We could not meet face to face in Lyon as intended, but nevertheless, in an atmosphere of friendship, education delegates in the JECSE network met online (November 18-20) for our annual gathering. Our main theme and focus for the three days of the virtual conference was on how to deepen awareness of our Jesuit mission – amidst all the challenges of our European context – by starting an in-depth reflective process as companions on the same journey.
Moving into depth together
Matthieu Daum, our facilitator, took us through such a ‘discerning process’ following the ‘Theory-U model’ for awareness-based change. Through deep listening and intentional speaking (an interior attitude close to our well-known Ignatian spiritual conversation) this U-model encourages a deep sensing together of the current context first. Resisting the temptation to immediately jump to solutions, it then invites us to explore what we’d need to let go of (in ourselves and in our current system) to open up – as a community – to what wants to be born anew. This requires opening the mind, heart and will (which means suspending initial judgment, cynicism and fear) to be receptive to how the spirit moves us.
So together we first explored the various challenges we are facing in Europe at present, and how they affect the way we can currently shape our Ignatian paradigm. The increasingly complex reality of education is what we currently experience as a main challenge; how to stay focused on our ‘higher mission’ in such a complex day-to-day reality, facing multiple urgencies? Other challenges shaping our context are the economization of education in general and growing state interference with confessional education in particular. As well as the need to creatively address the field of interiority, spirituality and faith in a secularized and multi-convictional environment. All of these realities combine to make our mission in the current European context very demanding.
We then went into more depth around what to let go on behalf of allowing an authentic sense of renewal to arrive. Even online it was an intense experience to share such a process as a delegates group. We learned it is critical to clearly define the starting question and to do this together; and also, to allow this question to evolve. We found the process cannot be hurried and ‘efficiently controlled’; we would need more time to let it unfold.
And we learned about the essential interconnectedness of ‘the system’, its mission-awareness, its people-friendliness and its attentiveness to its context
Our key discovery was, that the collective process is key and a treasure itself. As for renewal we felt we would need to regularly facilitate time and ‘gentle spaces’ to slow down, reflect, meet and share – ‘green spaces’, as our Spanish colleagues name them – for the different stakeholders in our schools to make our learning-journey together.
It is through practicing this greater attentiveness in our (personal and professional) lives and in our dialogue with others, that as a school community we can learn to discern our way forward, and to accompany each other on our ‘learning journeys for the greater good’.
It is also this appeal that Father General Sosa sj currently makes to us in all our apostolates: to go on a journey as a community, to start this process of discernment, and to accompany each other in this process.
As for JECSE, this dynamic is what we are actually aiming to offer at the European level in our conferences as well as our new key programs, like the Ignatian Leadership Program, the new Ignatian Pedagogy Program, and our upcoming European pilot of the Educate Magis online Ignatian Spirituality Course.
A core mission of reconciliation
As for our mission in education, we feel the need to paint a more coherent horizon.
Over the past decade there have been a number of important new statements and a series of different events on the theme of Jesuit Education at the global level.
This has given rise to a renewed awareness of being part of a global Ignatian family, of different provinces sharing the same mission and pedagogical paradigm, albeit adapted to local needs and possibilities. Collaboration and networking have become the new way of proceeding. Educate Magis has enabled the emergence of an online community of schools in the Jesuit network by facilitating the sharing of stories and best practices, of new initiatives and inspirations.
The document on the 4Cs emphasized the link between Ignatian spirituality and pedagogy and went on to properly describe what we mean by – academic ánd human – excellence in Jesuit education. The first meeting of education delegates from around the world (2017) went on to devise a new plan of action (The Rio Statement) for all the regions in the global network.
Only last year ‘The Living Tradition’ was published, representing a culmination of ongoing discernment on Jesuit education over the last 40 years. It brings together the insights of earlier documents and integrates them into a new framework for our times. It points to the needs of the world and suggests ten identifiers or horizons as constituting our distinctively Jesuit response.
And most recently, an interactive infographic was developed which integrates all these documents – as well as the UAPs – in pictorial form. This is no mean feat as it successfully brings a unity and a coherence that was very much needed. See: https://www.educatemagis.org/infographic-integrated-perspective/
At the very center of this integrated infographic, we see that the core of our mission is that of reconciliation: reconciliation with each other as fellow human beings, with God and with creation. This is a step-by-step process, starting with fostering an attitude of heartfelt empathy in our school communities, through creating spaces for contemplation and in-depth dialogue, to becoming more sensitive to each other, to nature and to the inner voice of the Spirit.
And it is in fostering this same atmosphere that we can embrace Fr. General Sosa’s recent request to regularly review the schools in our Jesuit network in regard to where they are in shaping our common mission, building good relationships and deepening self-awareness within our school communities. Considering the importance of this topic we dedicated a separate article to it by Brian Flannery (JECSE Steering Committee).
You will find another separate article on the last topic of our meeting, around the Covid Crisis and the deep impact it has had on our schools, reporting on the experiences and in-depth reflections of Klaus Mertes sj, as a principal of one of the German schools in our network.