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Universal Apostolic Preferences

Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus, 2019-2029


Dear Friends in the Lord

The Universal Apostolic Preferences, which I am promulgating with this letter, are the fruit of an Ignatian election. That term indicates that what we have done is choose among several possibilities, all of which are good.  What we have sought to do is to find the best ways among many to work together in God’s mission, and contribute what we have and who we are to serving the Church. It is our desire to serve God and promote the common good, better and more effectively.

The process involved the Society at a range of levels over sixteen months. I presented the Holy Father with the four Universal Apostolic Preferences that emerged from that discernment:

A. Showing the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and their practice of discernment

B. Walking with the poor, the outcasts of the world, and those whose dignity has been violated, in the mission of reconciliation and justice

C. Walking together with young people, to build a hope-filled future

D. Working together to care for the earth, our common home

In his letter of 6 February 2019, Pope Francis confirmed these preferences. He observed that “the process that the Society followed to come up with these universal apostolic preferences was truly one of discernment.” He also pointed out that they align with “the current priorities of the Church, especially since Evangelii Gaudium, expressed through the ordinary magisterium of the Pope, Synods, and Bishops’ Conferences.” Pope Francis indicated that “the first of these preferences is foundational: it presupposes as a basic condition Jesuits’ relationship with the Lord, in a personal and communal life of prayer and discernment,” adding that “the other preferences will not bear fruit without that prayerful attitude.”

I. Universal Apostolic Preferences 2019-2029

The universal apostolic preferences that Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach formulated have now guided us for over fifteen years.1 Responding to them, the Society began workstreams that we must continue. These include our specialized presence in Africa and China; the responsibility of the whole Society for the inter-provincial works in Rome which the Popes have entrusted to us; our substantial work in the ministry of higher education; and serving refugees and migrants. During the next ten years, the following preferences will guide us in making the mission of fostering reconciliation and justice take flesh in all the apostolic services to which we, along with others, have been sent.

A. Showing the way God through the Spiritual Exercises and their practice of discernment

We feel that secular society represents some profound challenges for the Church’s work of proclaiming the Gospel. As believers, we urgently desire to overcome various forms of secularism as well as nostalgia for cultural expressions that now belong to the past. We are resolved to work together with the Church, understanding secular society as a sign of the times:  it provides an opportunity to renew our presence at the heart of human history.  A mature secular in fact makes space for all the complex dimensions of human freedom—especially religious freedom, since it provides the conditions that can lead to religious processes that are personal. When people are free from social or cultural pressure, they can ask large questions. They can choose to follow Jesus freely, to belong to a faith community, and live out their Christian faith in their own social, economic, cultural, and political context.

The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola are an effective instrument for making the life and work of the Lord Jesus present in today's world, in all its different social contexts. We are therefore committing ourselves to living more fully in the spirit of the Spiritual Exercises, so that they will lead us to a personal and communal encounter with Christ that will then transform us.2

At the same time, we are committing ourselves to offering the Spiritual Exercises in as many forms as possible. We want to make them available to many people, especially the young, to help them begin to follow Christ or to grow in discipleship. Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises and the spirituality that grows from them is our preferential way of showing that the way to God comes through being committed to the mission of Jesus Christ that sets people free.

We are also resolved to promote discernment as a regular practice for those who have chosen to follow Christ. We are committed to practicing spiritual discernment ourselves and spreading its practice, both personal and communal. Discernment guided by the Holy Spirit is the normal way of making decisions in our lives, our apostolic works, and our faith communities. It involves choosing to seek and find the will of God, always letting ourselves by guided the Holy Spirit. In this process of discerning the Society’s apostolic preferences together, we have in fact experienced a renewal in our “way of proceeding”, i.e., our characteristic Jesuit culture. As a result, as we implement these preferences, we resolve to make regular use of spiritual conversation and communal discernment at all levels of the life and mission of the Society.3

We also want to share with others the most basic discovery in our lives:  that Ignatian discernment and the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius show the path to God. We want to follow the call to immerse ourselves more deeply in knowing and experiencing Ignatian spirituality, out of a living, practical, and concrete faith. Being familiar with God makes for solid faith; it comes from a life of prayer and enters into dialogue with other religions and with all cultures. Our faith makes itself visible when we work for that justice and reconciliation whose source is the Crucified and Risen One. Jesus leads us towards the crucified of today’s world so that we can be bearers of hope in the new life that the Lord gives us. We live our faith in a community that witnesses to hope.

