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In the Jesuit Province of Canada, our mission is to embrace the Ignatian approach to spiritual accompaniment as a model for all kinds of ministry. Guided by the principles outlined in Pilgrims Together, our province’s apostolic planning document, in this article we reflect on the role of accompaniment in our efforts towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and examine how the same principles can be applied to our broader work in every apostolic sector: justice, education, social analysis, and beyond. Let us delve into the ways in which spiritual accompaniment can empower our collective pursuit of a more just world and deepen the endeavours of our various ministries.

photo: Michael Swan

“As assistant for the social sector, I would like my role to be like that of a spiritual accompanier, in other words, I’d like to listen, to try to listen to the collective spiritual movements in the sector.” Peter Bisson, SJ, is provincial assistant for justice, ecology and Indigenous relations. Here he contributes to the series on the Ignatian approach to spiritual accompaniment (see previous articles here, here and here).

One of the signs of the times in the Canadian province is the movement towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples: within this context, Jesuits must learn to move from being protagonists to being allies, to deal with the reactions to Jesuit history in Canada, and finally to support Catholic Indigenous initiatives.

What are the signs of the times in the social sector?

The Church, like the Scriptures, speaks of the signs of the times. I have a theory about the Ignatian interpretation of the signs of the times: they are important movements at the level of society, of culture; spiritual movements where people work with or against the movements of the Spirit in the world. Thus, only cooperation can lead to consolation, resistance provokes collective desolation.

And for me, one of the movements of consolation in the province is the process of reconciliation with Indigenous people, which we have been focusing on especially since the TRC.

So my hope is to try to listen to these movements, to integrate them, and then to interpret them as ways that the Holy Spirit invites us to engage. And for me, one of the movements of consolation in the province is the process of reconciliation with Indigenous people, which we have been focusing on especially since the TRC.

Can the process of accompanying society change us, too?

Yes, an important and perhaps even primary aspect of this movement of consolation is our own transformation: we are not the protagonists in the history of the relationship between Jesuits and Indigenous people, but allies who support and learn. I, too, experience these transformations, so there is a connection between my personal transformation through the work of reconciliation and the transformation of the province.

And when I say province, I don’t just mean Jesuits, but all partners who are inspired by Ignatian spirituality and the mission of the Society of Jesus.

Facing the history of the Society of Jesus in its relationship with Indigenous people can be a humiliating experience. How do we respond?

The courage to risk being humiliated is an essential element in the work of reconciliation and in our own transformation from protagonists to allies. The humiliation comes from the recognition of our participation and that of the Church in colonization. Another aspect of humiliation does not come directly from our historical action but from being in contact with people who suffer from historical trauma. We have to accept these reactions, as well as the criticism that comes from our past and the actual consequences of our past.

For me, the primary grace of our collective work of reconciliation is the humility that comes from humiliation as well as the vulnerability that gives us the courage to risk humiliation. This is a grace of the third week in the Spiritual Exercises.

How does one accompany Indigenous people using the Ignatian approach?

And when I say province, I don’t just mean Jesuits, but all partners who are inspired by Ignatian spirituality and the mission of the Society of Jesus.

By accepting to be allies of Indigenous peoples in their quest for self-determination, especially for Catholic Indigenous people who are beginning to assume their place in the Church as Indigenous people and as Catholics. They have much to contribute, many spiritual gifts to share with the Church. As the Society of Jesus and as Jesuits, we can provide a space where Indigenous Catholics can, I hope, feel a little more confident in exploring these newfound strengths that are beginning to emerge.

 

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