The 66th JCAM plenary that was held at Mwangaza Retreat Centre from the 24th to the 28th of April 2023 was very special in various aspects.

Of great importance and implication was that it was the last plenary organised and presided over by Father Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, SJ the outgoing JCAM President. It was also the last for two other major superiors, Father Chukwuyenum Afiawari, SJ (ANW), and Father Fulgence Ratsimbazafy, SJ (MDG). All three of them have come to the end of their mandates. Their successors also took part in this meeting. Father Orobator, SJ is being replaced by Father José Minaku, SJ; Father Afiawari, SJ is being replaced by Father John Ghansah, SJ and Father Ratsimbazafy, SJ by Father Jocelyn Rabeson, SJ.

Reflections as per the norm of such meetings circled around 3 major themes including formation, conference matters and matters relating to the universal Society.

On Conference matters, major superiors had conversations around Conference Formation Centres and other matters related to JCAM Apostolic Directions. Five apostolic directions have been approved by Father General, Arturo Sosa for the Conference of Africa and Madagascar. The first direction requires JCAM to develop, sustain and expand the networking and collaborating capacity of the conference by prioritising and strengthening various initiatives. The second direction aims to focus on enhancing and strengthening the leadership capacity of Jesuits and Collaborators in the Conference, especially in formation. JCAM in its third apostolic direction plans to anticipate and provide for the needs of the Universal Society while the fourth is geared at promoting a consistent culture of protection and safeguarding. The fifth apostolic direction is geared at promoting research and advocacy initiatives on climate change with a particular focus on the Congo Basin. All these topics are a constant occurrence in the conversations among major superiors during plenaries, and they constantly address issues that arise from them. Copies of this apostolic plan will be published on the various websites of the different provinces and regions of Africa and Madagascar.

Regarding Formation matters, major superiors also listened to a report by Father John the Baptist Anyeh-Zamcho, SJ (AOC), the JCAM Assistant for formation. It should be noted that the report of the Assistant for formation is a recurring item on the agenda of the JCAM plenary. He opened his report with a reference to Decree 2 of GC 34 titled Servants of Christ’s Mission which invited to a faith that was Pascal, compassionate, tender, evangelical and simple. Such faith, he stressed, was only possible through the purification process of service to the poor. Father Anyeh-Zamcho, SJ pointed out that giving account of the way of doing formation today had to witness to the threefold process of the faith of Jesuits in Formation (JIF) being purified by service to the poor, how JIF were increasingly becoming friends in the Lord and how they were understanding the central mission of the Society.

He went on to speak about the various meetings of Jesuit continental teams including separate meetings of formation delegates, novice masters, vocation promoters, as well as leaders of formation houses and how they were implementing the outcomes of the 2019 Formation Assembly. These teams were driven by the mission of GC 36 and inscribed in JCAM’s Apostolic Directions, which was that of discernment, networking, and collaboration. All together, they were mandated to structure formation in ways that responded to the needs of JIF which were continuously changing with changing times. Father Anyeh-Zamcho testified to the growing sense of collaboration which for the moment was principally focused on sharing of best practices within provinces and regions, but which needed to expand to other aspects of Jesuit life and culture. For such a vision to be achieved, Father Adolfo Nicolas in his letter Number 2014/04 of 3rd March 2014 had advocated for “the engagement of all those involved in the intellectual formation of JIF namely, delegates for formation; superiors of formation houses and their respective teams; professors and administrators of institutions engaged in the intellectual formation of Jesuits at different stages; and the brothers and scholastics themselves.”

To respond to challenges, the conference Assistant for formation highlighted the necessity of developing guidelines, especially in areas where collaborative work was expected. “There was need to continue to deliberately encourage each of these teams to make formation more relevant in the context in which it found itself, and by that learning how to transmit formation graces to the next generation.” There were perennial issues that could only be addressed by fostering cross-provincial and conference-level teams to work together.

With reference to the premier meeting of brothers within the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar at the conference level that was held in Madagascar from the 28th of March to the 4th of April 2023, he said that there was need to continuously look for ways to structure and improve the strategy for the formation of brothers in line with GC34, D7 which was still a long way from being implemented. He concluded his presentation by citing the same letter of Fr. Adolfo Nicolas stating that the challenges we faced could not be responded to with superficiality. The Jesuit mission continued to “require all the learning and intelligence, imagination and ingenuity, solid studies, and rigorous analysis that could be mustered.”

The JCAM plenary is always characterised by peer-to-peer cura personalis, deep conversations and camaraderie. The opening session is always one of faith sharing and spiritual conversation in which members share their experiences, hopes and dreams with each other. This moment deepens their friendship and allows for mutual support and trust. As part of their outreach, major superiors also had the opportunity to share a meal with the Jesuits of Pedro Arrupe Community as well as with those participating in the tertianship programme. It was a moment of brotherhood and solidarity with the different companions. Finally, they also paid a courtesy call to the Nuncio to Kenya and South Sudan.

The next meeting has been scheduled for October 2023 in Bukavu-DRC beginning with an 8-day retreat.

Related Article: Encountering Safeguarding at the JCAM Plenary meeting