B. Walking with the poor, the outcasts of the world, and those whose dignity has been violated, in the mission of reconciliation and justice

We have been sent out together as companions in the mission of reconciliation and justice.  It is our desire to walk alongside those individuals and communities who are vulnerable, excluded, marginalized, and whose very humanity has been impoverished; with the victims of abuse of power, conscience, or sex; with the outcasts of this world; and with all those people the Bible calls the “poor of the earth,” to whose cry the Lord responds with the Incarnation that sets them free.

Being close to the poor, “announcing his Gospel of hope to the many poor who live in today’s world”4 is the necessary condition for becoming companions on the journey as Jesus did. That involves going out to people on the margins of society with a lifestyle and ways of working appropriate to their own situations, so that they can believe in the way we are present with them. To do this, we are committing ourselves, at all levels of the Society, to discerning who are the most vulnerable and excluded among us - and to find ways of walking closely alongside them.5

The path we want follow with the poor promotes social justice and changing those economic, political, and social structures that cause injustice. That path is a necessary part of the reconciliation of individuals and whole peoples and their cultures with one another, with nature, and with God. Caring for indigenous peoples and their cultures and fundamental rights has a special place in our overall commitment to reconciliation and justice in all its dimensions.

We confirm that we are committed to caring for migrants, displaced persons, refugees, and the victims of wars and human trafficking, and to defending the culture and the dignity of indigenous peoples.  We seek to help build a culture of welcome, walking with all these groups as they integrate into society, and to promote the defence of their rights.

We want to contribute to strengthening political democracy by providing solid civic formation, especially for people who live at the lowest levels of society. We support social organizations committed to seeking the common good in order to help counteract the terrible consequences of various forms of neo-liberalism, fundamentalism, and populism.

We promise to help end abuses inside and outside the Church, by seeking to ensure that victims are heard and helped appropriately, justice is done, and wounds healed. Our commitment in this area includes adopting clear policies aimed at preventing abuse, ongoing formation for those working in mission, and the effort to understand the social roots that lead to abuse. Taking these steps will help us build a culture that protects all vulnerable persons, especially minors.

We join with many other people and institutions in promoting a culture of hospitality6 and safeguarding the rights of children and others made vulnerable by changing social structures.7

Walking with the poor also means improving the quality of our studies, analysis, and reflection, so that we can understand deeply the processes in the economy, politics and society that are the causes of so much injustice. We must also contribute to building alternative models. We commit ourselves to supporting one form of globalization  - one in which the world’s many cultures are understood to be part of the patrimony of humanity, the range of different cultures is protected and exchange between them is fomented

We walk alongside the poor, inspired by our faith in God, the Father of mercy, who invites us to be reconciled, as the foundation of new humanity.

C. Walking together with young people to build a hope-filled future  

As the Church seeks to perceive and discern the movements of the Spirit at this moment of history, the Church wants to make its own the viewpoint of young people and their place in the world is — something the 2018 Synod on Youth recognized.  The poor and the young are complementary and inter-related topics for theological consideration. In today’s world, young people, most of whom are poor, face enormous challenges. These include reduced opportunities for employment that provides economic stability, increased political violence, discrimination that comes in many forms, and the gradual deterioration of the environment. All of these make it difficult for young people to find meaning in their lives and to draw closer to knowing God.

