Since the days of St. Ignatius, Jesuits were called upon to take an interest, and sometimes to get involved, in the diplomatic world. Constantly keeping in mind the objectives of peace, encounter and care for the poor. In the 21st century, Geneva is a city where diplomacy plays an essential role. The United Nations has based many of its operations there and Geneva is often a meeting place for peace negotiations.
For the visit of Father Sosa, the Province of Switzerland chose to present to the Superior General how the Jesuits in Geneva are immersed in projects with international dimensions. This presence includes some aspects of values advocacy and people who need to be remembered in the diplomatic world.
Father Sosa had the opportunity to meet Jesuits and other people actively involved in this international apostolate. The International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the JRS International Office, JWL (Jesuit Worldwide Learning), the World Council of Churches, the Apostolic Nunciature to international organizations, and the Diocese of Geneva were all represented. The thirty participants had received in advance the letter from Father General presenting the Universal Apostolic Preferences. They had done their homework and each group was called upon to say how - at its level and in its action with an apostolic and international dimension - it resonated with the orientations of the Preferences.
Fr. Kevin White stressed how JRS’ presence in Geneva allowed the Jesuit organization to bring the plight of refugees to the attention of many international entities, including the UN. The relatively new work of JWL, under the responsibility of Peter Balleis, a German Jesuit, is close to JRS’ concerns. Aiming to provide higher education for disadvantaged young people, especially those living in refugee camps, has more weight if the project is based in Geneva’s international environment. The testimony of a Syrian woman confirmed that it was because of her education that she and her family were able to survive.
Martin Robra, the representative of the World Council of Churches, asserted that the Preferences of the Society of Jesus were at the heart of the Churches’ concerns. However, he stressed that it was undoubtedly the attention to “our common home” that was the most important gateway to the youth. Nick Store, from UNHCR, felt challenged by the two Preferences of walking with marginalized people and accompanying young people: this is the essence of his activity and commitment.
One notable intervention was that of Anna Biondi, an Italian trade unionist working at the ILO. She read in the Preferences a support for an education that would be deeper than the transmission of know-how to serve the labour market. She added that in order to meet young people’s hopes for peace, a call to change the rules of the economic world, which for the time being are designed for the rich, is essential.
Also mentioned during the discussions was the importance of community building, of experience in discernment, of openness to change, of the awareness of the limited but real role that Churches can have at the international level to promote social and human concerns. In his last statement, Fr. Arturo Sosa returned to an important aspect of the third Apostolic Preference, that of journeying with young people in the creation of a future full of hope. We must be able, he said, to learn from young people; our goal should not be how to help them but how to get help from them in order to serve better in a world in the making.