of different durations to different groups and individuals – clergy and lay alike – another part of the work of JISA is forming educators. The Institute works with several schools and local institutions, as well as with JRS and healthcare workers, providing formation for them as they go about their professional engagements. Fr Pollitt says that the Institute is also constantly working on adapting the Spiritual Exercises for the South African township context which is multiracial, diverse and constantly changing.

During his stay in South Africa, Father General presided at a vibrant and very animated Mass at St Martin de Porres Parish in Soweto. He was warmly welcomed by the parishioners with music and dancing; and he spent some time interacting with the members of the Parish Pastoral Council.

Look at the photo gallery of Father General’s visit to the parish of St Martin de Porres in Orlando West, Soweto, served by the Jesuits in Johannesburg:

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