Youth is that stage in life when each person makes the fundamental decisions through which they become part of society, seeking meaning in their lives and ways to make their dreams come true. Walking alongside in the young in these tasks, sharing with them the Good News of Jesus Christ, and discerning with them enables us to show them the way to God that goes by way of solidarity with humanity and building a more just world.

Young people continue to be open to the future, hoping for a life of dignity in a reconciled world that is in harmony with the environment. The viewpoints of young people can help us understand better the change of era that we are living through, and the hope that it brings. Today, in the transformation of humanity that is coming into existence through today’s digital culture, opening us up to a new era, the most important roles are played by the young. We are living through a period of change which is going to give birth to a new kind of humanity and a new way of putting together the personal and social aspects of life. Young people are the bearers of this new mode of living that has the capacity give light for the path towards justice, reconciliation, and peace that comes from the experience of meeting the Lord Jesus.

The works of the Society of Jesus can contribute in important ways to creating and maintaining open spaces for young people in society and the Church. Our works aspire to be open to the creativity of the young, spaces that foster both the initial encounter with the God of life revealed by Jesus, and deepen already existing Christian faith. Our works should help young people discern the path by which they can achieve happiness by contributing to the well-being of all humanity.

Young people live in the tension between the impulse toward cultural homogeneity and the emergence of a human society built on the sort of inter-cultural encounter that respects diversity and is enriched by it.  The logic of the market economy leads to homogeneity. But young people seek a diversity that emerges from exercising true freedom and that opens up arenas of creativity, in which they contribute to building a humane society that consists of many cultures. From that basis, they will be able to dedicate themselves to building together a culture of safeguarding that guarantees a healthy environment for children and young people and the conditions in which all people can develop their full human potential.

Walking together with the young demands of us that we live authentically, with spiritual depth and that we are open to sharing the life-mission that gives meaning to who we are and what we do. When those conditions are in place, we can learn side by side with the young to find God in all things, and through our ministries and works, can help them live out this stage of their lives with greater depth. Walking with the young sets us on the path of conversion - personal, communal. and institutional conversion. 

D. Working together to care for the earth, our common home

Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si’ that we all share responsibility for caring for creation, which many peoples look on as ‘mother earth’: “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her through our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. (...) This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she ‘groans in travail’ (Rom 8:22)”.8

The harm inflicted on the earth also hurts the most vulnerable people of our world. These include indigenous peoples, peasant farmers who are forced to emigrate, and those who live on the outskirts of large conurbations. The environmental destruction that the dominant economic system causes is harming whole generations of people: it affects not only earth’s current inhabitants, especially the very young, but also predetermines and jeopardizes the life of generations to come.

Considering who we are and the means that we have at hand, we should collaborate with others in developing alternative ways of life based on respect for creation and sustainable development that produces goods that will ensure a decent life for everyone on our planet if they are distributed justly. The long-term preservation of the conditions for life on our planet is an immensely important spiritual and ethical responsibility. Our collaboration should include taking part in efforts to understand problems deeply, and fostering reflection and discernment that will move us toward decisions that will help to heal the wounds already inflicted on nature’s delicate balance. We must take special care of the areas that are so crucial for the balance of nature that life itself depends on, e.g. the Amazon region, the river basins of the Congo, India, and Indonesia, and the wide expanses of the oceans. Caring for nature is one genuine form of venerating the God who is at work in creation. We must boldly take decisions that avoid wreaking further damage and that will change how we live our lives so that the goods of creation are used for the benefit of all. In that shift, we must be present and active.

Laudato Si’ reminds us that “disinterested concern for others and rejecting every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the environment.”9  It is a logical conclusion that Christians need  “an ‘ecological conversion,’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the environment. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue.10

We simply have therefore to go beyond our own concerns and care lovingly for everything that is good for others. We cannot live reconciled with creation if we are not able to break free of stagnant individualism. 

