Ministers of State Catherine Byrne and David Stanton launched the HSE’s National Intercultural Health Strategy 2018 – 2023 and celebrated the achievements of JRS Ireland’s Fáilte Project. The strategy seeks to address the health needs experienced by persons from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds who live in Ireland. The Ministers jointly launched the Intercultural Health Strategy for the next five years, in January 2019. Representatives of the Jesuit Refugee Service Ireland also attended the launch where JRS Ireland’s Fáilte Project was recognised as a model of good practice for supporting and enhancing the mental health and wellbeing of asylum seekers. Since 2017, the project has benefited over 1,000 individuals in the Balseskin Reception Centre through the provision of psychosocial services, education and training opportunities and the running of integration initiatives. Speaking at the launch, Fatima Mofokeng, a beneficiary of the Fáilte Project explained to attendees: “When I first arrived to Ireland, I did not know what to expect or how I would be received. The Fáilte Project helped me to feel like this was home and that I was welcome here.” Funded by the HSE National Social Inclusion Office, the Fáilte Project is an example of how to progress one of the 5 key goals of the new strategy, namely to strengthen working in partnership in order to enhance intercultural health. Áine Lambe, JRS Ireland’s Intercultural Project Worker told Irish Jesuit News, “The collaborative nature of the project has enabled JRS to draw on the resources of local community groups, NGOs, statutory agencies and asylum seekers themselves to deliver a diverse range of activities and supports.” Ms. Mofokeng concluded concluded her address to those gathered for the launch by saying that “The Fáilte Project was the beginning of my story in Ireland but I am now hopeful for my future here.”
Jesuits and colleagues who work in spirituality centres in Ireland, Britain and the Netherlands came together for their annual meeting in Drongen, Belgium, on 3-5 January 2019. The theme this year was communal discernment – in other words, how groups can learn to reflect well before making joint decisions. The main speaker was Franck Janin SJ, President of the Conference of European Provincials, and one of the founders of the ESDAC way of proceeding » of communal discernment, which is inspired by the pedagogy of St Ignatius and by contributions from the social sciences. He led the participants through two days of discovering in a practical way some aspects of what communal discernment is with a particular emphasis of working in small groups involving particular scenarios. First, the participants took time to pray with a theme alone and in silence. Second, they were split into small groups where everyone had the opportunity to listen and share their insights. Third, the whole group participated in a feedback exercise at a plenary session. The process very much underlined the power of prayer, listening and respectful sharing in terms of coming to some kind of consensus on a topic, as opposed to the normal debate model where there is often a power play with some people left excluded. A form of spiritual discernment, it invites individuals to speak their truth, confident that they will be respectfully listened to, and allows for new possibilities and creative thinking. On the final day, Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian SJ presented a case study called the ‘Living Church’ project from Belfast’s Down and Connor Diocese, where he was the previous director. The programme uses these methods of listening, group work and consensus building to renew parish structures. The meeting was organised by the Peter Faber group of Jesuit retreat house directors and spirituality delegates, who are: Roger Dawson SJ, Piaras Jackson SJ, Bart van Emmerik SJ, David Smolira SJ and Brendan McManus SJ.
The 35th Annual Belvedere College Sleep-Out has taken place on 22-24 December 2018 on Dublin’s O’Connell Street and College Green. Some of the students involved met with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications. They spoke about the experience of doing the Sleep-Out last year. “I never realised how hard it could be to sleep on the ground.” They also talked about the homelessness crisis and the work that some Belvedere students do, meeting with people on the streets, offering them food and a chat. Harry Hamlet McGuire says that when they do go on the streets they keep in mind the words of Brother Eamonn Davis SJ: “He tells us that when we go down to meet the homeless that we don’t stand over people… We’re sitting down and kneeling next to them and we’re having a conversation with them… and we’re getting to know them”. According to Matt Grogan: “I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself… I’m fortunate enough that I have a roof over my head every night and there’s food on my table every morning, which I’m incredibly grateful for. And through the school I’m aware that there are people who aren’t as fortunate as myself… and I feel obligated to give back”. Kevin Owens who is taking part in the Sleep-Out for the second year in a row also spoke to Pat Coyle. Last year’s Sleep-Out raised just under 200,000 euro. Cormac Yalloway is really hopeful that they can get well over that amount this year. Whatever money they raise will be divided between the Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland and Home Again.
