The Cercle: with young people, for young people
Thomas d’Aquin Mbatna SJ, head of the Cercle of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso which is supported by MAGIS, tells us how the third Apostolic Preference was welcomed there with particular joy: “To accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future”.
The Society of Jesus has just defined its four Universal Apostolic Preferences. One of these is accompanying young people, which is in line with one of the Jesuit concerns in West Africa. Africa is a continent with a majority of young people. In both West and Central Africa, people under 25 already represent 64% of the population, an age group with an average unemployment rate of 60%.
By organizing a special Synod on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment, the Church has already drawn attention to the importance of young people in the evangelization and in the future of our world. The Society of Jesus follows the footsteps of the universal Church so as to better respond to the needs of the Church and the world. The fundamental orientation of life, in fact, is decided in the age group between 18 and 25.
But today the challenges for young people are enormous: “The uncertainty of relationships in the digital age, the difficulties in finding work, the increase in political violence, discrimination, environmental degradation. All this makes it difficult for them to establish personal and family relationships that support them, built on solid spiritual and economic bases.
It is therefore with great joy and hope that we have welcomed this Apostolic Preference here at the Cercle of Ouagadougou. This vision of the Universal Society of which we are proud to be part will enable us to strengthen and improve our support for young people.
The Cercle is a research and study centre for middle school, high school and university students. The Cercle offers many services to young people here in Ouagadougou. It provides students and workers with a research library and a sports ground. It offers spaces that allow a good concentration for study. It organizes regular courses for students of the third and final year of high school so as to prepare them for the final examinations.
Since they settled in the parish of Gounghin some 35 years ago, the Jesuits have felt the need to offer a workspace to the young people of the district to support them in their schooling. At the time, the conditions in which the students worked were still rudimentary. Many children, who did not even have electricity at home, gathered around public lighting or street lamps to study and do their homework. Jesuit missionaries wanted to provide a more appropriate and secure environment for study. So this space was made available to young people.
There is a saying that circulates in religious circles: “when you receive a Jesuit in your home and you lack a room, put him in the library and there he will be at ease”. This means that the library has always had a special place in the Jesuit apostolate. Even more so when it comes to the formation or accompaniment of young people. A few years after its opening, the Cercle library continues to provide good services to the young people of Ouagadougou. However, it needs to be modernized and implemented.
A workspace like the one we have today at the Cercle is more indispensable than ever. Besides being a place of study, it is also a place of meeting and sharing. We meet in human warmth to break the divisions that the digital age tends to create among the children of God. We also meet to break down religious barriers in a country where the Christian and Muslim populations live in close contact. We share knowledge and life experiences.
We are convinced of the importance of sport in places where young people meet. Our sports ground is very useful in this respect. Even if it is small, being inserted in the parish of Saint Pierre de Gounghin, and thus little used. However, this small sports complex remains the main attraction of the young people of the district. As for the lessons provided, the students who have already experienced one or more failures in the exams are the first ones to be admitted to the courses in order to receive assistance and support for passing the exams.
As a second condition, the students of the Cercle must come from poor families. The director first selects orphans, then those with sick parents and single mothers. It is only after these three categories of children that the remaining places can be offered to other students who have already experienced school failure. The objective at this level is purely social. With the help of partners such as Magis Foundation in Italy and other Jesuit organizations around the world, the Cercle is committed to responding to the needs of young people as widely as possible. The Cercle programme includes educational conferences and training modules that provide young people with complementary tools for research and job creation. In particular, activities in foreign languages, basic computer skills and management basics.
The place of young people in the history of the Society and the Province
Already in the bull of Pope Paul III who founded the Society of Jesus on 27 September 1540, we can see that the nascent Institute makes the fundamental choice of the “Christian formation of children and the ignorant”. The Society soon needed structures to provide adequate training for the young people who knocked on the door and for all the other young people who wanted to receive quality training and guidance. The Society’s interest in young people is somehow rooted in its DNA. Youth represents the hope and future of a people; it is the basis on which faith rests. Therefore, the formation of young people can contribute to peace and possible coexistence between different people. That is why, since their first years in West Africa, Jesuits have invested in youth ministry.
Here in Ouagadougou, the Cercle was created 34 years ago to provide young people with an intellectual work and growth environment able to accompany them in their studies. Since then, the Cercle’s activities have gradually adapted to the socio-political reality of the country and to the multiple needs of young people in Burkina Faso.
Today, it is with joy that we welcome the Apostolic Preference over youth. All of us Jesuits involved in accompanying the young people here at the Cercle and the Burkinabes who have benefited from the Cercle and who continue to benefit from its services.
Thomas d’Aquin Mbatna SJ
Burkina Faso | July 10, 2019