BY CLARISSA ALJENTERA | February 8, 2022
Set on the lands of the Hohokam peoples and the Akimel O’odham nation (known today as Scottsdale, AZ) more than 60 educators and ministers from across the Jesuit network in the U.S. gathered for conversations around the intersections of Ignatian spirituality and antiracism at the first Ignatian Spirituality and Antiracism Gathering. The gathering, held at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale in early January, was cosponsored by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, the U.S. Jesuit Provinces, and Jesuit Antiracism Sodality of the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus.
During three days of presentations, prayer, and dialogue, the group gathered, built community, and found kinship around shared work and values. Attendees were a cross-section of educators, lay parish ministers, and Jesuits across four U.S. Jesuit provinces (East, Midwest, Central and Southern, and West). This allowed individuals to see the intersectionality of antiracism and Ignatian spirituality alongside the experiences of multiple geographic realities through presentations, prayer, and individual reflection.
Attendees had varying levels of experience with the Spiritual Exercises. “This gathering was one of deep reflection through an opportunity to enter into the Spiritual Exercises, which afforded new perspectives on each Week and a greater sense of commitment to the Ignatian principles with which we so often engage: discernment, being a loved sinner, and finding God in all things,” said Deena Sellers, director of equity and inclusion at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, AZ. “I was particularly moved by the passion, authenticity, and vulnerability shared by all in attendance. It was a really inspiring experience, and the sense of renewal and rededication was what I brought back to my school community.”
Parish representatives engaged in opportunities alongside secondary educators building relationships and encountering the Ignatian Exercises briefly together. “The struggle is real and is being felt all over the country,” said J. Allen Jones, Jr., a parishioner at Gesu Catholic Church in Detroit, MI. Jones recalled that this gathering helped him feel that this struggle wasn’t done in isolation—“it is a journey.”
The gathering included intentional small group spaces alongside larger presentations to break open the work across the provinces and highlight what parishes, schools, and ministries were undertaking. Mass and morning prayer bookended the days together, pulling in the theme of antiracism through songs, prayer selections, and preaching.
On the first night, the gathering opened with a land acknowledgment and transitioned into a first look at how and why the work was positioned around the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and antiracism. The evening closed with individuals gathered in a group of 4-5 people whose work had common threads either as ministries, parishes, schools, or institutions.
During the first full day, presentations focused on the first and second weeks of the Spiritual Exercises, connecting the concept of being beloved sinners looking at racism as the sin of division. The next movement looked at Jesus’ life, bridged to Christ as a person of color.
The second full day looked at Week 3 through the lens of Jesus’ passion, death, and the crucifixion in the suffering of people of color. The last session correlated with Week 4 and Christ’s resurrection and the power of possibility.
As part of the last activity of the gathering, small groups were tasked to create lamentations that reflected their own experiences or were reflective of their group’s experience as a way to move the work of antiracism forward. The lamentations’ tone took on emotions of sorrow, anger, and grief. The themes that emerged from the lamentations addressed privilege, whiteness, and being in shared relationships with women and men of color.
The invitation for those engaged in partner institutions and organizations helped highlight how to engage one’s Catholic faith. “It is critical that we see the work of antiracism as a core part of what it means to be a Catholic,” said Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network. “Our love for God is rooted in our love for each other. Racism is an obstacle to us all when it comes to living the way God hopes for us.”
Throughout the weekend, there were intentional gatherings of individuals engaged in shared work at high schools, parishes, or outward-facing ministries to talk about challenges within the work of antiracism. Before Mass and the closing of the gathering, provinces gathered, and individuals reflected within their group on what actions they would take moving forward.
“The work of becoming antiracist, anti-prejudice, and anti-hate needs all of us,” said John Igwebuike Ph.D., director of school culture at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, IL. “Our African forebearers said it well: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. My fruitful takeaway is that all of us must work together, strive together, and go together to eliminate racism.”
Clarissa V. Aljentera joined Ignatian Solidarity Network staff in 2022 as director of Education for Justice. She holds degrees from San Jose State University and Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and has worked as a campus minister at Northwestern University, for the Archdiocese of Chicago in faith formation working with programs engaging young people, engaged couples preparing for marriage, and racial justice initiatives. Before working in ministry, Clarissa spent 10 years working as a newspaper reporter. She lives in Chicago, Illinois with her husband and son.