Thinking Global but Acting Local to Bridge a Broken World in Africa

Responding to: Jesuits as Bridge Builders

By: François Kaboré

February 5, 2018

What is the link between these four priests and religious men across Africa: Fr. Ferdinand Muhigirwa, who fights to defend the forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Fr. Eric Goéh, who spends days away from home visiting refugee camps in central Africa; Fr. Jacques Ouédraogo, who directs spiritual retreats for lay and religious people in Burkina Faso; and Fr. Rigobert Minani, who runs the Jesuit Africa Social Centers Network? All four are Jesuits who are true to their vocation of building bridges and reconciling men with one another, with God, and with creation. The latest thirty-sixth General Congregation of the Jesuits, which took place in 2016, confirmed the mission and identity of Jesuits as being “companions in a mission of reconciliation and Justice” (Decree 1, GC 36). The work of the four Jesuit priests aforementioned reflects this mission of building bridges, of reconciling and healing three types of broken relationships.

The first area to be reconciled is our relationship with God or the transcendent. The vision of the Jesuits is built upon the deep belief that God so loved this world that he works to make it a better place for all. To that extent, a first and important way to build bridges and to heal broken relations is to help people be at home with God. Any work by any Jesuit goes back to this fundamental truth experienced by Saint Augustine that our hearts will never be at ease unless it rests in God. However, we live in a challenging world where cultural and religious relativism and pluralism, as well as radicalism, are paradoxically present. The work of Jesuits such as Fr. Jacques Ouédraogo is to spiritually enlighten people so that, according to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, they become free to make decisions that lead to the greatest glory of God. Otherwise, once the relationship with God is broken, the relationship with one another and the relationship with the environment are also broken.

The proper relationship with one another could be termed as just relations. The General Congregation 36 acknowledged that the current economic system favors the rise of inequality and injustice. That is why it is important that Jesuits, such as Fr. Eric Goeh, care for the marginalized and displaced. The Jesuit Refugee Service testifies that Jesuits work to heal a world of division between the powerful and the powerless. Such concern is also carried by the Jesuit social centers in Africa, which, despite local idiosyncrasies, aim to restore the image of Africans that has been mocked by wars and man-made disasters. Jesuit universities collaborate with social centers across Africa to strive to be a place where rigorous research is conducted to promote the common good, human rights, and social and economic justice. Any type of injustice anywhere, affects not only human beings but also the environment, “our common home,” as Pope Francis termed it in his encyclical Laudato Si.

The environment and the whole of creation are entrusted to human beings. However, the race for economic power and wealth often lead to the destruction of the environment. The relationship of human beings with creation is therefore broken when people no longer consider the environment as their natural and common home but as a private good they can use as they please. Unfortunately, nature strikes back, and when it does, the poor, the weakest, and the most innocent suffer most. When Jesuits in Congo arise against deforestation of the equatorial forest reserve, the largest in Africa, they fight for a just relationship between human beings and the environment. By doing so, they also fight for justice for the coming generation.

At the start of the most recent General Congregation, Pope Francis told Jesuits that the Church needs them, relies on them, and continues to turn to them with trust, particularly to reach those physical and spiritual places which others do not reach or have difficulty in reaching. This mission of bringing the gospel to the frontiers and to the geographical, social, and spiritual outskirts of the world has been entrusted to the Society of Jesus since the beginning. This work is truly about building geographical, social, and spiritual bridges. Nowadays, and in the context of the thirty-sixth General Congregation, Jesuits in Africa are living testimonies of this mission of reconciliation and justice with God, with one another, and with creation.

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Thinking Global but Acting Local to Bridge a Broken World in Africa