Special an Interview with Fr. General Adolfo Nicolas, SJ
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 147 / January 15th, 2009
This is an interview done by the Jesuit Social and Pastoral Bulletin to Fr. General Adolfo Nicolas, SJ on the occasion of his visit to Japan. Fr.Nicolas, with the assistance of Fr. Fernando Franco, SJ, the General Secretary for Social Apostolate, sent us a written answer to our questions. We added further comments of Fr. General upon meeting with him in Tokyo on December 25th, 2008. [Interviewer: Ando Isamu, SJ.]
Question: Can we think of some new emphasis or orientations for the Jesuit social apostolate after the last General Congregation 35?
Answer: In its Decree on Mission, GC 35 re-affirms the commitment of the Society of Jesus to proclaiming and living a faith that is engaged in the justice of the Kingdom and in dialogue with other cultures and religions. In this sense, the social apostolate continues to be rooted in this vision of our Jesuit charisma.
There are, however, some elements that can help the social and other apostolates to respond better to the challenges facing us today. The mission of the Society is described as our commitment to join Jesus Christ in reconciling the entire universe to the Father. Our specific action with and for the poor needs to be understood as an effort to build bridges among those who have and those who have not. This action needs also to be integrated with the call to reconcile human beings with God and creation. There is a conscious determination to see the social apostolate, our action for justice as a complex act which touches not only our relationships with one another but also the way we relate to God and to the entire creation. Our promotion of justice is embedded in our effort to help people (“souls”) engage in discovering their true selves and their care for our common earth.
In the social apostolate, as well as in other ministries, there is a new accent on ‘networking,’ rather than having a strong basis, particularly because the problems have all become universal, like poverty, unemployment, violence, and so forth. It is only through ‘networking’ that we can respond to them and, thus, they also provide opportunities for multi-based answers.
I would say, personally, that all our concerns are modified by the needs surrounding us. We don’t have concerns of our own, but the real concerns are those of the world: poverty, unemployment, violence, education, etc.
I was very impressed by a recent article of “Cristianisme i Justicia” that talks about 4 contracts that offer a vision for our involvement:
1- Social Contract: All nations and everybody should work against poverty, unemployment, etc.
2- Natural Contract: We have spoiled nature with our consumerist habits and we must live more simply
3- Cultural Contract: Education for everyone, nobody is excluded. A very important concern for us, for our priority for extraordinary good schools or for an education that can help other schools or for the country to provide education to all
4- Ethical Contract: To treat people as people and not as things. An ethical recovery of values and humanity, the meaning of life.
These will be the context on which we reconsider all the time our involvements, our concerns in the social apostolate.
Question: Which are the main and more relevant tasks to the social apostolate within the overall Jesuit apostolic mission?
Answer: On the basis of this general vision the social apostolate responds to a great variety of contexts and situations with concrete interventions. Looking at this great variety of challenges and responses we may emphasize three types of tasks
The task of accompanying the poor. Jesuits continue to accompany the poor and excluded. This is a task demanding great doses of humility, and a vocation to listen patiently. We may remember the Jesuits accompanying indigenous and tribal communities in Latin America and Asia. I would like to remember also the commitment of the social apostolate to the cause of the Dalit community in India; those who work in poor and degraded urban areas with young dropouts and members of gangs; those who accompany women and children suffering from HIV/AIDS. In some cases, accompaniment is complemented with the provision of basic social services like education and health.
The task of analyzing and reflecting on the ultimate causes of injustice. For us Jesuits accompanying is not enough. We are called to exercise a “learned ministry” and reflect on the ultimate causes of poverty and exclusion. There are many social centres engaged in social research; collaboration between the social apostolate and Jesuit Universities to study and analyse social issues is rapidly increasing. Without being exhaustive I can mention existing collaboration in the area of migration, climate warming and its effects on the poor, forced displacement by so called development, impact of small credit cooperatives on rural women, and on issues of food security. We need, I think, to move ahead on this road and find concrete ways of establishing forms of inter-ministry collaboration. I know the example of a province where a memorandum of understanding has been signed between a recently constituted network of social centres and the Jesuit University.
