says Fr. Jerome Stan D’Souza, SJ | Provincial of South Asia

in an exclusive email interview granted to Fr. Aloysius Irudayam, SJ for INI

Born on 9 May 1965, Fr Stany D’ Souza joined the Society of Jesus on 20 June 1984. On completion of fifteen years of formation he was ordained on 27 December 1999. 

Presently he is the President of Jesuit Conference of South Asia (JCSA). Prior to this he was the Provincial of Karnataka Jesuit province, and the rector of several Jesuit institutions in Bengaluru. He was the director of St Joseph’s College of Business Administration and St Joseph’s College of Commerce, Bengaluru. Earlier he had taught at St Aloysius College, Mangaluru.

Fr Stany has a degree in philosophy and theology, besides a master’s degree and Ph.D in Kannada. He has a few scholarly articles and a book to his credit. As POSA (Provincial of South Asia), he oversees the administration of important Jesuit training institutes.

The Hindutva politics is spreading fast in India. The BJP rules many States. The Opposition parties, which are mostly restricted to one or two States, can never come together. In this scenario, what is your prognosis about the Jesuits’ role and ministries in India in the next 10 years?

The politics of polarization is at its peak today. The worrisome factor is that one finds a big number of women, youth and children among their staunch followers, who do not hesitate to instigate fear, wreak violence and create havoc.  It only shows how deeply the communal poison has spread. 

What can the Society of Jesus do in this situation? In her article, ‘Good riddance, 2022’, columnist Tavleen Singh highlighted only one good event in the year 2022, that was the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, and the gestures and messages of Mr Rahul Gandhi, which made many join hands with him.  I think the time has come for us, Jesuits, to rise and raise our voices, join our hands with all people of goodwill within and beyond the Church, and network and collaborate with all the peacemakers.

I think the time has come for us, Jesuits, to rise and raise our voices, join our hands with all people of goodwill within and beyond the Church, and network and collaborate with all the peacemakers.

As regards ministries, we need to promote peace and justice, tolerance and dialogue in all our ministries. We need to continue to read and reflect on the Indian Constitution, which ushered in values like secularism, democracy, liberalism and pluralism. We need to teach our students and all beneficiaries of our ministries social analysis which analyzes social pathologies and searches for action plans. We need to intensify our work for the Dalits, tribals and other marginalized groups in and through all our ministries, especially the social action ministry, and strengthen our collaboration with civil society movements.

The ‘idea of India’ of these forces is opposed to the India envisioned by the Indian Constitution in its Preamble. What do you think of the Jesuits’ intellectual contribution in this ideological battle between the communal and secular forces? Are you satisfied we are doing enough?

Of course, the Society has been doing its bit by way of constituting a think tank, which has been guiding the JCSA with strategies to float counter narratives. In addition to seminars and workshops, we have been conducting programmes on the awareness of the Constitution, organizing inter-religious prayer meetings, dialogue sessions, establishing peace clubs and so on.

However, what we do is not enough. We cannot afford to be naïve about the ideology of religious fundamentalism, majoritarian autocracy and crony capitalism. A deep intellectual understanding of this ideology is necessary. I think we need to make a comprehensive study of this ideology and their strategies, as they are primarily anti-poor and against the marginalized groups. In this context our theological and philosophical articulation should go beyond the ecclesial boundaries and address the larger public.

We must shed our minority mindset and defensive posturing, and highlight our contributions to nation-building. We must also pay greater attention to legal literacy, especially civil laws regarding land, finances, running institutions, and follow the legal protocols to protect our people and our works.

This question is about formation of Jesuits. On the one hand, the two previously much talked-about formation perspectives, namely, ‘Formation in and for mission’ and ‘Inculturated formation’ are losing ground or are becoming obsolete these days. On the other hand, mammoth changes are taking place in India. Are we seized with this situation and accordingly taking innovative steps to shape formation that would be relevant and meaningful to the people of our times?

Our formation — primarily based on discernment and promoting depth — can be an effective tool at any time. All the same, in and around the ‘Stan Moment’, we floated two processes in our formation: Intellectual or Learned approach to our Ministries and Socially Oriented Formation. These are aimed at fostering depth in our interventions in favour of the marginalized people. We not only brought out a booklet on the former but organized input sessions for the formators at various levels as well.

