First-ever Jesuit conference for Directors of Works

 Almost 100 delegates gathered at the Holiday Inn in Oxford on Friday, for the first-ever Conference for Directors of Jesuit Work. The mix of lay people and Jesuit priests and brothers represented the full breadth of activities that the Society of Jesus is involved in - not just in Britain, but also in the British Province's dependent Regions of Guyana and South Africa. The delegates ranged from head teachers to directors of Ignatian Spirituality Centres, chairs of school governors and of parish councils, to the Directors of the Jesuit Volunteer Community, Jesuit Missions and the Jesuit Refugee Service, plus many others. In addition to an address from the British Jesuit Provincial, Very Rev David Smolira SJ, the conference listened to two Jesuits from the United States: Bill Byron SJ and Howard Gray SJ. Father Byron lectures in ethics at Georgetown University: he offered a vision of the Church in the year 2050, a Church with more lay involvement and more women in influential positions, but with its influence in moral and ethical matters diminished. Father Gray, who is the Rector of the Jesuit community at John Carroll University in Ohio, called the work done by lay people alongside and with the Jesuits a "distinctive vocation" and stressed the importance of matching the talents of their workers with the jobs that needed to be done. Other highlights of the Directors of Work Conference included the opening address by Mike Wooldridge OBE, the BBC World Affairs Correspondent. He drew on his experience to present the delegates with his vision of the world in which "faith could motivate people to engage in conflict (e.g. in Uganda) - and to resolve conflict". He described his period as Religious Affairs Correspondent for the BBC (1990 - 96) as one of the busiest jobs he had ever had, and stressed the importance of communication: "Solutions require real conversations and real listening", he said. The Jesuit Conference was also used as the opportunity to present the first Campion Medals, in recognition of lay people who are committed to the Ignatian ideals or who work alongside the Jesuits in Britain. At a celebratory dinner after the event, Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, astronomer at the Vatican Observatory, entertained the delegates with a colourful and enthusiastic description of his work, which, he said, enabled him and others to explore the beauty and wonder of God's creation - from the icy wastes of the Antarctic to the farthest extremities of the Galaxy. The last word was left to Fr Smolira, the British Provincial. He spoke of his pride at being part of a Province with so many "dedicated and hardworking Jesuits ... and co-workers, our partners in ministry". He said the reorganisation of Jesuit ministries that had begun during his term as Provincial would continue and highlighted the establishment of the Heythrop Institute for Religion, Ethics and Public Life, the development of Christian Life Communities, the expansion of the Living Theology courses, and the Jesuits' work in communications and media as important steps forward. But he also stressed the Jesuits' role as supporting "the mission and ministries of lay people" as well as the collaboration of lay people in Jesuit ministries. "You are at the coalface," he told delegates, " you are making the Ignatian charism a reality," adding that - like ordained Jesuits - the primary focus of their work was "the proclamation of the Gospel, to make Christ better known ... Our shared mission is to bring Christ to the world under the guidance of the Holy Spirit." Jesuit Communications Office

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