Teach-In for Justice – The commitment of the Ignatian Solidarity Network

On November 16, 1989, six Jesuits, their housekeeper Elba Ramos, and her 15-year-old daughter Celina Ramos were murdered at the University of Central America (UCA) in El Salvador by U.S.-trained Salvadoran soldiers. The UCA martyrs were killed for their commitment to standing with the marginalized through their teaching, research, and public discourse that regularly called attention to the realities of human rights abuses and oppression inflicted by the Salvadoran government.

Since 2004, the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) has been inviting individuals and institutions to respond to the reality of suffering in the spirit of the UCA martyrs. But ISN’s evolution began almost a decade earlier with the first “Ignatian Teach-In,” initiated by a former Jesuit near Fort Benning, a United States military base in the southern U.S. The base was home to a military training school for soldiers from Latin America where 19 of the 26 soldiers who killed the Jesuits received training funded by U.S. taxpayers.

The event, which came to be known as the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ), came to fruition in 1997 under a large tent about a mile from the gates of Fort Benning, providing a space for attendees from the Jesuit network and beyond to learn more about the issues facing Central America while joining together in prayer and fellowship.

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In the early 2000s, the Jesuit Conference of the United States – as it was then called – developed a feasibility study to explore the idea of building on the energy of the Teach-In and the growing interest in a more explicit expression of the faith and justice mission of the Jesuits. Just a few years earlier, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, then Superior General of the Jesuits, had given his famous “Justice in Jesuit Higher Education” address at Santa Clara University, and there was a growing desire among institutions to explore collaborative work on this front.

With positive feedback and a hunger for the idea of a Jesuit-Ignatian network that would work for social justice, the Ignatian Solidarity Network was founded in 2004. ISN was intentionally initiated as a lay-led organization that would work in partnership with the Jesuits and their institutions across the U.S. It was intended to mobilize people who were inspired by the Jesuit faith and justice mission to work more collectively in solidarity with their marginalized brothers and sisters throughout the world. A tent was chosen as the symbol of ISN, emphasizing the idea that the work of the network could move with the signs of the times, responding to contemporary issues of justice, wherever they may be.

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And move it did. As IFTJ grew, the gathering left the tent for a larger convention center. In 2010, the gathering then moved from near Fort Benning to Washington, DC, allowing the Ignatian family to gather in proximity to the U.S. capitol to incorporate legislative advocacy as a method of working for justice. IFTJ continues to be held in Washington, DC, gathering nearly 2000 people each year to learn, pray, network, and advocate.

As the network has grown, ISN has initiated a broad range of programs designed to gather members of the Ignatian-Jesuit network for formation and collaborative work for justice. High school and college students, faculty, and staff have an opportunity to network and innovate with peers from across the U.S. and beyond at annual leadership summits. Staff and parishioners gather periodically to discuss best practices for engaging their parishes in justice work in the Ignatian tradition. Alumni gatherings allow those who have connected with the Jesuit network or Ignatian spirituality to stay connected to those roots and explore living “a faith that does justice” as they move forward in life.

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ISN continues to respond to the signs of the times, venturing more each year into the virtual realm. The network continues to grow, engaging nearly a quarter million people each year via social media, webinars, livestreamed programs and networking events, and active digital news and blog series.

ISN has mobilized this growing network to respond to the suffering of others as Ignatian advocates – prioritizing issues surrounding immigration – including engagement with the root causes of migration in Central America, criminal justice reform, and environmental justice. This response includes direct advocacy and action campaigns, paired with coalition-building and sharing of best practices both in person and through virtual gathering spaces.

Clearly, there is much work to be done by this broader network of Jesuit institutions and Ignatian-inspired partners as the legacy of the first gatherings of the Ignatian family under the tent continues to grow. The Jesuit martyrs continue to guide ISN’s work, offering an example of what it means to respond to the reality of suffering – yesterday, today, and in the future.

[Article from "Jesuits - The Society of Jesus in the world - 2020", by Kelly Swan and ISN staff]

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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles public relations.

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