Jesuits in Africa Reviewing Formation Program to Suit Current Mission Trends

Participants at the week-long Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Against the backdrop of changes in mission contexts globally and especially in Africa, members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) involved in the formation of candidates for their diverse Church ministry under the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) held a weeklong formation assembly last week during which 70 participants from across the continent, Jesuits and lay, deliberated on the situation of formation in their 485-year-old Society and sought to develop appropriate ways of forming their candidates for the contemporary mission.

The organizers of the weeklong assembly described the vision of the gathering as a deliberate attempt to “develop an integrated and seamless programme of formation in Africa and Madagascar in view of forming Jesuits for the apostolic mission of the Society in the 21st century,” a vision that would be achieved through “discernment, collaboration and networking”

“We need to understand our current situation, we need to understand the changes that are happening in our world, we need to understand how that affects us not only as individuals but as the Church, as a Society,” the Socius (executive assistant to the provincial) of JCAM and Formation Delegate, Fr. John the Baptist Anyeh in an interview ahead of the weeklong Jesuits Formation Assembly that concluded December 14 in Nairobi.

“We need to understand all these upheavals that are happening in the world today and then see how to respond to that,” Fr. Anyeh added regarding the Assembly that was held under the theme “New Wine, New Wineskins: Transforming the Mission of Formation in Africa and Madagascar in the Context of Faith and the Universal Apostolic Preferences.”

He confirmed that the assembly gathered “all those who are involved in the formation of young Jesuits, from Provincials, to formation delegates to Novice masters to Rectors, Principals and deans of formation houses and also to spiritual Fathers, and our Jesuits in formation.”


Explaining the need to come together as Jesuits to deliberate about the preparation of candidates for their society in the face of changes in society, Fr. Anyeh said, "We need to see how this formation affects young people and how to improve on what we already have. A lot has been done, and a lot can still be done and the society in the world today is shifting demographically." 

During the Assembly, participants deliberated on topics around personalized formation for each Jesuit, the need for men in formation deepening their sense of Jesuit identity as they proceed with their probation, the input of lay collaborators into the formation process and discerning ways of aligning formation with the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Jesuits, among others.

In an interview, Fr. Anyeh underlined the concept of “probation” in the process of Jesuit formation saying, “Formation is not just training, going through an educative process but it is probation and that is the specificity of Jesuit formation.”

“If someone enters in the society later in life, with already a career and already specialized with a degree, the tendency is to shorten formation,” he noted and added, “There is more to general formation than just preparing for priesthood, the whole idea is forming the religious in us, preparing us to engage in the mission of the society of Jesus.”

On his part, the General Counselor of the Society in Rome, Fr Mark Ravizza, said that the idea of probation is not about “getting it right” but that a man in formation gets a sense (of) whether the Society of Jesuits is right for him.

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“Formation isn't about trying to push, stretch and squeeze men into a Jesuit mould,” Fr. Ravizza said and added, “This image sees the formators being in control, instead of God. Christ is the formator and the invitation is to discernment, both on behalf of the formators and of the men in formation.”

He emphasized the need to “see formation as a process of transformation” and therefore aim toward holistic formation that brings “together our academic, spiritual, communal and apostolic spheres of life.”

While making his presentation on renewing Identity, Mission and Profile of Jesuits in Formation and Formators, Fr Mike Lewis said that formation of young Jesuits should not be “exclusively on academic formation” and that it should pay “attention also to emotional and psychological needs.”

In this regard, Fr. Lewis noted, “professional and psychological input” should be used where necessary and formators need to have creativity, imagination and depth in the face of the mega trends in Church.

“Men in formation are afraid of being dismissed if they do not fit into the Jesuit mould. So, they are afraid of talking of particular problems they might have. Through pursuing a personalised model of formation which responds to each person's needs, formators would be encouraging an environment of transparency,” Fr. Lewis said.


Magdalene Kahiu is a Kenyan journalist with passion in Church communication. She holds a Degree in Social Communications from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). Currently, she works as a journalist for ACI Africa.