In addition, we have stressed indigenization of our faith and mission. Along with classical Indology, I have told our faculties to introduce other streams of Indian thought in our formation houses so that our men are able to ground themselves in South Asian soil and are able to interact with people of other faiths.

I think our formation needs to add one more thing: along with theology and philosophy, we need to use social sciences to understand the changing character of the context in which we are living and help our formees to ‘smell the sheep’ enough with many contacts and outreach programmes.

Along with this, JCSA (February 2023) has decided to reflect on the early formation so that we may understand the situation and find ways to improve it. It is indeed a laudable initiative.

We must shed our minority mindset and defensive posturing, and highlight our contributions to nation-building.

We keep worrying about the fast decline in the number of vocations to Jesuit Brotherhood. Mere statements about the prophetic value and meaning of Brotherhood do not seem to be effective. Therefore, should we not bring about radical changes in the Constitution of the Society of Jesus that would give a prominent role to Brothers in the life and works of the Society, say, a share for the brothers in the authority structure, a share for them in the professional character of the apostolic works, etc. Even though this matter concerns the Society’s Constitution, what is your personal view on this matter?

In the early years of the Society, as many as 25% of Jesuits were Brothers. Hence, the fast-depleting numbers of Brothers in the Society is a real concern and a wound on the Body of the Society. Already in 1978 Fr Pedro Arrupe maintained that the brothers’ contribution, “both to community life and that of the apostolate, is irreplaceable. The extinction of this grade of Brothers would be a great loss, a mutilation with grave consequences for the body of the Society and for its apostolate.”

Hence, it is crucial that we actively work for the nurturing of vocations to the Brotherhood. For this, for example, along with the iconic figure of Brothers like Alphonsus Rodríguez and Francisco Gárate, who achieved sanctity in domestic tasks, we also should make known the lives of others like James Kisai, Dominic Collins, Nicholas Owen, and our own brothers Peter, Saul Abril and others who laboured with dedication and generosity in the external ministries of the Society. This will contribute to a more comprehensive image of the brother’s vocation and can attract new vocations.

We need also to showcase the integration and participation of Brothers in the life and apostolic mission of the Society. Their formation has improved. They have been given responsibilities in important works and apostolic activities. They have been appointed to positions such as community and province consultors. Incidentally, you may be aware that Pope Francis has now made it possible for a non-ordained religious to be the superior in a clerical order. Hence, we need to present a comprehensive picture of brother’s vocation and mission and aggressively promote the vocation of Brothers to the Society.

Fortunately, men still hear the invitation to serve as Jesuit Brothers. The men entering the Society of Jesus in recent years are intentional in their vocation. They choose the Brotherhood. However, we need to make concerted efforts to present a unified vocation, truly and fully what it should be, so that many join us as Brothers to make the society beautiful and help her give signal service to the Church and the world.

In the context of the falling number of vocations in certain Jesuit Assistancies, have any radical measures been contemplated at the level of the Jesuit Conferences globally, like sharing of Jesuit personnel and promoting their competence and capacities in a big way so as to maintain Jesuit identity and presence? What about South Asia? Do all provinces have adequate number of vocations?

The falling number of vocations is a fact. Fr General is very much aware of this issue. Hence, he wrote to the whole Society to take up the vocation promotion work seriously. He exhorted us not only to make it a culture in the Society but also to combine it with youth work. As a result, there has been a lot of emphasis on vocation promotion, collaboration and networking in the Society.

In South Asia, one can observe the following changes: many provinces have appointed a full-time vocation promoter. Thanks to their efforts, many provinces have increased the number of vocations. In addition, JCSA also took a few concrete decisions: to allow the vocation promoter of one province to attend the vocation camps of another province, to address the candidates and pre-novices of other provinces and to share the candidates to the needy provinces. I think this is a welcome direction. Along with sharing personnel, we need also find ways to map the competencies of our men and initiate processes of capacity building so that they become more efficient and effective in Lord’s vineyard.

The structures of governance in the Society have remained the same to a large extent. Do we need changes? Is there real eagerness within Assistancies to network and collaborate within zones? 

