IntelSoc: Jesuits in Leuven want to unite intellectual and social apostolates

The recent visit to Flanders of Fr. Arturo Sosa, Superior General, gave us the opportunity to get to know about some innovative projects and commitments of Jesuits in the ELC (European Low Countries) Region. In Leuven, where Jesuits have been involved in the Catholic University (KU Leuven) for a long time, the Society of Jesus has launched, with dedicated non-Jesuit collaborators, the IntelSoc project. We spoke about it with two Jesuits: Leo De Weerdt (LDW) and Jacques Haers (JH).

Where does the IntelSoc project come from? What is the need for it?

LDW: The project aims to allow Jesuits active in the intellectual ministry to work more closely with their confreres and collaborators who are active in the social ministry. At the academic level, the aim is the critical study of detention models and their significance for today’s society.

The expertise of Jesuits and our collaborators working in these areas is considerable. At the pastoral level, there have always been Jesuit prison chaplains in Flanders and Wallonia. On the other hand, we have JRS-Belgium and its team working in enclosed centres where they visit asylum seekers. JRS Belgium also specialises in the issue of detention.

With IntelSoc, the ELC Region also wants to give an even more visible witness to the social, pastoral and scientific presence and commitment of Jesuits in Leuven. To this end, we have also opened a new international community, named “Pierre Favre”, which welcomes Jesuits from all over the world.


What links can you make between this project and the current Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus?

JH: The inspiration is certainly the apostolic commitment from God’s own commitment to the service of the poorest. We hope that spiritual reflection will accompany the project. It will allow us, in our secularised world, to rediscover a language to speak of God and of the relationship with God that allows commitment in the world. This language will be inspired by the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises (Preference 1).

The aim of the project is to emphasise concrete solidarity with the excluded (prisoners, refugees and migrants), although this commitment still needs to be made concrete. On the positive side, the project aims to provide excluded people with an interdisciplinary intellectual apparatus that offers a framework for interpreting social exclusion (Preference 2).

In the university context, the project stimulates the training of young people in the service of the most disadvantaged, in their intellectual reflection and in a commitment to solidarity. The project also responds to an explicit request from some young people and it fits well into the university project called Leuven-Engage (Preference 3).

The care for the Common Home is translated into the hope for a sustainable world. This sustainability is not reduced to an ecological effort, but requires the construction of a world of solidarity in response to the endangered creation in our world. The project emphasises the effort of communion where the poorest are the vectors of sustainability (Preference 4).


LDW: The Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus play a crucial role: after all, Father General demands special attention for the poor, especially for the vulnerable and marginalised. This certainly applies, in Belgium, to the inmates in our prisons and to people on the move (or migrants), those who have exhausted all legal remedies, and who are rejected and marginalised in our Belgian society.

What can the Society of Jesus learn from today’s young university students?

JH: Today’s young people no longer experience aggressive secularisation and rather feel the lack of the spiritual dimension (transcendence, sense of a holistic belonging to creation) in their lives. We can learn from them the courage to develop and offer the spiritual dimension in a reflective way (and avoiding an easy clericalism which is attractive to many young people...). Many young students have a sense of sustainability that can inspire us.

LDW: Although some describe this generation of students as individualistic and uncommitted, many show a genuine interest in issues such as the prison system and a desire for meaningful social work in the service of others.


And in conclusion?

JH: I am deeply convinced of the importance of IntelSoc’s key ideas: an approach that links concrete insertion and intellectual reflection. There is a holistic vision of the human being and of creation. It is a conviction that has grown in me from my intellectual and theological interests, as well as from my experiences of reality, especially experiences of reconciliation, for example in contexts of conflict.

LDW: As a Jesuit, I had told my Provincial Superior that I wanted to commit myself to the service of the poor, the little ones, the wounded of life, as Jesus had done. This wish was a response to the desire I had discovered in myself during my formation as a Jesuit. Jesuit prison ministry has a long history. Throughout time, people in prison have generally been the most despised, feared and forgotten members of any society. In the Society’s more recent history, Jesuits and their colleagues who visit those held in prison or in immigration detention centres have found that this embodies the option for the poor that the Society has made. Not only are the prisoners at the bottom of the social ladder, but their plight rarely attracts sympathy.

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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 media relations.

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