Two years after promulgating the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) Father General, Arturo Sosa, SJ has been wanting to know how these have impacted the formation of Jesuits.

While it might be too early to reap the fruits of this renewed vision, at least there is reason to ask if foundations are being laid.

In the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar, the Formation Assembly of December 2019 was an important milestone in infusing the formation of Ours with the spirit of the UAPs. Jesuits, collaborators, and well-wishers gathered to think through the revitalization of Jesuit formation in the light of the UAPs and came up with guidelines and orientations for effectively bringing about renewal.

Much of the work of the Conference Formation Assistant (CFA) in the year 2021 has been awareness building among those in charge of formation across the 6 provinces and 1 region of the conference. From the accompaniment during candidacy to that of tertians, formation conversations have dwelt on improving the life/mission of Jesuits in Formation according to the UAPs. The team of Formation Delegates across the Conference has seen significant turnover, partly due to the reorganisation of the austral provinces of the conference. This has meant patient accompaniment of those that are new. There is more coordination among Vocation Directors and deeper conversations between them and Novice Masters. Leaders of formation houses have met to better understand how the spirit of the UAPs could be brought to bear in the processes of formation. Spiritual fathers of formation houses are developing new strategies to bring about spiritual conversations that hopefully lead to conversion.

Two themes have characterised the implementation of the UAPs, and that is conversion and spiritual conversations. They have also appeared in the spiritual thrust of the Ignatian Year. These themes highlight the tension that necessarily exists between things as they are on the one hand and they way they could be if inspired by the UAPs. Needless to say, that the inertia has been on the side of the former. Why create ripples in the water when it can remain calm?

Areas of focus for transformation by the UAPs include a spiritual programme of ongoing conversion in formation houses, preparation, and effective accompaniment of candidates for the novitiate, transitioning from one stage of formation to the other, the role of collaborators in the formation of Jesuits, information and feedback from non-Jesuit collaborators and help to formators in formation houses. As conversations have gone on, the role of formation delegates in coordinating these processes for any single Jesuit has come to sharp focus. One novice master exclaimed that it seemed to him that the formation delegate ought to carry the relay baton from the novice master once the man left the novitiate. An important meeting has been scheduled in the course of 2022 to further discern the role of formation delegates and the necessary coordination across the various stages of formation.

According to Father Sosa, it is critical that Jesuits in Formation be imbued with the vison of the UAPs since they will be the ones bringing them to life in the next decade in Jesuit apostolic works. To this end, he has asked that Jesuits in Formation participate in his expanded council of January 2022, so that him and his counsellors hear their voices first hand. The preparation for this moment of communion has been through spiritual conversations within formation communities.

Although Covid-19 has imposed a slow-motion way of meeting, there is some merit in the use of online communication platforms to achieve the goals of formation. As Covid recedes, in person meetings will certainly bring much more fruit to the conversations that ought to be had if the UAPs are to transform the Jesuit spirit in the next few years.