The Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr Adolfo Nicolás, has identified the nurturing and formation of young people as a central concern for the Society of Jesus in the 21st century.
Speaking at a gathering of Jesuits and their religious and lay colleagues and supporters at St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, in Sydney last week, Fr Nicolás said there was a strong need for a deep and ongoing investment in youth, especially with regard to their education.
‘We cannot build our societies unless we respect and honour the young people in our midst. They are the ones with the imagination, the energy, the desire to change things’, he said.
Fr Nicolás said this concern for the formation of young people was shared by Jesuits around the world, and that the ongoing accompaniment of the youth as they progressed into adulthood was needed now more than ever. While young people were honest, direct and willing to ask tough questions, they were finding it increasingly difficult to make decisions, he said.
‘How do we accompany them after graduation and into adulthood? This is an area where we have room for reflection. The aim of St Ignatius was that we would be internally transformed. If our education does not contribute to transformation then something very important is missing from our schools.’
In response to Fr Nicolás address, Daniel Street, former Riverview student and current advisor to Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd in the field of Aid and Development, confirmed that a preoccupation with the superficial rather than the substantial was hampering young people in finding their spiritual direction.
‘This is felt more forcefully here in Australia as there is a strong force that seeks to put God at the margins. It dissipates [young people’s] aspirations and gives them no stable points of reference and no time for discernment’, he said. ‘Young people must have the freedom to find and follow their faith.’
Mr Street said that Fr Nicolás’ presence in Australia had prompted discussion and had provided Jesuit collaborators with ideas as to how they might proceed.
‘We do this by strengthening our Christian faith, and in the spirit of the Magis, seeking to enhance our contribution to this community. As builders of an Ignatian heritage, we will be active agents of change.’
In her response to Fr Nicolás’ address, the CEO of Jesuit Social Services, Julie Edwards, said that the lack of an education was felt most acutely by the young people with whom her service works.
‘We know that six per cent of the people we work with in the prison system have completed their schooling. We know, as Father General pointed out, the value of an education’, Ms Edwards said. ‘We do have some real challenges if we want to engage with young people with integrity in this country.’
One of the ways in which this process could be kick-started, she said, was for organisations to ask themselves whether they have contributed resources in a mutually respectful way.
During his address Fr Nicolás took the opportunity to thank the Australian Province for the universal approach it had taken to its work and mission. ‘The mission of God has no limits, the whole world is the beneficiary’, he said.
He also stressed the important role played by lay companions, saying that their contributions helped the Jesuits to remain centred on a mission for others.
‘I see great depth of dedication, great desire to serve and be part of God’s mission. Like Ignatius, we want people who can be transformed and grow with us, people who have the same vision and dedication. Our concern is to keep the vision clear and to deepen this direction as we move forward.’
Read Fr General's address here.
Fr Nicolás on...
Fr Nicolas was asked a number of questions from the audience. Some of his responses are below.
Success versus failure
‘There should be a way of celebrating failure in communities. When a young Jesuit talks of crisis I think, “thank God”, because that’s an opportunity to grow.’
Recognising God’s call
‘What is it that touches your heart? Where you feel your heart has been touched, there is an opportunity.’
Reconciling success and poverty
‘If you go to the poor because your heart leads you there, allow yourself to be led by the spirit. Include the poor among the beneficiaries of your professional service.’
‘What is important is the search. It is bad to think that what I have in my mind is the final truth on everything. God continues to be the great mystery, and searching in agnostics is already part of the encounter.’
‘We can never define God. We can never paint God with one colour. No one has ever seen God. But if you befriend the poor, God will be there.’
By Catherine Marshall