Jesuit formation is about helping young men who join the Society ‘make progress’ in their journey of following Christ.

Every Jesuit province has a Formation Delegate whose role is to guide each young Jesuit and to propose when and where he will be sent for each step of his formation.

The Formation Delegates from the different European and Near East provinces meet every year to discern and discuss the needs emerging and how best to help and accompany those in formation. What mattered most to St Ignatius, and what matters also to Jesuits today, is that each man is helped to make progress in his following of Christ, to deepen his attachment to Christ and to develop his ability to love and serve in all things, finding God in each moment of the day.

Because of COVID, the JCEP annual Formation Delegates’ meeting, tentatively scheduled to take place in Braga (Portugal), took place online on the mornings of March 10-11 2021.  Eighteen SJs took part in the meeting including Franck Janin and János Lukács (JCEP), and Mark Ravizza, Fr. General’s Assistant for Formation.  Four newly appointed delegates – David Neuhaus PRO, Antonio Valerio POR, Francisco Cuartero ESP, and Waclaw Krolikowski PME (in abstentia) - were welcomed to the group of delegates. Mark Ravizza SJ Geographically, JCEP conference contains in particular two large areas of formational responsibility, PMA (North Poland, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and Denmark), and PRO – described as a huge ‘empire’ stretching from Morocco to Iraq.  PRO also has the largest number of pre-Tertianship scholastics whose formational journey, beginning from Egypt to Lebanon to Paris, highlights the requirement of the JCEP scholastic of today to have to make huge cultural shifts and adjustments. A really demanding challenge for the scholastic! Numerically, HIB has seven scholastics pre-Tertianship - the smallest cohort of the JCEP provinces.  We spent Day 1 sharing with each other about the formational issues we meet in our various provinces but, more importantly, we listened attentively to what connected us trans-JCEP.  Among the issues identified for further consideration included the following: (a) the fragility of young priests (b) formation for those joining at age 35+ (c) the balance between formation abroad and at home (d) formation of Brothers (a noticeable increase in Brother vocations) and (d) the issue and difficulties of language acquisition. Mark Ravizza pointed out that COVID is teaching us about new ways of governing, noting that Fr. General is governing in an interactive manner and this is going to require good formation in the use of technology.  Franck Janin noted several issues presenting themselves for addressing (a) Brothers’ formation/meeting (b) the number of Novitiates in the Conference and (c) the formation of Formators. Hopefully, the Delegates will be able to meet face-to-face later in 2021 at a venue very much COVID-dependent (possibly at Rome).  Either way, face-to-face or online, the organising Steering Committee – Angelo Schettini EUM, Christoph Soyer ECE, and Xavier Nucci EOF -  (kindly) agreed to remain in place to organise that meeting.
Social Delegates and Formation Delegates meet in Falenica. “Faith and Justice in the formation of the Jesuits”. This was the title that accompanied the European delegates from the Social and Formation sectors during their annual meeting in Falenica, Warsaw between March 31 and April 3. This was the first time that both groups met at the European level to collaborate and to reflect on how to keep alive and how to deepen the social dimension in the formation of young Jesuits. We had time to pray, to share our thoughts and inspirations, to work in groups, to discern and propose actions in order to walk together and share this purpose.   Three calls. From these days I personally take these three calls: Accompaniment is a key element to promote a more integrated religious life in which the formation of a Jesuit requires someone who will help us to discern our vocation of work for justice. Just as you have a tutor in the academic field and a spiritual companion, you also need someone who helps you to discern the vocation to work for justice. Community calls for a caring lifestyle in addition to hospitality and proximity to the poor, with an emphasis on hospitality and the ecological dimension. Integral and integrated formation emphasises the importance of training with intellectual depth and a sapiential reading of reality. Special attention was given to the decrease of colleagues who reflect seriously on the social reality, and can therefore call others to take this approach seriously.   Nourish and accompany the vocation for justice among young Jesuits. The first day we shared about the different realities and initiatives in several corners of Europe. Chaired by Zibi Leczkowski and Luis Arancibia, we first contextualised the reality of the Social Apostolate in Europe with a video that showed our common work in favour of justice. Next, the delegates of both sectors from each Province presented the work done before the meeting in Falenica. The shared work has produced a document with a lot of information. Peter Rožič SJ made a brief summary, but some comments reflected the problem of a fragile and small social sector in various Provinces. In general, summer social activities have an important weight in the Jesuits information, but the social sector and training are largely absent from in the intellectual field; When there is no clear strategy in the Province, the Jesuits assigned to the social sector are chosen almost at random. Our lifestyle does not always help much to cultivate the social dimension. The vocation to the social sector is not cultivated or nurtured, but it is integral to our vocation as Jesuits. A Jesuit’s formation has a tutor in the academic field, a spiritual director, but who helps him to discern his vocation for the work for justice? From this perspective, Alessandro Manaresi, the European formation delegate, presented some points for prayer and personal reflection. Where does the Lord lead us? (Is. 65, 17). What does it produce in my consolation, desolation and where do I feel the call of God in this common mission?   Refugees and asylum seekers center in Poland. A visit to the W AKCJI Social Center was a great gift. It is a  work JRS Europe in Poland, dedicated to the care of refugees and asylum seekers. Sister Anna Rscj and our partner Andrzej Sj welcomed us at the center. The refugees in Poland are relatively small in number, compared to the reality of its neighbour Germany. The nationalities of the refugees are primarily Russian, Ukrainian and Tajikistani. The Polish immigration policy is very restrictive. Another diverse reality is the migratory reality where more than one million Ukrainians live in Poland. The center is attended by a group of African migrants, mainly from Ethiopia, who organize and meet regularly at the center.   