Formation News from Michael Debono SJ

News from scholastic Michael Debono SJ

I had already heard from my fellow Maltese companions something about EJIF in the past, but apart from the meaning of the acronym, European Jesuits In Formation,  I arrived in Budapest without many expectations for this year’s EJIF.  

And so it was that upon arriving at House of Dialogue, and upon meeting the first delegates (representatives of our respective provinces’ scholastics), I started understanding what an international experience this was going to be. This year there were 21 delegates from 16 different countries, representing a diversity of countries, and cultures: from north (Russian region, Sweden, Germany, U.K., Ireland, Belgium) to central Europe (Slovakia, Poland), down to the Mediterranean (France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Malta, Croatia) and including Egypt! Joining the group was also an Indian Jesuit studying in France, as well as the three members of the Coordinating Committee (CoCo) from Hungary, Poland and Spain. For most of the meeting we were also joined by John Dardis SJ and Dermot O’Connor SJ, President and Socius respectively of the Conference of European Provincials.

One of EJIF’s main aims is to allow young European Jesuits to meet, get to know each other and share experiences, fostering a sense of unity. And so it was. The very first Jesuits themselves originated from various countries. The EJIF experience really does make one feel that he is part of a universal Society and not simply part of one province. 

Getting to know each other at EJIF is also very important to create links for future collaboration between the various provinces. The latest Jesuit documents always talk about the universal mission of the Society of Jesus (decree 5 of the 35th General Congregation 

The meeting started with province presentations, where it was not only interesting to see the diversity of cultures and countries we work in, but also useful to share ideas about particular apostolic works. We then celebrated the feast of our founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, with a Mass in Hungarian (but thankfully we also had the English Mass booklets with us!) with the local parishioners in the beautiful Jesuit church nearby. 

An interesting workshop on evangelisation in secular contexts, given by Michael Paul Gallagher SJ (rector of the Bellarmino College in Rome and emeritus professor at the Gregorian University), was held in the following days. The workshop included reference to some aspects such as the importance of imagination and affectivity in evangelisation, the use of video clips from Terrence Malick’s films, reference to John Henry Newman as well as sharing and discussions by us delegates. 

Social evenings were not missing, which included the sharing of our countries’ typical food and drink, film nights, as well as walks to the nearest ice-cream parlour to cool down (noon temperatures were in the high thirties on many days!!). In between different parts of the program we visited the top attractions of Budapest, such as the amazing parliament, Buda Castle and Hero’s Square. We also learnt much about the sad times which Hungary has been through the last century (WWI, WWII, and then Communism), but also about how the Hungarians have learnt to fight and resist. Each day was also marked by pleasant mid-day community prayers and Mass animated by different groups, as well as the blessing of the food done in our native languages!

A central part of EJIF was the eight-day retreat, directed by Severin Leitner SJ, Assistant to the General for Central and Eastern Europe, and assisted by three Jesuits. Praying together with the other scholastics (in particular during daily adoration) and then renewing the memory of our vows was definitely a spiritually uniting experience for all. Immediately after the retreat we had the elections (which fittingly also contain a prayer time!) of the new CoCo responsible for organising EJIF 2014 ... an important year as it will be 200 years since the restoration of the Society!

Returning to Budapest, we then had an evaluation session and we also looked ahead to the coming years, discerning on how the upcoming EJIFs should be structured, so as to be more consonant with the needs of our formation and the Society at large. A common feeling was that of thanks to the CoCo’s organisation, to the hospitality of the Hungarian Jesuits and lay collaborators and to all the delegates which made it possible for EJIF to be the great experience it was. 

Michael Debono SJ

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