For Jesuits and our companions in mission alike, conversion begins by changing the habits that an economic and cultural system  based on consuming an unreasonable production of goods encourages. The words of Pope Francis move us in this direction: "There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle.11

II. Guided by the Spirit

The process we have undertaken has its origins in the winds of Church renewal that the Holy Spirit set in motion at the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. That same Spirit is present and active today in the Church, and it has also been at work in General Congregations 31 to 36, which have put the Society through a demanding process of spiritual and apostolic renewal. Inspired by our first companions in Venice in 1537, as they pondered where the Spirit was leading them,12 the 36th General Congregation has sent us forth as companions on a mission of reconciliation and justice.13

Inspired by the words of Pope Francis, the delegate at GC 36 felt the need to return with greater trust to our origins and to the practice of communal discernment. As we have shared what we experienced of GC 36 over the months, we have come to realize the grace in discerning in common, at all levels of the body of the Society. This has meant that many of us have rediscovered some aspects of Ignatian spirituality. In seeking together the way of Jesus, we have taken up spiritual conversation and communal discernment anew, in order to find God's will in our life-mission. We have experienced the grace of experiencing internally that we are indeed one body, and that by growing in indifference and availability, we are becoming more of a discerning community with expanded horizons.14 With these apostolic preferences, then, we are committing ourselves to continuing on the path that we have begun by taking up this fundamental dimension of our life and mission.

We have lived through a process that has brought about, step by step, a consensus that we believe the Holy Spirit has guided. We began with many doubts and concerns, not knowing the way forward and struggling with our own scepticism. Like the First Companions we come from a range of origins and cultures, with different ways of seeing and understanding. But like them we have also discovered that we share a desire, a common passion to serve Jesus as He carries His cross to all the ends of the earth.  Slowly we have learned to believe and to trust. We could say that the Lord has taken us by the hand, like a teacher, just as he guided Ignatius in Manresa.15  The contributions from Jesuit communities, apostolic works provinces and regions, and from men in formation have provided a vital starting point for our reflections.

The contributions of the six Conferences of Major Superiors were surprisingly like-minded. Like the first disciples, we rowed out into the deep and found ourselves in the midst of the storm, but we were amazed to experience how the Lord came to us. It is he, the Incarnate, crucified, and risen Lord, who shows us his wounds and invites us to join with him in the quest for justice. He drives us on toward new frontiers, walking alongside those whom society has rejected, announcing the Good News to one and all, so that the love of God might transform them. Day by day, our hardened hearts have also been changing, becoming filled with mercy and compassion.

This process has taught us that these universal apostolic preferences are a way for us to continue to be guided by the Spirit. They are also an instrument for deepening the life-mission that GC 36  called us to, involving spiritual and apostolic renewal, incorporating into our daily lives discernment, collaborating with others, and linking institutions with one another in our shared work.  

We are deeply convinced that these preferences will help the apostolic body of the Society if they clearly align our life with our mission ; and if we understand them as pointers that are more than just about “doing something” but rather about the real transformation of our personal lives, our religious communities, our apostolic works and the institutions where we work side by side with others. Consequently, while each preference points to some important aspect of our ministries, it also invites us to a renewal of our own lives, so that our work will be credible and effective.

The preferences seek to make concrete the mission given to us, which is in fact the Lord’s response to the cry of a wounded world; to the cry of the most vulnerable, who have been displaced and marginalized; to the empty rhetoric that divides and fragments our cultures; to the growing gulf between rich and poor; to the cry of the young who are seeking hope and meaning; to the cry of the earth and its peoples, worn down to the point where their very existence is at risk; and to a world in which entire generations have never heard of Jesus and his Gospel.

Our Church has been battered by the sin of its members and all the suffering this has brought in its train. It is sailing through mighty storms. In the Society we have become painfully and humbly aware of our own weaknesses and sin. When we stand before the Lord, we feel shame and inner turmoil as we ask him to forgive us, heal us, and show us his merciful love. Only as sinners who are forgiven and loved can we go forward. Only if we ourselves have experienced God’s compassion individually and together can we bring his compassion to others. Our own experience of being loved and saved gives depth and energy to our desire to serve in God’s mission. In the very challenges of our wounded world and our own wounds alike, we can hear the gentle but insistent call of the Lord.