Scholastics. In the theologate, three young Jesuits presented us the different types of work that young Jesuits in Poland have been doing during the different stages of formation, mainly with migrants and refugees, people with disabilities, homeless people, elderly people and Roma families. They prepared a very good presentation with the contributions and experiences of several of their classmates. Then we shared together the Eucharist, the dinner and a meeting place with the whole community.   The integral formation, community lifestyles and accompaniment. The objective of the second day together was to advance in proposals for greater coordination between the social apostolate and formation. The idea was to identify some areas that had come out repeatedly to develop proposals within each of the thematic groups. Xavier Nucci and Michael Schöpf analyzed the work and proposed the following: 1) Styles of community life and closeness to the poor. 2) The need for comprehensive training. 3) Helping young Jesuits to develop a social identity. 4) Elements which need to be incorporated into the formation process from the novitiate to the third probation, with an emphasis on the accompaniment key. 5) the kind of training activities to be proposed. 6) The ecological issue as an overriding dimension.   Concluding echos. After working in groups, Mark Ravizza and Xavier Jeyaraj gave us some echoes and observations from a global perspective. Xavier Jeyaraj raised three questions: Participation decreases from the Novitiate to the Juniorate: How do we keep alive the social dimension among the youngest? We need to deepen the conversion with ourselves and pay attention to what moves us, to the commitment to which we are invited. How are we responding to the calls that young people ask of us? Mark Ravizza raised the question of how we need to see the image of the first companions at the beginning of the Society of Jesus because this is what we must take into account: they lived with the poor, they prayed together, they talked, they discerned together. The new universal apostolic preferences give us the formula to carry out the mission, they are a guide for the conversion of life and mission. For his part, Franck Janin expressed his joy at the meeting and the spirit of collaboration. He also shared two concerns: a) The need to establish a link between the networks and the Provincials and, since the Provincials are not always aware of the work that the networks do, the document that comes out of this meeting in Falenica will be of great help for that. He encourages all the participants to share with the Provincials what happened here. b) Some Provinces do not have a Delegate for the social apostolate and it is important to assign one. Peter Rožič and Alessandro Manaressi concluded this meeting by thanking everyone for such a fruitful time together and congratulated us on the work done jointly by the delegates prior to our meeting.
To be a delegate for formation is to be in charge of the formation of our scholastics, but also to be formed ourselves. And this is exactly what we had the occasion to do during these days. That’s what the European delegates for formation had in mind during their annual meeting in Taanayel, Lebanon, from the 2nd till 6th of April, 2017. Organization of Jesuit Formation First we talked about how Jesuit formation is organized across the Provinces, and how it should be organized, both structurally and in terms of content. A survey on the quality of our formation centers was discussed. We discussed how to advise our Provincials about the English speaking formation after the closure of Heythrop. We also touched the question on how to integrate Child Protection into our programs. We as delegates were in Lebanon – at some 15 kms of the Syrian border to be exact -, and therefore we could not but address the burning issues which are right at the borders of Europe: the place of Islam in our societies and the tragedy of the refugees.  We felt we were a little bit at the frontiers of which Paul VI spoke at GC32. Two days were spent on these subjects, during which we received a realistic yet hopeful idea of the challenges Europe is facing. What image do we have of Islam? On Monday 3rd, for example, the results were presented of a survey the delegates conducted amongst scholastics: what image do they have of Islam? It was expected to be critical but there was also the desire to look, in an Ignatian way, for the (many) good elements in what Islam and Muslim culture can offer. In the afternoon we went to visit Saint Joseph’s University in Beirut, – indeed, the only Jesuit University in an environment dominated by the Muslim culture. There the rector, prof. Salim Daccache SJ, talked about the historical role of the University in Lebanon. Afterwards, we had an interesting encounter with the Provincial of the Near East Province (PRO), Danny Younes. Appropriately he called his Province – running from Morocco to Turkey, mind you – ‘a Province for the Arab world’. Many possibilities are offered for scholastics to spend a time of service - some months or regency or longer still - in the Near and Middle East, also for those who do not master the Arab language. The next day, April 4th, we met M. Mahmoud Youness (Lebanon), who gave us a brief overview of the history of Islam theology. For centuries the central question for Muslim theologians was how to relate human responsibility and freedom to divine transcendence. It did remind us of traditional debates in Christian theology about nature and grace, or on the place of good merits and justification through faith. Later that day Fr. Salah Boujaoudé SJ (PRO) gave us a realistic insight in political Islam and the ideological sources of terrorism and Muslim extremism (Muslim brotherhood, Salafists, Shiites, Jihadists, etc.). Despair and pessimism - Light and hope Especially the latter could have given rise to despair and a deep pessimism on our side. However, in the afternoon, we also discovered rays of light and hope. Mr. Melhem Khalaf (Lebanon) told the story of association which organizes interreligious youth camps, an initiative which was started at the height of the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1991. Another source of hope were the retreats ‘Points of Light’, inspired by the Spiritual Exercises. It proved that spirituality can play a positive role in interreligious dialogue. These retreats are open to Muslims and Christians, and the texts which are used for the retreat, are drawn from several traditions, including the Qur’an. The most impressive moment for many of us was the visit of a camp for Syrian refugees. We could see how they accommodated themselves in difficult circumstances after 6 years of conflict. JRS helps to set up small schools and formation centers. After all this time many tents have made way for small wooden houses, with a little gas stove. Live goes on as good or bad as it can. It is more survival than life, so it seems. Most refugees depend on chance seasonal work for their livelihood. One cannot but wonder what all those lives could have been, what the future of the children will be. Indeed our time in Lebanon was to form Ours and to be formed ourselves. Many thanks to Nader Michel (PRO), to Alessandro Manaresi, delegate for European formation and to the steering group for formation in Europe.