International Symposium on the Mystagogies of the Spiritual Exercises 500 years Later – Manresa, Spain.

As part of the Ignatian Year (2021-2022), the Society of Jesus organized an International Symposium on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius from 13-17 June 2022 in Manresa, Spain. The choice of the venue was significant, for it was in Manresa that Ignatius of Loyola put together the main text of the book that continues to shape the lives of so many 500 years later. Ignatius had intended to pass by Manresa for just a few days, but God had other plans and he ended up staying for 11 months. 500 years later and the text of the Spiritual Exercises is still alive, still speaks to the depths of our hearts, still inspires many, is still studied and adapted.

The Symposium was attended by 90 persons in the presence and an additional 200 online. The participants, drawn from all corners of the world, from as far as Micronesia, Australia to the Amazon, consisted mainly of Jesuits, religious men and women, and lay persons involved in one way or another in the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises. Among the group were some theologians, as well as people giving the Exercises to the marginalized in areas such as the Amazon or to the Maya people.

The Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar was well represented by four Jesuit priests (Frs. Malulu Lock [ACE], Kiaka Kasamba Wenceslas [ACE], Oscar Momanyi [AOR], and Joseph Mboya [AOR]) and two lay women (Annemarie Paulin-Campbell and Puleng Matsaneng, from SAP). Each conference was allocated a day to facilitate the Mass. It was after the African Mass, in which we emphasized the importance of the ancestors in African culture and spirituality that St. Ignatius gained a new status, that of ‘our ancestor’ and ‘our grandfather’. The African Mass, which was complete with dancing, singing, and drumming, the African way, was highly appreciated.

Fr. Malulu Lock’s presentation was on adapting the Spiritual Exercises in the African context, giving as an example the importance of the rites of initiation across many cultures. He analyzed the importance of the selection of the persons who carry out the initiation ceremony and the qualities they must possess, the careful selection of initiates who are deemed ready, and the importance of the period of initiation. Likewise, in adapting the Spiritual Exercises in different contexts, it is important to invest much time and effort in the preparatory stage, in the selection of the persons who give the Exercises, as well as those who are to be guided in them. The selection of the place where the Exercises are to be given is significant, especially given that the African culture is deeply connected to nature. Other useful adaptations that he pointed out were in the meditation of the ‘Eternal King’ where the figure of traditional chiefs or leaders can be used while bearing in mind that Jesus can be taken as the proto ancestor who is the model of virtues. Finally, the adaptation of the language and symbols used to give the Exercises should be emphasized, with caution not to change the structure and dynamics of the Exercises themselves.

The symposium concluded with the affirmation that 500 years later, the text remains relevant and generative. In the words of James Hanvey, “we want to enchant the world with this text”. May St. Ignatius, our ancestor, pray for us.