Allocution to European Jesuits Engaged in the Worker Mission

Let me first of all thank you for welcoming me J among you. I was glad to receive your invitation because I have a strong desire to know the Worker Mission, not only from without, but also — even if two days cannot suffice for it — from within.

I want to convey to you right away the greetings and I think, the prayers as well of Father Arrupe. I was able to see him just before leaving and, knowing his feelings toward the Worker Mission, I told him I would be with you in a day’s time in Lanzo. As you know, and unfortunately for us at the Curia, Father Arrupe scarcely reacts anymore. Still I had the impression that he understood, though he could make no sign, not even with his hands or with a smile. But I am sure he has these days at Lanzo in his heart.

I have not come to Turin to tell you that your mission in the Church and for the People of God is important. You know that. Since the 32nd General Council, it is not only your group, but the whole Society that recognizes the task, the dimension of the promotion of justice, of which you are and will remain, in Europe, the pioneers, the most visible and evident representatives. I would like to ask of you, even if I am incapable of giving you very precise advice on the future of the Worker Mission in Europe, fidelity to the initial intuition, which is to live in the heart of the working world and with the poorest, to open yourself to living and sharing and solidarity with them. Even though we should recognize and not minimize the great economic and social revolutions in the world of the people and workers, throughout all these changes, the Worker Mission still retains its mode of action: to be with, to live with, to share the life and conditions of existence, the precariousness, exploitation and insecurity which remain the same.

I should like quite simply to make a report to which you have a right, namely, to know what is the status in the Society today of the famous Decree 4 of the 32nd General Council. I speak of the whole Society and not of Europe alone. It is true — and this is perhaps a little suspect — that Decree 4 no longer meets the resistance it did ten years ago. Some Provincials have told me that they were not completely happy to see that, since the 32nd General Council spoke of preferential love for the poor, Jesuits have adopted, a trifle too easily and in one way or another, this preferential love for the poor by considering poor practically anyone lacking in something, and who is there who does not lack something? Perhaps in speaking of “integration” (the word is found in the 33rd General Council), in saying that not just some men in the Society, but all the works of the Society, should be integrated in this mission of the promotion of justice in the name of the Gospel, some Jesuits thought it was already achieved, whereas we are talking of an extremely difficult task and one which remains to be done. It must be recognized — I have interrogated some explicitly on this point- -that today all are convinced that the promotion of justice is in the minds of all Jesuits. Even if practice does not correspond to theory, today all know that it is no longer possible to make a decision in the Society, to open a house or even to close one, to renew or let things go on as they are, without taking into account the promotion of justice. And, so far as I know, that is being done.

It must be said that the Church has made enormous progress in this matter. Pope John Paul II, during his pastoral trips, speaks a language much stronger than Decree 4, which might otherwise seem extremely provocative. The speech at Edmonton, Canada, the recent letter to the Brazilian hierarchy, not to mention the homilies in Colombia, use extremely clear language and no Jesuit can ignore it.

We must also recognize that the true inspiration of Decree 4 appears more clearly today in the Society. I can assure you — there are witnesses of it here — that during the 32nd General Council I sat dumbstruck because I had just come from the Near East and found myself involved in a problematic of which I had never before heard mention. Neither the phrase “promotion of justice” nor anything like it was known to me, yet I had been living in the misery of Egypt and extremely precarious conditions in other Near Eastern countries. And I think too that when the 32nd General Council was convened the Society was perhaps unilaterally oriented toward traditional tasks and that, quite simply, to change the situation it was necessary to exaggerate in the other direction, which is what was merrily done. After the 32nd General Council, some had the impression that the Society was practically divided into two sectors of activity: a sector devoted to the promotion of justice and a sector devoted to traditional work but destined to disappear. Still today there are Provinces where tensions of this type exist between the two sectors, as if the Society could not do both at the same time. But in the Society as a whole there truly is awareness that every work that the Savior has confided to us must be profoundly marked by the promotion of justice in the name of the Gospel.


The Educational Sector and Decree 4

The educational sector is numerically the most important in the Society. Nowadays it is said that the Society has let go of its colleges. Yet we still have more than one thousand educational institutions of importance for which we are responsible. I think, and I am not alone in this, that the promotion of justice by the Society will never be a reality if the educational sector does not deeply believe in the mission we have received. I think that, today, a serious effort is being made. Some Provinces have taken, on the structural level, very important decisions and there are real difficulties in remaining faithful to those decisions.

It is possible to give, on the level of universities and colleges, some examples which go beyond beautiful but often very ineffective initiatives, such as giving scholarships and organizing trips to discover the reality of a country. More and more it is realized that the promotion of justice must be put at the very center of what is taught in our universities and colleges. Not only is there a theology of liberation, there is also a sociology of liberation, and an economics of liberation. To enable some regions to emerge from their misery men competent in such matters are needed who also have the theology of liberation at heart. On this point we still ha4much to do, particularly in the universities and colleges. I believe that, at least among Jesuits, it is understood that no teaching is neutral, that all teaching, in mathematics as well as politics, literature or philosophy, carries values and that these values can be in support of the promotion of justice or completely contrary to this vocation of the Society.