The universal apostolic preferences seek to deepen our personal, communal, and institutional conversion. They are a guide for improving both the apostolic work of the body of the Society as a whole and the many different ways in which we carry out our ministries, which are where the preferences will take flesh. The preferences also seek to help Jesuits and our companions in mission make their ministerial lives a pathway to God. We want to invite all people to follow the path opened up by Jesus of Nazareth, the path which we ourselves are on as we follow in his footsteps, encouraged by his Spirit.

These are not simply our preferences: in discerning them, we have followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who has guided and inspired us. They were confirmed by the Pope and handed to us. Like Ignatius and the First Companions. we trust that the Holy Father is the one who can best see all the needs of the world and of the Church. The universal apostolic preferences will help us to overcome all forms of self-centeredness and self-interest so that we can become true fellow-workers in the Lord's mission that we share with so many others—both inside the Church and outside it. The preferences are an opportunity for us to feel that we are “this collaborative and least Society.”16

III. Required conversion: personal, communal, and institutional

The Contemplation to Attain Love17 begins with a point that seems obvious but which we must always bear in mind: "Love ought to show itself more in deeds than in words.” The process of discerning our universal apostolic preferences has filled the participants with a profound sense of gratitude for the abundant graces received. At the same time, we have experienced a strong call to personal, communal and institutional conversion.

Receiving these preferences means that we must begin to put them into practice immediately - by changing any lifestyles or ways of working that hinder the renewal of all the people, communities, and works committed our mission. We are inspired by the response of the first apostles to Jesus’ call: they promptly left behind their nets and their lives as fishermen to set out on the path of discipleship following Jesus.18 After these preferences have been promulgated, all the Society’s apostolic units of will be provided with resources to help planning how to put them in to practice effectively.19 One necessary aspect of our conversion is being responsible for seeking and properly managing the economic and financial resources needed to support the work the universal apostolic preferences inspires.20

The call is to share the life and mission of Jesus Christ. This call has as its source the love of the One and Triune God who is not paralyzed by the situation of the world, but who sends Jesus to take on a human life and then to give it away so as to open the doors to divine life, out of love for all human beings. In dying, Jesus shows the greatest love, love that is stronger than death. Accepting that call means giving one’s life for a love that is expressed in acts of justice and reconciliation; it means becoming transformed into authentic followers of Jesus and active members of the Church and the Society that serves the mission in partnership with so many other persons. Conversion enables us to play our part in the mission: conversion to believing Good News that the Reign of God is at hand, and conversion to a lively faith that shows itself in works that make it possible for the promises of God to be fulfilled in human history.

Keeping vividly in mind the experience of the First Companions in Venice, GC 36 invites us to return to our roots. With them we once again discover our own foundation in “what they ... found to be life-giving: sharing their lives together as friends in the Lord; living very close to the lives of the poor; and preaching the Gospel with joy.”21  When our communities are places for communal discernment, where a life of prayer is encouraged, the Eucharist shared and spiritual conversation practiced, we will be able to share the gift of discernment, letting the Spirit guide us in all our apostolic works. Living simply and close to the poor awakens the creativity we will need to be able do more with less.22 And it lends credibility to our apostolic work offered freely to others.

At the same time, responding to the call of the universal apostolic preferences means we will need to strive more than ever for the intellectual depth that our foundational charism and tradition demand; and that depth must always be accompanied by an equivalent spiritual depth. The Society is committed to the intellectual apostolate because intellectual depth should characterize all the apostolates of the Society of Jesus. We desire to continue serving the Church through the intellectual apostolate, expressing our religious faith with intellectual substance.  All members of this apostolic body are thus called to continue their formation throughout their lives. Since depth of intellect demands habits of thought, we must not neglect ongoing formation. If we fail in this regard, what Society contributes to the Church’s mission will not live up the demands of the Ignatian magis.

