Novices inspired by scope of international works
The Jesuit novices who are normally based at the novitiate in Birmingham visited the Low Countries recently, on a trip that gave them an insight into the scope of the international Society. Novices from Britain, Ireland, Flanders and the Netherlands make up the international community at Manresa House; and since the September to December Study period is the longest period inside the novitiate itself, they embarked upon a trip to (North) Belgium and the Netherlands, to visit a variety of Jesuit works and communities in the four provinces.
Half of the novices started in Leuven where they learnt of the past, present and future of the Jesuits in Flanders. This included talks by Fr Jan Lambreck SJ and Fr Bob Albertijn SJ, who told the novices about their experiences as a Biblical scholar and a missionary in Congo and Burundi respectively; a visit to the Church of St Damian of Molokai, which contained a poignant display dedicated to this famous Belgian priest who dedicated his life to serving in a leper colony during the early 20th Century; and an opportunity to visit the theology library at the famous Katholiek Universiteit in Leuven. Here they were permitted to hold a copy of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius that were published in Rome in 1548, aware that the founder of Society of Jesus himself might have handled it before them.
A morning in Brussels was dominated by the presence of the European Parliament and the Jesuit response at the epicentre of European politics. The novices heard from Fr Martin Maier SJ about the work of JESC (the Jesuit European Social Centre) and the work that he does lobbying for the poor and voiceless in the corridors of power often dominated by big businesses. They also learnt about the work of the Jesuit Refugee Service Europe at their headquarters, before visiting the office of the Conference of European Provincials in Drongen. “It was really interesting to hear about the pastoral work that the Society manages to provide to the many passing workers in Brussels by running the ‘Chapel for Europe’,” says British novice Christopher Brolly. “This is an ecumenical chapel that offers many Masses and young adult prayer and social gatherings in the beautiful brick church a stone’s throw away from the glimmering glass of the European Parliament.”
Open to the will of God
From the world of politics and the Jesuits’ response to social issues, the novices then moved to saintliness, with a visit to the headquarters of the Bollandists. This is a small group of Belgian Jesuits who edit and publish a collection of biographies and legends of the saints and the novices had the chance to converse with the ‘head Bollandist’, Fr Robert. “The thing that stands out was how he very simply described a saint as ‘someone who is totally open to the will of God in their life’,” says Christopher. “This radical availability is a great lesson for us novices, as well as any Jesuits and all Christians, to leave with; hopefully we’ll all be able to translate into our own lives.”
The novices’ visit to Antwerp took them to two more research centres: the Ruusbroec Society and UCSIA, before they headed to Amsterdam, where they were welcomed by Fr Nikolaas Sintobin SJ. He guided the group through a Youtube meditation and spoke about his ministry as an internet pastor, introducing many thousands of people to Ignatian Spirituality online. After Mass at the famous Krijtberg Church, they learnt about the CLC (Christian Life Community) and the Jesuits’ work at the Dutch national seminary.
A community of brothers
Last month, 56 men joined the Society of Jesus with the desire and intention of becoming Jesuits. All together at present, there are 100 novices in Europe and the Near East, 56 in their first year and 44 in their second year. They come from almost every Jesuit Province or Region in this territory and are based at ten different novitiates from Portugal to Poland and from England to Egypt. A novice learns to create a community of brothers who grow in prayer, knowledge of the Society, apostolic work, and personal enrichment, meeting the Lord through the 30-day Spiritual Exercises retreat. At the end of two years, he pronounces vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
“What was most special for me was the various quality conversations I managed to have with the many Jesuits I met along the way,” Christopher Brolly said after visiting Jesuits and their ministries in the Low Countries. “Their warmth, intelligence and inspiring example resonated with me and affirmed my sense of vocation in the Society of Jesus ... Overall I think this visit was useful for novices across the four provinces, as it broadened our vision of the Society outside the boundaries of our own birthplaces and opened us to the prospect of deeper collaboration across our Provinces in future.”
Read more on the novices’ blog.