Interview with Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator SJ at the end of Father General’s visit to West Africa Province (AOC) of the Society of Jesus

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Jude Forbi SJ (JF)Father General, Arturo Sosa SJ is visiting the western part of Africa and the central part of Africa and with us here, we have Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator SJthe President of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM). Father welcome!

Fr. Orobator: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

JF: Father in your welcome message to the General who is visiting West Africa and Central Africa provinces, you stated that Father General is going to discover the vibrancy, the passion of the Jesuits and their partners and the church in this part of Africa.

So far, what do you make of his visit at this stage in West Africa Province?

Fr. Orobator: I would say that I am not disappointed. The hospitality, the warmth and the vibrancy with which he was received firstly in Chad and then in Cameroon; it was just phenomenal. Father General actually expressed the desire to experience the Easter celebration for the first time in Africa. He began in TChad with the Holy Thursday celebration and then came to Douala in our parish of the Annunciation, Bonamoussadi and experienced the Good Friday celebration. And the real climax was the Vigil Mass at Bonamoussadi where he saw the passion, the vibrancy, the energy of faith that is so prevalent in Africa. I think it’s been a wonderful visit to this province.

JF: What really stood out from the speeches, conferences, and presentation that you are grateful for?

Fr. Orobator: I am particularly grateful for Father General’s presentation of the Universal Apostolic Preferences. You can see he gave a presentation that really brought out the deep roots of this process, also, the path that is ahead of us. It’s an invitation for all of us not to rush but we need to take time to assimilate so that it becomes our guiding star and not just something which we take off or we try to fit existing ministries into. But it becomes something that orients our vision, guards our paths and also empowers us to launch out in bold (…..). For me, the key moment of the speeches and presentations was when he talked about the Universal Apostolic Preferences: what they mean, what the call us to do and the path that they open for us. I hope that all of our companions, not only in West Africa province but the universal Society would get a chance to listen to this presentation and use this presentation for communities, for works across the society.

JF: Father in the provincial’s own speech, he talked about restructuring the province. How do you react to that?

I want to think this is not the first time you’re hearing about it.

Fr. Orobator: No! It’s not the first time and it’s not the first time we’re talking about restructuring. Restructuring goes by the long way and if you remember, Father Adolfo Nicolas invited the Society of Jesus to look seriously and also provided guidelines for restructuring. So the whole idea that the provincial mentioned fits into this same tradition and into this same path in our Conference in Africa and Madagascar. You probably know that in Southern Africa, there is an advanced process for restructuring the three apostolic jurisdictions. So the idea of the provincial fits also within that. But it’s not just a question of restructuring as in re-drawing the lines. The provincial is very clear: it is mission that drives this idea. The provincial’s idea is how can we be more effectively and apostolically relevant and not be bound by linguistic barriers, geographical barriers and cultural affiliations but that we are actually free to make the best of the structures around us. And this also in line with what Father Arturo Sosa said that the province is a convenient way of administrating, of governing but it’s not the only way. Are there more effective ways that lead us to re-envision how we are reconfigured, how we are configured as provinces? I think that’s what the provincial was inviting us to. And again, it’s not an administrative process. It’s a process of discernment. So what the provincial is encouraging us to start is to engage in this process of discernment that is not only limited to West Africa but also includes the entire conference of Africa and Madagascar.


JF: What words of reassurance do you have for us Jesuits in Africa as far as our expectation is concerned with respect to the Universal Apostolic Preferences: how we receive it, how we continue to understand it, and how we implement it?

Fr. Orobator: One of the consolations I had when I sat in the room where the General met the Jesuits in Douala and Yaoundé and some other parts of the province was to see how young the demographic of Jesuits in that room – there were a lot of young Jesuits, young newly ordained priests, scholastics in, formation but also Jesuits who are advanced and mature. For me, when you put that in the context of the Universal Apostolic Preferences, it gives us a vision of the future. That, the Universal Apostolic Preferences are really a gift to the Society of Jesus in Africa and Madagascar because it’s a young society and now we have something to look forward to. And not just to look forward to, we also have the youth, the energy, the passion, the vitality, as well as the experience, the depth, and the maturity. I think that is a perfect recipe for the future that I think is apostolically, profoundly prolific and productive and constructive for all of us in this conference.

JF: Thank you very much, Father. It was good to have you in our province to welcome the Father General, Arturo Sosa SJ. You will be heading to Congo-Kinshasa now for the rest of the program to attend the JCAM meeting. We wish you well, we pray with you in this process of discernment and meeting with Father General.

Fr. Orobator: Thank you very much

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