Journey of the Office of Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat

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In  anticipation to celebrating the Golden Jubilee  of Social Justice & Ecology Secretariat in Rome Curia, we carried out an  interview with Fr. Xavier Jeyaraj S.J,  Director of  (SJES) on the 13th May 2019, to take us through,  on how the journey of the Jesuit Social Apostolate has been, the achievements, setback and what plans are underway for celebrating 50 years of God’s faithfulness to the Social Apostolate.

Briefly share with us what faith that does justice mean to the social apostolate? In simple terms how can we explain this to the non-Jesuits?

Generally, faith and justice are seen as two separate entities rather than as interconnected phenomenon in life. As Jesuits, one of the Catholic religious orders, we believe that faith in God cannot but be manifested in action. And this action must be in coherence with the teachings of the bible that makes social justice a fundamental way of being a believer in God. In the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly revealed his love and compassion for the weak, the vulnerable, the excluded, and the socially ostracized. In fact, he condemned anyone who was merely practicing religious rituals without any compassion and love for the neighbour who suffered injustice in the hands of unjust structures. Social justice for the poor and the oppressed must necessarily be the acid test to be a true Christian. Probably this is true for other religions too. For example, in Hinduism, nishkamakarma would mean doing things without expecting any reward – selfless action.

For us Jesuits, commitment to social justice would mean that we see everything through the eyes of the poor and marginalized. We are there to accompany them, learn from them and work for and with them. The phrase, ‘Faith that does Justice’ comes from Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, whose experience in Japan and his own charism resulted in the drafting of Decree 4 of the General Congregation in 1975 entitled: Our mission Today: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice. This document in fact, clearly reveals how these two are inseparable.

We live in a plural society with diverse religions and cultures. In today’s competitive world, even the so-called religious leaders are competing with one another trying to prove that one religion is better than the other. The erosion of true religious values of love, compassion, justice and peace and the loss of human dignity and identity of cultures have given rise to numerous instances of religious, ethnic and cultural fundamentalism. Increasingly, some fundamentalists use ‘religion’ to create polarities and tensions that tear the fabric of our society apart.

As Jesuits, we believe that all of us are God’s children and we cannot see our brothers and sisters suffer injustices, violence and die in poverty and hunger. That would be a denial of God and denial of our human dignity. My following of faith in God, necessarily demands “commitment to promote justice and to enter into solidarity with the voiceless and the powerless.” (GC 32, D. 4, #42).

The Secretariat for social justice and ecology is celebrating its 50th anniversary, what has been the journey like?

The General Congregation 32 had already predicted, “Any effort to promote justice will cost us something. Our cheerful readiness to pay the price will make our preaching of the Gospel more meaningful and its acceptance easier” (D.4, #46). The journey during the last 50 years has not been very smooth and I am sure neither will it be in the coming years. Being with and working for the poor is quite challenging and risky both at the levels of individuals and at the level of institution.

Yet, these difficult and challenging moments brought out abundant graces within the Society of Jesus. Many of our institutions examined their works through the prism of ‘option for the poor’ and even made radical changes.  Many Jesuits chose to go and be in solidarity with the oppressed poor and empower them to fight against injustices. In these struggles more than 50 Jesuits along with many more collaborators, men and women, have shed their blood in standing with the poor and the marginalized. Inspired by their prophetic actions and sacrifices, many more people, irrespective of their religious beliefs, have been empowered to speak truth to power and proclaim justice in spite of threats to their own lives.

The Jesuit ‘option for the poor’ has also inspired many other religious congregations to take up social works among the vulnerable poor and the excluded.

For the years that your secretariat has been in existence, what are some of the achievements and challenges that you have encountered?

Personally, I do not like speaking of achievements. That sounds more like the business way. Rather I would prefer to reflect on how effective we have been in our commitment to faith-justice mission in the last 50 years. This must be seen from the context and response of Jesuits in every country and in every Jesuit Conference.

For example, in Latin America, the impact of liberation theology that emerged during the oppressive regimes and structures in those countries was a very positive, effective response to the challenges of injustice and violence. Although I am from India, I did my theology from that perspective and felt constantly inspired by Jesuits in Latin America who responded so valiantly to those challenges in those years. In Africa, the works of Jesuits to establish Justice and Peace in many of the ethnically divided and war-torn countries, often due to resource exploitation by MNCs, is deeply heartwarming. The immersion programs and socio-economic and theological analysis were effective measures to concretize Faith-Justice mission.  In Asia, the emphasis on inculturation, dialogue with other religions, formation in mission through insertion into the lives of dalits and tribals were some examples of how Jesuits responded to the situation in their context. And in Europe and US-Canada, the positive and vibrant response of Jesuits to the challenges of migration and refugees is something to be cherished.

But the challenges we face today are much more complex and difficult to give simple solutions in the coming years. We cannot but be alert and sensitive to the realities. We need to keep not only our eyes, ears open but also our ‘justice antennas’ wide open.

A major challenge for us today to work collectively as one universal body in the globalized world. The challenges are global and hence we need to work together and collaborate with each other. How do we network and collaborate with each other is the biggest challenge.

What does celebrating 50th anniversary mean to the Jesuits in the social apostolate? How is SJES planning to celebrate its 50th anniversary?

As Fr. General Arturo Sosa mentions in his inaugural video message: “The 50th anniversary is an opportune and historic moment – a Kairos moment as expressed in the Bible – for all of us in the Society of Jesus, to renew our commitment to the challenging mission of our vocation: a faith that does justice and seeks the reconciliation between us, with nature and with God. This is not only a time of renewal for our institutions, social centres or for members of social apostolate. It is a moment that must permeate the entire Society of Jesus, all Jesuits and all our partners in the mission that we share with great joy.”

We plan to celebrate this with three objectives: a) To celebrate God’s faithfulness in our 50 years journey; b) To create opportunities for collaboration and networking; and c) To discern roadmaps to implement UAPs in social ministry, promulgated by Fr. General in February 2019.

These above objectives are being concretized at 3 levels: a) Provinces; b) Conferences and c) Universal Society. The process of celebration has actually begun in December 2018 with the inaugural message of Fr. General. And it will go on until October 2019 at the Province and Conference levels. The Social apostolate members, along with others have begun organizing events and programs to this effect in some Provinces and Conferences. Many of them have also planned programs, publications and retreats to make this a time of discernment and prayer. Many conferences are also planning a two or three-day meeting with the social delegates, to discern on how to respond to the call of UAPs and possible ways of implementing them in and through social apostolate.

At the Universal Secretariat level, we are organizing a Social Apostolate Congress from November 4 – 8, 2019 in Rome, where we will have 200 participants, both Jesuits and our collaborators. This will be the second such large gathering of the Social Apostolate in the last 50 years. The last one was in 1997 in Naples, Italy where around 160 Jesuits in social apostolate came together to discern the characteristics of Social Apostolate.

At this important historic moment of 50 years of SJES, we will have a few special publications on the history and spirituality of social apostolate, a compendium of SJ social documents, a special issue of Promotio Iustitiae and some special videos made. The next year’s SJ Yearbook will also focus on the Social Apostolate and its contribution in the last 50 years. We will also have a new website to make the Secretariat more known. We hope this does not end in a mere celebration but rather becomes a moment to renew and recommit ourselves more intently to our Faith – Justice – Reconciliation mission.

SJES – Fifty years of Justice and Reconciliation: Testimony of Xavier Jeyaraj

As part of our ongoing celebration of the half-century anniversary...