Father Codina of Bolivia gave a talk to Provincials — about which some had doubts — precisely to ask them if our colleges and universities can be truly Christianized, if one can introduce the promotion of justice into the heart of these institutions. Some Jesuits replied, “That is quite simply an impossible mission.” Father Codina quite clearly said that to deny the possibility of converting those to whom we have entrusted the universities and schools into men-for-others, and in a quite concrete fashion, is in effect to give up proclaiming the Gospel to the world. The world is what it is; if we will not speak the Gospel in and for the world, we are no longer the Society of Jesus. For we profoundly believe that the Savior has sent us precisely down here. It is not a question of converting those who already have, but to convince and educate those who have not yet understood the promotion of justice as such. The Society of Jesus has a difficult task, perhaps an impossible one, but it is a task to be fulfilled.

So, in the educational sector, there is much work to be done which seems to me to have started but is still in its beginnings. Two things are of extreme importance:

  • On the one hand, to keep on pressing the colleges and schools to do something, because — and this is perfectly normal — they have so many enormous concerns that when they think of the promotion of justice they say, “We’re convinced, but we have neither time nor energy.”
  • On the other hand — and I am addressing myself to you — it is extremely important that, in one way or the other, the educational sector of the Society retain a link with those who live explicitly the promotion of justice, because all Fathers and Brothers who work in the educational sector have in you, not only confreres, but confreres who fulfill the tasks that they too, one way or another, ought to have inscribed in their lives.


The Pastoral Sector

The pastoral sector, second in numerical importance, is awaking to the problem of the promotion of justice as the integrating part of the preaching of the Gospel. “The eruption of the poor into history,” as a typical phenomenon of each society, obliges us not to forget that one of the great signs of the kingdom announced by Jesus is that “the poor will have the Gospel preached to them” (Mt. 12:5). Jesuits in residences, parishes and missionary stations carry forward a difficult discernment, since the Gospel of the Kingdom that they preach and make present impregnates and runs through human liberations, manifesting itself in them, but is never identified with them (Sao Paulo Alloc., n. 33). Today the Gospel can no longer be preached so as to forbid tearing down and combating the injustice which makes Lazaruses in our day, under the pretext that the kingdom blesses and calls the poor blessed. The Gospel calls the poor blessed only because it blesses those who struggle for the justice of which the poor are and ought to be the primary beneficiaries.

This combat for justice in the name of the Gospel presupposes conversion of heart: to be a man -for – others, to be a man-with-others, requires a de-centering of ourselves which radically surpasses philanthropy, some forms of piety, charity and condescension unworthy of the poor. To give out of benevolence as alms to a poor man what is due to him in justice is a disguised injustice stigmatized by the Gospel. The pastoral sector of the Society takes account of this challenge to the preaching of the Gospel, the demanding and difficult task of discovery.

Just as in the apostolic body of a Province, out of loyalty to Decree 4, there must be Jesuits who take on more explicitly than others the apostolic dimension of the promotion of justice, so too in the pastoral outreach of a residence, parish or station, the promotion of justice must find its place. This responsibility is particularly felt in the pastoral work of the Spiritual Exercises. An English Review (The Way, Supplement, 55, 1986, pp. 100-106) just published thoughts the martyr bishop Oscar Romero expressed in 1982 on the subject of the Spiritual Exercises from the rise of and at the service of Latin America. Having himself made the thirty days of the Exercises, he insisted on the need to have new men, the only kind capable of creating new structures, so that Latin American might emerge from injustice. Beyond personal spiritual satisfaction, Archbishop Romero expects a “social radiation” from the Exercises founded on uneasiness, even shame, at being responsible by sin for this situation of injustice, and the discovery of the integral liberation to which the Savior calls one insofar as sent “into the state of life” of his choice. Having chosen as bishop the motto Sentir con la Iglesia, Monseigneur Romero had an ecclesial or ecclesiologically social conception of the Exercises that not many Jesuits received in their formation, something which often explains the reserved attitude toward or incomprehension of the promotion of justice.

There is no denying that much remains to be done and in this regard the secularizing climate of Europe is not such as to help you. Liberation theologians readily assert that in Latin America “our theology of liberation is a spiritual theology, a new spirituality.” It is as if the faith Latin America possesses will discover its full capacity in liberating man integrally. Nowadays whole areas of Europe do not possess such faith and the Church calls for a new evangelization of western Europe. Certainly she will mobilize all the pastoral energy of the Society, but she will not proclaim Christ without promoting justice, without His love for the poor. In this respect, rather than lose its point, Decree 4 recovers it with new urgency, so long as we accept with full loyalty the initial mission, which is to live at the center of the masses, confront new challenges, hold a constant dialogue with the whole of the people of God in reciprocal recognition of the mission of the apostolic body of the Society.

