Jesuits involved in the ministry of the social apostolate in Africa and Madagascar met from 7-10 May in Nairobi, Kenya, to evaluate their work and develop a strategic plan for the next five years. Fr Russell Pollitt SJ, director of the Jesuit Institute South Africa, was also present.

For the past few months Jesuit social centres across the continent have been engaged in a process of evaluating JASCNET – the Jesuit Africa Social Centre’s Network. The Jesuit Institute is a member of the network.

The network was formally established in 2010 to initiate common activities that can contribute to the improvement of the work done by the African social centres, and to reinforce the social apostolate work of the Society of Jesus in Africa.

The coordinator of the network, Zambian Jesuit, Fr Charles Chilufya visited the Jesuit Institute last month with consultant Kalonde Mungomba. They led the staff through an internal SWOT analysis. Each social centre in Africa was also engaged in completing a comprehensive questionnaire on their areas of focus, projects and impact.

Russell Pollitt SJ, director of the Jesuit Institute South Africa with Kalonde Mungomba – who has been helping the Social Centres and JASCNET evaluate their work.

Father Xavier Jeyaraj, from the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat at the Jesuit Curia in Rome, was also present. The secretariat assists the Jesuit General, Father Arturo Sosa, in developing the apostolic mission of the Society of Jesus. The secretariat focuses on promoting justice and reconciliation with creation, both at the level of the Jesuit Conferences and among Provinces of the order around the world. It also works to establish collaboration between apostolic sectors and pays special attention to the social apostolate.

The meeting began by listening to and considering the comprehensive findings of the evaluation. This included the strengths, weaknesses and feasibility of the network.

Time was also given to a number of inputs about the external situation in which the social centres operate on the continent. These included the prevailing political and socio-economic contexts.

Another South African Jesuit, Father Rampe Hlobo, spoke about migration at the gathering. He is engaged in migration work in the Western Cape. He said that this one of the biggest issues that the social ministry of the Society of Jesus worldwide must respond to. He highlighted the massive gap between international and national legislation and the way migrants are actually treated. He said that many migrants face discrimination as well as xenophobia, which is a gross human rights violation, in ‘host’ communities. The Society of Jesus in Africa has a very important role to play in ensuring that the dignity and rights of migrants are upheld and, he emphasized, Jesuits work to ensure that countries and communities are hospitable to migrants.

Rampe Hlobo, SJ parish priest of St Mary’s in Nyanga, Cape Town, talking about migration at the meeting.

After the presentations, the participants had extensive discussions on what they heard, their work and the future. Time was spent considering priority areas for JASCNET’s new strategic plan for Africa.

The following five areas were outlined as needing attention: Political governance and human rights, alternative development/finance for development, peace and security, fair sharing of natural resources and fair business, and climate change and sustainable food.

The Jesuit Institute is also in the process of strengthening its relationships with the Jesuit Centres in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. In 2021 South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi will become one Jesuit Province. It is therefore, at this time, important that the Centres in the region begin a dialogue on how this will affect each of them and what the best way forward will be for them to make the biggest impact in Southern Africa.

The Jesuits involved in the social ministries of the Society in Africa will meet again in Lusaka, Zambia, in August.

Images: JASCNET