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Jesuits in Africa meet to plan social justice ministries

The Jesuits of Africa and Madagascar who are involved in the Society of Jesus' ministries of social justice on the continent have been meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, to evaluate their ministry. They have also worked on a strategic plan for the next five years. Russell Pollitt reports from Nairobi.

Jesuits involved in the ministry of the social apostolate in Africa and Madagascar met from 7-10 May in Nairobi, Kenya, to evaluate their work and develop a strategic plan for the next five years.

For the past few months Jesuit social centres across the continent have been engaged in a process of evaluating JASCNET – the Jesuit Africa Social Centre’s Network.

The network was formally established in 2010 to initiate common activities that can contribute to the improvement of the work done by the African social centres, and to reinforce the social apostolate work of the Society of Jesus in Africa.

The coordinator of the network, Zambian Jesuit, Fr Charles Chilufya, has, in the past few months, visited a number of the centres with consultant Kalonde Mungomba where they did an internal analysis with the staff of the centres. Each social centre was also engaged in completing a comprehensive questionnaire on their areas of focus, projects and impact.

Fr Xavier Jeyaraj from Rome with Fr Charles Chilufya coordinator of JASCNET.

Father Xavier Jeyaraj, from the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat at the Jesuit Curia in Rome, was also present. The secretariat assists the Jesuit General, Father Arturo Sosa, in developing the apostolic mission of the Society of Jesus. The secretariat focuses on promoting justice and reconciliation with creation, both at the level of the Jesuit Conferences and among Provinces of the order around the world. It also works to establish collaboration between apostolic sectors and pays special attention to the social apostolate.

The meeting began by listening to and considering the comprehensive findings of the evaluation. This included the strengths, weaknesses and feasibility of the network.

Time was also given to a number of inputs about the external situation in which the social centres operate on the continent. These included the prevailing political and socio-economic contexts.

Jesuit Father François Kabore of Centre de Recherche et D’Action Pour la Paix (CERAP) looked at the African political economy and offered models of alternative development. He suggested that we move from a model of corporate social responsibility to corporate social accountability, thereby shifting the power to decide whether or not corporations take social issues seriously out of their hands and into the hands of civil society so that corporations are held accountable. In a second presentation on resource mobilization for development, Kabore said that value is not in raw materials – which are abundant in Africa – but in their ability to transform them. It is, therefore, sad that Africa’s resources are harvested and taken off the continent for very little and then transformed into products that are sold for high prices. This results in a loss of resources and revenues for Africa. He deplored education systems on the continent that “produce unemployable graduates” and therefore entrepreneurship is hampered.

Fr François Kabore speaking on the African political economy.

Father Claude Domfang from the Centre de Recherche, d'Etude et de Créativité (CREC) in Bénin, offered a presentation on Africa’s demographics and the situation of her youth. He pointed out that Africa has a very youthful population. In 2017 60% of Africa’s population was under the age of 24. “This presents a great challenge, because if we say that youth are the future we need to take care of them,” he said. Unfortunately, many of the continent’s young people have poor education, no employment and are living in deep hopelessness.

Fr Claude Domfang gave input on Africa's demographics and the challenges that youth face.

Speaking about issues of peace and sustainable development, Father Toussaint Kafarhire from the Hekima Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations (HIPSIR), said that development “is not a goal but a means to an end”. He urged Africans to reshape their mindset because very often development is taken to mean “catching up with the West”. He said that Catholic Social Teaching (CST) provides a framework that can help bring the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Jesuit mission together for the context in which Jesuits work.

Frs Toussaint Kafarhire and Xavier Jeyaraj

Director of the Jesuit Centre for Ecology and Development in Malawi, Father Makasa Chikwamo, spoke about climate justice. He said that there is a growing awareness of the need to address this issue which will affect both the global north and south. Often the damage is done in the global south, but the consequences are not felt there alone. He based his presentation on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’.

Fr Makasa Chikwamo who gave input on work being done around ecological justice and development.

South African Jesuit, Father Rampe Hlobo, spoke about migration. This is one of the biggest issues that the social ministry of the Society of Jesus worldwide must respond to. He highlighted the massive gap between international and national legislation and the way migrants are actually treated. He said that many migrants face discrimination as well as xenophobia, which is a gross human rights violation, in ‘host’ communities. The Society of Jesus in Africa has a very important role to play in ensuring that the dignity and rights of migrants are upheld and, he emphasized, Jesuits work to ensure that countries and communities are hospitable to migrants.

Fr Rampe Hlobo talking about migration.

Father Jörg Alt from the Jesuit Mission Office in Nuremberg, Germany, spoke about tax justice and poverty. He explained what he calls a “mega-crisis” of growing inequality and resource over-exploitation. He shared ways he thought taxation and related instruments can be maximized for pushing for systemic change from the present neo-liberal paradigm, towards a society based upon the common good of all.

Fr Jörg Alt speaking about taxation and alternative models to close the gap between rich and poor.

After the presentations, the participants had extensive discussions on what they heard, their work and the future. Time was spent considering priority areas for JASCNET’s new strategic plan for Africa.

The following five areas were outlined as needing attention: Political governance and human rights, alternative development/finance for development, peace and security, fair sharing of natural resources and fair business, and climate change and sustainable food.

At the end of the meeting Chilufya explained that the strategic plan would be drafted and sent back to the Provinces and centres for comments in June. The plan will be launched at the annual meeting of the African Jesuit’s social apostolate meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, in August.


* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.