I would like also to point out to a third and important task: influencing public policy and the centres of power where decisions affecting the poor are taken. In more precise terms this has been called advocacy. Our commitment to establish right relationships implies engaging those having political power at all levels on issues and policies that affect the poor. It is not acting on behalf of the poor but enabling the voices of the excluded to be heard with respect. This again is not a new task. There are many Jesuits and collaborators working in the defence of human rights. At this moment social centres in Africa, Europe and the United States are monitoring a number of extractive foreign companies in central Africa. Jesuits have supported an important group that helps indigenous communities in the Amazonia to fight for their land. There is also a serious effort to advocate for housing for the poor in the United States. Very recently Jesuits and collaborators have held an International Workshop on Advocacy and the results are promising.
These days “advocacy” is coming to the front. It is a search for effectiveness so that it brings up results, but we cannot remain fixed on to this effectiveness that might take all our energies.
The fact is that some problems can never be solved. Now, how to be present to the people who are suffering from real problems, without letting our hope be lost even if the results are not good?
Question: How do social centres function (or maybe should function) within super-provincial networks?
Answer: In a “globalised” world, and in moments of an acute financial, economic and social crisis, social centres need to be rooted in the local, but have to act globally. A great effort is going on to articulate social centres in Assistancy/Conference networks and to operate in connection with other platforms. We have realized that networking as an apostolic instrument requires clear objectives, and dedication of personnel and finances. Networking is not a club of friends exchanging pleasantries. Networking cannot be one more activity that we add to the already overburdened agenda of those working in our social centres. Networking is also a way to enhance the principle of subsidiarity: in a circle of connected hubs (social centres) established in different countries, each hub can lead the others in different themes or campaigns. This method respects autonomy and strengthens solidarity and universality.
I personally think that Social Centers are the basis for systematic reflection, analysis and coordination. They stress social awareness, advocacy and discernment regarding priority issues. On the other hand, individuals, some usually very busy, find it very hard to do the same, but the centers invite to a coordinated response. One of the problems of people who are very busy with other things is ‘dispersion,’ lack of focus and concentration.
Today with such good communications systems the desire to solve too many problems makes us very ineffective. We must keep an eye on the energy and work already existing so that it does not get destroyed and so that we keep our priorities clear.
Question: Jesuits somehow know about JRS; but what has been done at Jesuit level, Research and Action included, with regard to (1) Poverty alleviation, (2) Migration, (3) Global economic crisis and (4) mass unemployment?
Answer: We suffer both from an indigestion of useless information and from lack of significant data about what we are doing. We need also to acknowledge that we are not called to solve these enormous global issues facing humanity. We need realism and humility to know our limitations and to be able to concentrate in what we can do and do it with others.
Let me, however, note in passing the joint programme between social centres and Jesuit Universities in Latin America to tackle the complex issue of poverty. We may remember the dedicated work of many social centres in Europe to promote awareness on the Millennium Goals. The two Jesuit Conferences of Latin America and the United States have signed a memorandum to tackle the issue of migration. The Jesuit network of migration in Latin America is working in close collaboration with the Jesuit network of Southern Europe.
We need to join our voices and our efforts to many others who are today analysing the consequences of the global crisis we are facing. We have not fully understood the extent of its impact on the poor. I am convinced that many of our social centres and universities are already in dialogue to find out the best way of responding to this crisis.
Let me end with a reflection that may help us avoid past mistakes. Following a well known Ignatian principle we must do our best as if the result depended entirely on our effort, knowing that everything depends on God. We need to confront our desire to achieve success, as quickly as possible. The principle of Ignatian indifference and the Asian principle of acting in a manner that is also detached from the fruits of our action are very important.
Different continents are responding to needs in different and various ways. In Brazil, for instance, linking ecology and poverty. In the issues of migration, there are sending countries, like the Philippines or African countries and the accepting countries, Japan, Europe, the United States, etc. Now, our question is how to interrelate all?
All these concerns are present in the Society of Jesus at various levels. The involvement of JRS is clear and a lot of things are happening these days. There is the issue of networking and reflection, as well.
These global problems invite us to work differently. They are the context where humanity is struggling, suffering and looking for solutions. We need discernment to reflect on what can we do with our limited resources. Many initiatives are taking place and other people are already deeply involved. How can we cooperate with other networks? Our tendency is to do our ‘Jesuit thing’ but this is not viable any more. Here we find many ways to provide service to others..