Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) were approved by Pope Francis and given to the Society of Jesus by Fr. General on 19th February, 2019. They are to guide us the next ten years to incarnate the mission of reconciliation and justice across all our apostolates.
The four UAPs are:
1. To show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment
2. To walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice
3. To collaborate in the care of our Common Home
4. To accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future.
The UAPs give a horizon, a point of reference to the Society of Jesus. They unite us in our mission. We, as South Asian Jesuits engaged in the educational apostolate and our collaborators, are invited to look at these UAPs and plan our strategies accordingly.
Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and Discernment
The Society of Jesus has over 400 schools and almost 80 higher educational institutions across South Asia. Besides these we have technical and non-formal centres. However, do our institutions bear the characteristics of Jesuit education? In what way are we instilling the Ignatian identity in our schools and colleges? Do our alumni and staff exhibit Ignatian values in their lives? Do we initiate our staff, students and other stake holders into Ignatian discernment, the Examen and Ignatian spirituality? Today, when a majority of our teachers and students are non-Christians it is our duty to familiarise them with Ignatian spirituality and the Jesuit way of proceeding. So, the first of the UAPs is a serious invitation to all of us to find ways and means to enable all our stakeholders to know and walk the ways of discernment and the Spiritual Exercises. Today with the amount of information overload it is difficult to find time or have the desire to look within, to hear the inner voice. People in general, and our students in particular, have not been able to get in touch with their true self, and discern what is good and right.
We can only get in touch with our deepest self, the space where God speaks to us, through discernment. Discernment is not only necessary when serious problems have to be solved; it is an instrument given to us to follow God better. Today we need to learn the art of discernment. JEASA has prepared discernment tools for schools through the Atma Manthan (Examen) programme. We need to use these and other methods to accompany our students and staff as they discern and learn to make the right choices in social, economic, cultural and political spheres. We have to promote in-depth study of the Spiritual Exercises so that people realise they are interconnected as a family in solidarity with one another and with the Creator.
Walking with the excluded
The gap between rich and poor is widening across the world. The problems of forced migration, threats of war, caste and gender discrimination, and poverty are there for all to see. Political leaders have kindled hatred and erected walls between the rich and the poor, young and old, those at home and those who have to migrate. Dalits, tribals, children and women are abused and exploited physically, sexually. Jesus suffers and is crucified in them every day. We are all God’s children. As educators in South Asia we have the additional responsibilities to build counter-cultural values, work for justice and ensure that human rights are upheld.
We need, first and foremost, an inner conversion that makes us alive and sensitive to the suffering Christ in our midst. Our schools should help all to grow as human beings. Our institutions, working together and with others, must develop the capacity to engage in an in-depth study of the economic and social problems. We want those who are part of our educational mission to dream of and build a new society based on Gospel values. We are committed to promoting a healthy and safe environment for children and young people and to stand against abuse of all kinds. In all our work, we want to unite people where they are separated, to heal them where they are wounded. We are invited to witness to a faith that promotes reconciliation based on justice. We want to bring hope to our world, to imagine new roads and walk on them.
To collaborate in the care for our Common Home
Creation is crying out as never before, groaning to be set free (Rm. 8). Environmental crisis is greatly impacting the poor and the vulnerable. We, especially those in education, need an ecological conversion if we are to be honest custodians of our Common Home. We can still change the course of history. A whole new way of living opens up as a consequence of a personal and passionate relationship with Jesus. We can live with a new vision, embracing Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God, of a renewed and transformed world and ecosystem where we are all brothers and sisters, responsible for each other (Cf. Laudato Si’, 209-221).
At this vital time in our world’s history, the Society of Jesus is committed to answer this call of our Creator over the next ten years. In particular, we can make our students aware of environmental issues and help them to respond to these appropriately. The implementation of the eco-policy made by JEASA must be seriously undertaken in all our institutions.
Accompany young people in the creation of a hopeful future
Young people today face enormous challenges: the uncertainty of relationships in a digital era, artificial intelligence, diminishing opportunities for work, the growth of political violence, discrimination, degradation of the environment, etc. All this makes it difficult for them to find ways to build supportive personal and family relations based on solid foundations. Meeting Jesus, young people can find the path to deepest fulfilment. “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). The 2018 Synod on Youth and Vocational Discernment recognizes the importance of the perspectives of the young. We stand with them and look at the future with them. We walk with them in order to perceive and discern where the Spirit is leading our world and our Church. “The culture of encounter is a call inviting us to dare to keep alive a shared dream. Yes, a great dream, a dream that has a place for everyone” (Pope Francis to WYD 2019 participants in Panama).
Jesuit education must dialogue with young people regarding the many possibilities digital age provides them. We must help them to discern these and find God in the struggles they undergo. Our schools must be places for youthful creativity where they encounter the God of their life. We must reach out to children and youth irrespective of caste, creed, colour, gender and orientation, and help them feel loved, saved and forgiven. Our schools must help in the faith formation of the young, and creatively adapt the Spiritual Exercises so that they can personally know God in ever deeper ways and follow Him more closely.
Finally, the UAPs give us ample opportunities to be relevant in the educational apostolate. The opportunities are there for the asking. Do we have the will to take this forward by being creative, people oriented, and committed?