by Amadi Eziokwubundu SJ
Jesuit theologate, Institut de Théologie de la Compagnie de Jesus (ITCJ) in Abidjan, has commenced its 2019-2020 academic year. The opening ceremony of the academic year was held on September 14 in the school premises and in the spell of a slightly cold weather.
Vice Chancellor, Dr Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator SJ, was unavoidably absent. He was represented by the rector of the Jesuit community of ITCJ, Fr. Jocelyn Rabeson, SJ. In his opening remarks, the rector made references to the Jesuit Universal Apostolic Preferences: promoting discernment and the spiritual exercises; walking with the excluded; caring for our common home; and journeying with youth. He then urged students to take action with Jesuits by being ardent promoters and by letting the preferences percolate through their studies and interactions with people. The preferences, he said, could serve as students’ point of reference for engaging and deepening theological reflections and for service of God and humanity.
Speaking after the rector, the Acting Director and Dean, Dr. Jean Messingue SJ, likened academic exercises to spiritual exercises and wished the staff and students of ITCJ a good academic exercise similar to that of Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. Just as the Exercises invites retreatants to enter generously into the spiritual journey, Messingue entreated students to enter the 2019-2020 academic year with “a large heart”. Such disposition, he added, sets a student up not only for academic excellence but also as a quality instrument for the service of God and humanity.
Furthermore, Messingue enjoined students to approach theological reflections with intellectual depth and empathy, both of which he described as “two faces of a medal”. Intellectual depth, he explained, stimulates and makes a student apt to participate in a wide-ranging discussion both within and outside the walls of the Church. For the Director, thinking and developing a needed contextual theology that will at once valorise indigenous values and achieve good inculturation of values, depends on how much space is given to depth. Concerning the other side of the medal—that is, empathy—Messingue said that empathy precedes an act of compassion and disposes a student to love more genuinely, to be in solidarity, to eradicate abuse of all kinds and racism. It is an inlet into a good theology of dialogue. “Intellectual depth and empathy enriches mutually and puts us in a good position to serve efficaciously, which is the project of ITCJ,” he concludes.
In the same vain, the Academic Secretary, Dr Aurélien Folifack SJ, encouraged students to put on their thinking, creative and originality caps. On his own part, Basile Ouedraogo S.J., president of the Student Union, thanked the administrators for their effort to ensure quality education. He exhorted his fellow students to deepen their “sense of ownership” in the hope of becoming more available for the services that would be required of them.
The inaugural lecture titled “Regard africain sur la dissolution du mariage chrétien: Nouvelles perspectives Pastorales” (“African Perspective of the Dissolution of Christian Marriage: New Pastoral Perspectives”) was delivered by Dr. Louis Nantcho, a priest and judicial vicar of the Archdiocese of Abidjan. Reflecting on various implications of the sacrament of matrimony, Nantcho explained that while the Canon Law of the Church offers useful guidance on married life, there is also need for an inculturation of marriage values. Speaking from the angle of an African, he said that the African traditional values of marriage have to be valorised rather than considered as contrary to Catholic doctrine.
The ceremony ended, as is usually the case in Jesuit school, with the votive Mass of the Holy Spirit. During his homily, the presiding bishop, Boniface Ziri of Abengourou diocese of Ivory Coast, spoke of the importance of humility.
He said while fanciful titles, wealth, academic certificates make our “heads big”, being humble reminds us that we are not as self-sufficient as we often consider ourselves to be. Good theology, he added, requires humility and that “humility is the key to victory”. He noted that humility and victory write large upon the feast of the Exultation of the Cross, and that the feast should renew how we suffer and sympathise with those who are suffering in all corners of the world. He said that the role of institutions such as ITCJ, is to train men and women for the mission of God, for an Africa that is “dynamic, prophetic and reconciled”.