I thank the Lord and the Society of Jesus for the opportunity given to me at the end of my Jesuit formation to go back to our roots through the study of our founding documents (Autobiography of St Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises, our Constitutions, the last six General Congregations, the Spiritual Diary of St Ignatius and some of the letters of St Ignatius) and the experience of the 30 days long retreat.
During these five months from 5 January to 10 June 2020, which would have been six months if we had the opportunity to do our experiments (not possible because of the Coronavirus Pandemic), I felt gradually confirmed in my Jesuit vocation. The highlight of this experience has been the long retreat after a very good initial preparation during 6 weeks with the sharing on our vocation graced stories and the study of the Autobiography of St Ignatius, the Spiritual Exercises and the first four parts of our Constitutions. After the long retreat, we studied the rest of the Constitutions (parts 5 to 10), the last six General Congregations (31 to 36), The History of the Society of Jesus, The Spiritual Diary of St Ignatius and some of his letters. We had also 3 workshops towards the end of our program: one on the preparation and guidance of an Ignatian retreat, Catholic Social Teaching in an Ignatian perspective, and the spirituality of Teilhard de Chardin.
The long retreat was the core moment of our “School of the Heart”. For me, it was a deep experience of healing, renewal, and commitment. Through this month I received new energy to continue with more peace and hope in my Jesuit life and mission. I was challenged and confirmed as Jesuit. Thus, my “reform of life” will remain an important element, a compass to guide me in the future of my Jesuit life and mission.
The environment of Mwangaza Jesuit Spirituality Center in Nairobi-Kenya, was very conducive with its beautiful gardens, chapels and the discrete, gentle, and hardworking staff of the Centre. The liturgies and prayers we had every day as Tertians helped me to live this experience also at a community level. Our excellent and supportive group of Tertians who were 12, (10 from Africa, 1 from Asia and 1 from America) with our outstanding and experienced instructors, Bishop Rodrigo Mejia (from Colombia, AOR Province) and Fr. Chacko (from India, 16 years Tertianship instructor) was a true blessing for me. I came to appreciate more, of our Jesuit companionship, an area which was not strong in my Jesuit life because of bad experiences of the past. The way the daily schedule was organized giving us time in the afternoon, evening, and weekends for praying, reading, studying, and also relaxing was helpful. We could really come to a gradual integration of the various elements we were studying and experiencing during this “School of the Heart”.
The big challenge of this experience remains the uncertainty which came with the coronavirus pandemic. We could not continue our schedule as initially planned. Many of our group visits were canceled and our experiments could not take place. Arrangements are still to be made for many of us to do our experiments sometimes later this year or next year during our holiday time. Although we were somehow frustrated to be in lockdown for all these months and not able to do our experiments and some planned group visits, we were still very lucky to stay in such a protected and nice environment. We could interact every weekend with our elder Jesuit brothers of the Pedro Arrupe Community and support one another in these trying times. Sadly, one of them, Fr. Sidney D’Souza SJ, died last month after two months of illness.
I am grateful to God and to the Society of Jesus for this experience of renewal and confirmation of my Jesuit vocation and I pray that what I have learned and experienced during this “School of the Heart” may help me to bear more fruit in the vineyard of the Lord as a servant with others of Christ’s Mission Ad majórem Dei glóriam (AMDG).
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