The novices of Britain and Ireland have just returned from their autumn work experience placements, known in Jesuit jargon as “experiments”. Experiments were designed by St. Ignatius to test a man’s vocation through the two-year novitiate period. Experiments mirror the various steps taken by St Ignatius after his conversion. For centuries, Jesuit formation has included these same methods as a means to test, stretch, clarify, and confirm the novice’s vocation. Typical novice experiments include hospital work (meaning work with marginalised people, who in St Ignatius' day tended to live in "hospitals" or places of safety run by religious), a pilgrimage, the 30-day Spiritual Exercises, and teaching. Testing the equilibrium Paolo Beltrame has just returned from Dublin where for the last six weeks he has been teaching and assisting in the chaplaincy of Belvedere College.  Paolo, who was doing post-doctoral research in astro-particle physics before joining the Jesuits, taught science to fifth formers and was asked to give a number of talks on his specialist subject to wider audiences. “I have had lots of experience teaching at tertiary level” commented Paolo, “but teaching high school boys was new to me.  I think the idea of the experiment is to push the boundaries of where you feel comfortable and test how I can engage, collaborate and work with different groups.” Belvedere College chaplaincy has a well-embedded programme which connects the intellectual approach with opportunities for social justice and retreats for spiritual renewal. “One thing I noticed,” Paolo observed, “is that there is a tension in the Ignatian approach between the intellectual and social justice work. The two poles don’t easily come to synthesis.  I see it a bit like walking for which you need two legs! – Each time you take a step you move out of a state of equilibrium, but you have to do this in order to move forward.  Everything we did in the school - study, homework, social justice ministry - was an opportunity for reflection and was in itself a kind of prayer.  Whether you are looking at stars or supporting the poor you need to engage your intellect, otherwise how do we provoke any change?  These young men were all very thoughtful, very committed and not afraid to question.” More Ignatian than the Jesuits Also on experiment in an Irish Jesuit high school was Ian Jackson who spent six weeks at Coláiste Iognáid (known as The Jes) in Galway.  He taught Maths and RE including teaching St Ignatius’ examen prayer to both pupils and teachers; and he supported the schools’ Kairos leaders, sixth formers leading retreats for younger children, and managed to inspire them with his vocation story - ”I was really happy about that,” he said, “they were very intelligent, mature, creative and independent minds so I was delighted they were touched by my story”.  During the half term break he worked for Educate Magis – the global network of Jesuit educators which connects those working in over 2,300 Jesuit schools worldwide.  Like Paolo, Ian was inspired by the lay collaborators: “They were more Ignatian than the Jesuits, it was awesome to see them just getting on with it”, he commented. A joy-filled time of laughter and love Matthew Tumulty spent his experiment living in the L’Arche community in Edinburgh -  a community where people with and without learning disabilities share life together. Matthew, gained interesting insights of God at work. “I quickly realised as a member of this community that in fact I was the one with the disabilities. The people I was living with who could not communicate verbally were absolute masters at non-verbal communication. I felt much more limited in what I was able to express.  I came to realise that societal norms are very inhibiting, and we tend to smother out the laughter. My friends showed me how to enjoy every moment and to give unconditional love and trust. God was working through them to show me something that I really wasn’t expecting, it was a joy-filled time of laughter and love.”
God Ever Greater: Exploring Ignatian Spirituality is the title of Brian O’Leary SJ’s latest book published by Messenger Publications. The book is the fruit of a life-long immersion in Ignatian spirituality from both an academic and experiential perspective. In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, Brian explains the two-part structure of the book. He suggests that the newcomer to Ignatian spirituality might be better starting with the second half of the book as it consists of a series of short reflections that can lead the reader into meditation and prayer in the Ignatian tradition. The first half of the book is the solid foundation for the second half. It takes the reader on an exploratory journey of Ignatius’ writings and the main themes of his spirituality, including discernment, both individual and corporate. The author offers a helpful explanation of the often-used (and indeed abused) term ‘spirituality’. He argues that one must know the meaning of the noun if one is to ever understand the adjective ‘Ignatian’ which accompanies it. During a wide-ranging and frank conversation about the aim and content of the book Brian speaks of Ignatius the mystic, Ignatius the pilgrim, and Ignatius the aristocrat. He argues that Ignatius’ aristocratic background was responsible for a certain authoritarianism on his part that Brian himself finds less than appealing! The author also voices his concern about the use of Ignatian spirituality today. He wonders if its popularity might have led to it becoming more person-centred and less God-centred. If this is the case, and he fears it might be so, then for him, Ignatian spirituality, which for Ignatius was utterly God-centred, may well be in danger of losing its authenticity.
Jesuit Bishop Alan McGuckian says that Northern Ireland must continue to be recognised as a ‘special case’, in this post-Brexit era. He says the Good Friday Agreement is what allows the Britishness of Northern Ireland citizens, and the Irishness of  Northern Ireland citizens, to be acknowledged and respected. Writing in an opinion piece published in The  Mail on Sunday, 14 October, 2018, the Bishop of Raphoe, Co. Donegal, he said, “Northern Ireland remains a special case and it must have special status to reflect that fact. It should remain a part of the United Kingdom and it must also retain all of the special relationships with the rest of Ireland that the Good Friday Agreement mandates.” Bishop McGuckian  also drew parallels between the two female British Prime Ministers, Margaret Thatcher and Teresa May. Many years ago Mrs Thatcher, in an effort to placate the Unionist population, once proclaimed that Northern Ireland was “As British as Finchley,” a typical English town and Thatcher’s parliamentary constituency.  “The claim drew smiles even then”, notes the Bishop, ” because… it simply is not so.”  This is because the statement completely ignores the fact that half of Northern Ireland (unlike Finchly) is made up of Nationalists,  and for them, “Northern Ireland is as Irish as Connemara though it is not Irish in the same way as Connemara is.” Eventually, Mrs Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish agreement. It paved the way for her successors to sign up to the Good Friday Agreement, which has yielded many years of peace in the country. Today, Prime Minister Teresa May often refers to the “integrity of the United Kingdom” when referring to Irish border and its fate post-Brexit, the Bishop notes. This may be of comfort to pro-Brexit Unionsits like the DUP , “but Mrs May must remember that when Margaret Thatcher made her peace with the truth about Northern Ireland, British AND Irish, she did it in the face of fierce opposition from the DUP. Their opposition was rooted in a rigid reading of the claim that ‘Northern Ireland is as British as Finchley’ and it needed to be faced down then.”  In essence, Bishop McGUckian says the claim needs to be faced down today as well, if we are to protect the “precious peace” on this island and uphold the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, an internationally binding treaty. Northern Ireland should indeed remain part of the UK he argues, “and it must also retain all of the special relationships with the rest of Ireland that the Good Friday Agreement mandates. That Agreement called for ‘parity of esteem’ for the two national identities, recognising the right of all citizens to be considered as Irish or British or, indeed, both.”. This being the case, Bishop McGuckian believes, “The ‘backstop’ proposal – that there must be a common regulatory area on the island of Ireland in order to safeguard North-South cooperation and the all-island economy – is essential if the gains from the Good Friday Agreement are not to be thrown aside.”