Surely there needs to be a change in the governance. Although there has not been much change structurally, thanks to General Congregation 36, d. 2, no. 3, which emphasized discernment, collaboration and networking as key features of governance and important perspectives on our contemporary way of proceeding, there have been a lot of changes in decision making processes in the Society. The spiritual conversation, which we use in most of our meetings and discerning processes, has helped many to participate and share their reflected opinions in discernment in common freely. In this way, most of our decisions have become communal and collective.

Moreover, the idea of Conference is also a novel idea. It is working quite well. As a community for discernment, a means for collaboration, a space to facilitate networking and solidarity and a platform for exercising co-responsibility, it has been an effective instrument to serve our mission. The Conferences have initiated a process of collaboration and networking. e.g., JCSA and JCAM, JCSA and JCAP have very good collaboration.

In the context of South Asia, it has helped the major superiors not only to discern inter-provincial and supra-provincial issues and needs like Lok Manch, Migrant Assistance and Information Network, Solidarity in Formation and Apostolic Needs but also some important needs like higher education of the provinces and regions. I think we need to protect and promote this new form of governance.

In the spirit of the vow of poverty, our apostolic institutions, educational or otherwise, are God-given resources entrusted to our care for the sake of His mission. Therefore, all our lay partners, especially women, have great stakes in administering them in partnership with Jesuits. But what is the role and extent of lay, especially women’s, partnership in the policy-making and administration of our apostolic institutions? Are there any reliable data available on the progress individual provinces have made in lay partnership?

Even before we examined the vow of poverty, there was collaboration in practice in the Society. The lay collaborators were working with and for us. Some Conferences explored the breadth and depth more seriously. As members of boards, they made the collaborators part of the decision-making processes.

However, in South Asia, we have been slow in collaboration in its broadest sense. We do not count the laity as equal partners in our mission. Even when we offer them significant positions, we deprive them of decision-making powers.

In South Asia, we do not count the laity as equal partners in our mission.

Hence, the examen of the Vow of Poverty is a grace to the Society. It revealed to us that Jesus, poor and humble, is at the center, and that all the resources of the Society are for His mission. This is a very comprehensive vision, which has brought some conversion among us. So, we need to not only take care of the resources but also put them to best use especially for the poor. Here, we need consistency in our conversion to take it forward specially to understand that all apostolates are of Missio Dei and all of us are partners. It will take some time to become a reality.

The Synod on a Synodal Church is a path-breaking initiative of Pope Francis for the future understanding and praxis of the Universal Church. Given that our Jesuit (Vidya Jyoti) or Jesuit-run (Papal Atheneum) theologates fall under your administrative domain as POSA, what has been the Jesuit contribution to the synodal understanding and practice of the Indian Church of the future?

Some of our professors gave leadership to synodal processes in the dioceses and at the CBCI level. Both the faculties of VJ and JD conducted many educative programmes and seminars for the laity, church personnel and the formees. They preached recollections, wrote articles and published books. It was a great contribution. Thanks to their efforts many are aware of this great initiative of Pope Francis.

However, synodal Church is not a cerebral concept. It is a path-breaking process, requiring the conversion of the heart and mind. We need to practise it everywhere and make the Church a discerning, collaborative and networking, co-responsible body.

When critical voices are silenced, can we Jesuits, along with the Catholic and Christian laity and other secular voices, do something in the field of media?

I was wonderstruck at the achievement of ‘Loyola Education Network for Social Communications’ (LENS), the Madurai Province media venture, situated in Loyola ITI, Madurai. LENS, a 7-year-old institute, has a long list of achievements. It has initiated a series of training programmes: Monthly Media Education Forums, Creative Writing Skills & Cartoon Workshops, Film Festivals & Appreciation. Furthermore, it has established a Monthly Media Publication Series, ‘SILAMBAM’ and a YouTube channel called Loyola TV Madurai online channel, which has been telecasting videos on themes like motivation, leadership, the Jesuit life and mission for the last two and a half years. LENS has to its credit 5.91 K subscriptions and 13,24,551 views.

If a small enterprise like LENS can do so much, we as the Catholic Church can do much more. There are several small efforts like this. We need to identify and support them. We need not invest much and create elephantine structures. All that we need to do is to come together, pool our ideas and support endeavours like these within and outside the Church. We need to encourage and enthuse creative and critical minds. Once again, the need for collaboration and networking.

A veteran social analyst and activist and a former MDU Provincial, Fr Aloysius Irudayam, SJ, is a member of INI’s Editorial Board.