The apostolic renewal of the Society of Jesus that will flow from putting the universal apostolic preferences into practice depends on greater collaboration—among Jesuits and our companions in mission, between our ministries and apostolic units, with other bodies in the Church, and with all the people and institutions that contribute to reconciliation among human beings, with creation, and with God, all of which realities which are inseparable.  GC 36, confirming the orientations of GC 34 and GC 35, states that “mission is deepened, and ministry is extended by collaboration among all with whom we work. 23

In the process of discerning these preferences, our collective experience confirms what GC 36 had to say: “Noting remarkable progress in collaboration across the Society, obstacles remain. … Inclusive discernment and ongoing planning and evaluation of our efforts to go beyond the obstacles is required in order to mainstream the participation of mission partners further in various levels of the Society’s apostolic activities and governance.”24 Making collaboration fully a part of our life-mission is essential. Without it, our desire to render greater service to the Lord’s mission in our works and our way of life will run the risk of not happening.

With these universal apostolic preferences, we are setting out to focus and concretize our apostolic energies during the next ten years, 2019-2029.  We accept them as a mission given us from the Church by Pope Francis, who has approved them and confirmed the communal discernment that the apostolic body of the Society has undertaken.  As a body obedient to the Holy Spirit, our responsibility now is to plan diligently and put them into practice in all dimensions of our life-mission. The preferences are intended to set in motion a process of apostolic revitalization and creativity that will help us better address the needs for justice and reconciliation. So let us take up this process, developing it and assessing it in accord with persons, times, and places,25 in the light of the Church’s orientations and the Spirit’s guidance.

May Our Lady, the Mother of the Society of Jesus obtain for us from her Son the grace of integrity of life, so that preaching what brings us to know the Lord better and doing what we preach, we may be witnesses of the love of God poured out upon humanity, and impelled by the Holy Spirit, effectively work together for the reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Rome, 19 February 2019 

Arturo Sosa's Signature

                                                                                              Arturo Sosa, S.I.

                                                                                              Superior General


(Original: Spanish)

1 Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach led the Society of Jesus as its Superior General from 1983-2008.  In 2003, he articulated the priorities mentioned in this paragraph.

2 See GC 36, d. 1,18

3 See Pope Francis, Gaudete et exsultate, 167 and 169.

4 GC 35, d. 2,13.

5 See GC 36, d. 1,15.

6 See GC 36, d. 1,16.

7 See GC 36, Matters entrusted to Father General.

8 Laudato Si’, 2.

9 Laudato Si’, 208.

10 Laudato Si’, 217.

11 Laudato Si’, 211.

12 See Autobiography of Ignatius of Loyola [93-95].

13 “This reconciliation is always a work of justice….The Cross of Christ and our sharing in it are also at the center of God’s work of reconciliation.” GC 36, d. 1, 21.

14 See GC 36, d. 1, 7-16.

15 See Autobiography of Ignatius of Loyola [27].

16 A reference to “this least Society,” a phrase of St. Ignatius, referring to the Society.

17 Spiritual Exercises [230-237]. Cf. 1 Jn 3, 8.

18 See Mk 1, 14-20.

19 For example, see

20 “General Congregation 36 affirms that, keeping in mind our commitment to poverty, various financial strategies, opportunities, and implications must be considered in apostolic planning and decision-making at all levels of Society governance.  The Treasurer and other skilled and knowledgeable persons should assist in these processes.” (d. 2,18).

21 GC 36 d. 1, 4.

22 See GC 36, d. 1, 11-16.

23 GC 36, d. 2, 6. Cf. GC 35, d. 6, 30; GC 34, dd. 13 and 14.

24 GC 36, d. 2,7.

25 A phrase of St Ignatius, counseling paying attention to context in ministry.