Laughter and Learning: JesWeb in London

May 23, 2023 in Featured News, News

Pat Coyle, Director of Irish Jesuit Communications, was among 19 people (Jesuits and colleagues working in the area of communications in Jesuit provinces all across Europe) who attended the annual JesWeb conference this May, Monday 8-11, 2023.

The event, hosted in London by the British Province at the Royal Foundation of St Katherines », got off to a good start as participants shared food and drink specialties from their different countries, including Spain, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, Malta, Italy, Hungary, Portugal, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Britain, Switzerland, and Ireland. The chocolates, cake, cheese, wine, and liqueurs were a welcome treat each evening at the ‘social’, which rounded off a hard day’s work nicely.

The input sessions began on Tuesday after Mass, at which British Jesuit Provincial Damien Howard SJ presided. He also opened proceedings in the event room where participants were led through an individual Examen process and invited to review their mission and ministry at home. Small group sharing on their reflections followed.

Over the next few days, there were various inputs, discussions, and activities. JRS UK » made a presentation on their use of Twitter to promote their mission of advocacy for and accompaniment of refugees. The quality of the photos they used was widely appreciated and a discussion ensued around the use of images of actual refugees, which the JRS team in Britain choose largely not to do.

Flanders Jesuit and internet chaplain Nikolaas Sintobin joined the group by Zoom to explain how he attracts modern-day ‘seekers’ through his imaginative work which is largely online » apart from his books ». He spoke of how he presents Ignatian spirituality and indeed Christianity with little explicit reference to either. This gave rise to some interesting questions.

Rick Timmermans from the Netherlands got those present out of the room and into the garden to work in small groups. Each was tasked with setting up an Instagram account from scratch on either Ignatian spirituality, the Jesuit mission, social justice, etc. Each group had half an hour to get their brand new account live and containing three posts, video, photos, and text. (see photo). To everyone’s surprise, they managed the task (with varying degrees of professionalism) And after the presentations, Rick revealed that he had asked AI (artificial intelligence) to create a presentation for him on how to conduct a practical workshop on Instagram.

Frances Murphy, editor of the British Province’s online journal Thinking Faith », updated people regarding a new venture into podcasting that they have undertaken in order to try and reach a younger audience.

Emma Holland of the online prayer podcast Pray As You Go » also updated people on the team’s expanding vision for the platform which included more languages and an innovative ad campaign aimed at younger people.

Rebecca Somerset from the British Jesuit Archives » presented on the ongoing development of the British Jesuit archives in digital mode. The thorny question of the digital storing of content from varying platforms came up and it is clear that as yet Jesuit provinces are still seeking the best method of ensuring digital archive material is preserved for future generations.

An important discussion took place on Tuesday evening regarding communication and the issue of child sexual abuse within the church and the global Jesuit order. The overall message, that in any communication ‘the survivor must always come first’ and that great care must be taken to avoid causing any further distress to survivors in any communications, was widely welcomed and endorsed by those present.

Wednesday afternoon saw the gang of 19 being safely shepherded through the London underground by British Communications Manager John McManus. He was leading them into the center of London to the Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception » and the provincial house and curia in Farm Street, Mayfair. There they were treated to a tour of the works in the curia by David Birmingham SJ, which included a visit to the recently restored archives with its impressive collection of old, rare books.

This was followed by a tour of the Farm St church » with Fr Dominic Robinson SJ. He detailed the history of the church, the suppression of the Catholic faith, and the suffering of Catholic martyrs and Jesuits such as the Tyburn martyrs. And he pointed out artworks of significance in the now central London church which was once part of the countryside.

On the last day, a special presentation of an EU logo embossed T-shirt was made to Philip de Bruyne SJ. Philip, now 75, is retiring from his communications role, and Herminio Rico SJ and Pat Coyle paid warm tribute to him on behalf of all the JesWeb people present and all those he had worked with down the years. “You were a prophet,” they told him, “always asking us to look forward to the future and the latest communication developments. Always asking ‘what shall we do next’ and always being unfailingly kind.”

The meeting concluded with an examen prayer focusing with gratitude on the learning of the previous days and looking to the year ahead. An invitation from Hungary was extended to host JesWeb 2024 in Budapest.