Task Force Meeting in Rome.

How to foster and improve the collaboration in the Society of Jesus? It is one of the calls expressed in decree 2 of last year’s General Congregation 36. To deepen this question and develop some solution a Task Force Meeting has been organized at our Curia in Rome from October 3rd till 6th. Cecilia Vanneste from Belgium was one of the participants.

I was invited to the curia to represent the European Conference, together with 5 delegates of the other conferences: John Gladstone (Canada and USA), Etienne Mborong SJ (Africa and Madagascar), Indon Oh SJ (Asia Pacific), M.K. George SJ (South Asia), Claudio Solis (Latin America).

The questions we should answer after these three days, were:
Given the call for collaboration and networking in Decree 2 of GC36, does it make sense to have some kind of support structure for collaboration in the Curia and in each Conference (similar to the structures for Higher Education, Secondary and popular education, and Justice and Ecology)?
What would the structure look like?
What would be the primary responsibility(ies) of the Secretariat?

Ed Fassett  SJ (Curia) was leading the process.

An overview of “collaboration” in the conferences

The first day each representative presented “collaboration” from the context of his/her experience and gave some reflections about collaboration in his/her conference.

Since I knew I was expected in Rome for this meeting I wrote the socii of the several provinces of the European Conference and asked them some questions about collaboration in their provinces:
Which kind of collaboration exists in your province?
Which collaboration goes very well?
Which goes difficult and what could be the reason?
Do you/we need more collaboration? How could it be organized?
The enthusiastic answers flowed in, the stories I read were very diverse. 
One answer was uni sono: we need more formation.

I tried to make a compilation of all this answers, not so easy because of the diverse answers.

A definition  of collaboration

The second day we reflected: Can we define what we mean by “collaboration”? Can we imagine some way of animating collaboration throughout the Society? What might entail a “Secretariat for Collaboration”?
For this reflection we started from the decrees of the General Congregations 34 (1995), 35 (2008) and 36 (2016).

At that moment I realized that I was the only person among this group of delegates that had experience as coordinator between several apostolic works, even works from different ministries.
The other delegates worked in one specific work of the Jesuits and so they were telling from this viewpoint  about collaboration between Jesuits, between Jesuits and lay, between provinces,…
From the experience I have in Flanders (BSE) since 2007, Flanders (BSE) and the Netherlands (NER) since 2013 and the European Lower Countries (ELC) since 2017, a lot of proposals in the group could be tested in practice. In Flanders the Ignatian Apostolic Network (IgnAN) started in 2007 when the provincial invited the directors of all apostolic works to a meeting. There the conversations about collaboration started.

Quite soon we concluded that a secretary/delegate for collaboration at the curia makes no sense if there isn’t a secretary/delegate (or IgnAN-coordinator?) on the level of the provinces and the conferences.

A jobdescription

We made a first version of jobdescription for a secretary/delegate on the three levels.

And honestly, the jobdescription we made for the provincial level, is very similar to the jobdescription the IgnAN steering committee made in 2013 for the job of IgnAN-coordinator.

We also made a schedule for correspondence of Father General to the Provincials, with the suggestion to write these letters about collaboration only when the provincials started to answer and work with his previous letters about discernment.

This Friday we were lucky at lunch: it was the birthday of the minister of the curia, Fr. Giuseppe Belucci, and at birthdays of Jesuits Father General is going around with a bottle of limoncello a la casa.

First exchange with Fr. General

In the afternoon we presented our work to father general. Father Victor Assouad SJ, assistant of father general for Western Europe and Middle East, was also present.

Father general was happy with our work, and we started a conversation with him.
He added Christian Life Community (CLC) also should join the network of collaboration. I think he’s right: In the European Lower Countries CLC is since the beginning of IgnAN a member of IgnAN.
Father general also liked to see fundraising in the job description of the secretary/delegate.

After a fascinating conversation we ended our three days sharing and work with a holy mass in the rooms of Saint-Ignatius, in the knowledge it was there it all started…

To celebrate the friendship between seven persons with a totally different culture, we had dinner in a real Italian restaurant, and of course we ended our evening with…limoncello.

Top photo: From left to right: Ed Fasset sj (mentor of the process), Indon Oh sj (Cambodja), Johan Gladstone (VSA), father-general, Etienne Mborong sj (Guinée Conakry), Cecilia Vanneste (ELC), MK George sj (India), Claudio Solis (Guatemala