Without wishing to pass over in silence the many other social activities of the Society, I would like to say a word about the Social Centers which also took on a new spirit from Decree 4 of the 32nd General Council but which not all Centers have been able to discover. In May those responsible for the Centers met in Rome to harmonize their catalytic role with the mission of the apostolic body of the Society to promote justice in the name of the Gospel of Our Savior.


A New Commandment

Today there is a tendency to replace the promotion of justice with preferential though not exclusive love for the poor. The most recent documents of the Holy See, particularly the reactions to liberation theology, all concentrate on the love that the new commandment of Christ requires. Without a doubt, it is the strongest language the Church could utter in the name of the Gospel. The new commandment first says to love as God loves. God has first loved us, gratuitously, when we were in no way interesting to Him, when we were sinners. To labor in the worker and popular milieu, with the poor, to have solidarity with them, is never interesting, rather it is despairing, and it will cause us to lose all our influential and interesting relations, as Father Arrupe predicted when Decree 4 was adopted. We are so made that without conversion of our hearts by the Agape of God, even the preferential option for the poor can be an egotistical business, the manipulation of others’ misery for our profit and glory. If you greet those who greet you, what merit have you? It is Paul who, in a well known hymn, declares the most generous philanthropy to be in vain if it does not ceaselessly draw upon Agape.

This new commandment which radically upsets our perspective by changing the question “Who is my neighbor?” into “How can I be the neighbor of another?” — this commandment helps us discover new poor, opens our eyes to the new situations of poverty that societies spawn. This is perhaps true today when the Worker Mission must turn to others in the popular and worker environment, the foreigner, the fourth world, the excluded, those ignored by the unions themselves. In general the new commandment is opposed to any exclusiveness, for in each man and not only in the poor that our culture, religion or ideology wishes to take into account, there is a value — “our Father awaits us in him” — that should not depend on my way of loving.

Sometimes, in order to give full force to Decree 4 of the 32nd General Council, some have limited the promotion of justice to those poor alone who are victims of oppression and exploitation, thinking refugees, the physically handicapped, orphans, addicts and prisoners to be outside the apostolic field of the promotion of justice, needing instead assistance and charitable aid. Doubtless it is one thing to include no matter who and what in the term “poor” under the pretense that every man, even the richest, always lacks something and it is another thing to discern the forms of true spirit*, and material poverty and to seek before the Loren-Of the new commandment the concrete forms of Agape here and now, given the urgency of the situation and the limits and gifts of each of us. That which refuses this openness and disponibility to new needs, out of loyalty to the basic mission, dies or is condemned to death.

The new commandment also requires, in the end, the gift of one’s being, of one’s person. So long as we give only our possessions, we give nothing. Give your life in the image of Christ. That is why personal encounter is so important; however limited, it is the only effective way. Here is biblical language which is the strongest the Church can employ. Despite diverse opinions on the matter, the preferential love for the poor, as an expression of the new commandment, in no way softens Decree 4, even if some in the Society wrongly think it is less demanding under this form, more “religious” and less menacing. The opposite is true. It seems to me we must maintain the promotion of justice. Father Arrupe readily repeated, “Justice cannot be done without love. Nor can one sever himself from love even in resisting injustice, since the universality of love is for Christ a commandment which allows no exception.” Just as the proclamation of the faith is inseparable, since the beginning of the Society, from the promotion of justice, in the same way love and justice ought not be separated- -not for reasons of conceptual beauty or to protect the one from the other.

Justice forces us into the domain of man’s socio-economic reality where only Marxist ideology seems to speak the right language. By its very realism, the word “justice” will not let us escape the very concrete and real problems of our time, problems one too easily attributes to the fatally unjust structures of our society, when they are due to human freedom that has been used unjustly. To the realism of injustice should correspond the promotion of justice, not a justice done to one’s own advantage, but in the name of the Gospel of love for the other, of preference for the menaced other, the voiceless victim of injustice. What at the time of the formulation of Decree 4 this was not perhaps so clear has become with practice and experience more obvious, namely, the intrinsic connection between socio-economic justice, with all the human rights it evokes and implies, the justice of the Gospel for which Christ died and the justice of God in the Pauline sense which, transforming our hearts, grounds all human justice.

Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. is Superior General of the Society of Jesus. His address was delivered on August 7, 1986. Translated by Ralph Mclnerny.


Very Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., S.T.D. (born in Druten, Netherlands November 30, 1928), was the 29th Superior General of the Society of Jesus.

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