The Justice and Ecology Congress spurs synodality in action

By Kevin Hargaden, SJ - Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Dublin

The Spirituality Centre at Loyola, Spain, brought together, from 28 March to 1 April, a diverse group of 153 delegates from 26 different nations, who gathered to consider the future of the Social Apostolate in Europe and the Near East. In planning for more than a year,the Justice and Ecology Congress was intended to represent an activating milestone in the ‘deeper renewal’ and alignment processes of the relevant networks - Jesuit Refugee Service, Social Centres, EcoJesuit, the network of Social Delegates, and Xavier Network, among others.

The week’s schedule was divided in two parts. During the first part, all the networks were together as they considered the spiritual basis of their individual and institutional works, situating themselves within their social context, and particularly focusing on the problems of ecological catastrophe and mass migration. These days featured expert input from global leaders, targeted workshops on particular aspects of our work, and time for reflection and prayer. This journeying together took on a concrete form as Tuesday afternoon was spent on pilgrimages around the Loyola region, seeking to deepen our relationships and increase our potential for collaboration. Then, on Thursday and Friday, the individual networks were asked to consider how the previous activities and reflections could be implemented in local works or projects.


Spirituality Centre at Loyola, Spain.

In his opening address, Fr General reminded us that the Congress would be an opportunity to experience ‘synodality in action’. As a means to embody that goal, an ‘Accompanying Team’ was established. Its members met often to envision how a final document could be drafted, a text that would serve as a lasting record for the Congress and a challenge to continue its work when the delegates return home. Rather than drafting this kind of document in advance, as a pristine but largely theoretical and abstract formulation, the team chose to build the document in real time. The fundamental method was disarmingly simple: each member of the team sought to listen actively, sensing and collecting feedback informally in conversation and from the proceedings of the Congress. At the same time, the Team used an interactive polling technology, accessed by cellular phone or laptop, that allowed them to collect a rich account of people’s reactions as the days progressed. This meant that as they met each evening to deliberate, they were able to use the participants’ own words as they were drafting the document.

On Thursday morning, a draft document was ready to share in the plenary session. Reading it and discussing it in small groups, the participants were guided to offer feedback on the Congress Document, especially around its closing message. These responses were then used to generate a series of final revisions. The document, titled Called to Conversion, is more than a summary of the week’s activity; it is rather a sort of challenge that can be taken up by Networks and individual programmes. It is a working document intended to support our social involvement and works, suggesting terrain that must be explored to establish a deeper renewal. The organizers and the participants hope that the Congress initiates, among the networks involved in social justice, a lasting commitment to walk together. Even in the way it was written, this document demonstrates that synodality in action - that process of mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn - will be a rewarding path to pursue.

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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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