“Human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord.”
Today began the first full-day of JESEDU-Rio2017. The previous gatherings in Boston and Manresa have set the bar high, but the atmosphere of yesterday’s inaugural day has allowed this Congress to have an ideal start.
The Congress began last night with the Inaugural Mass presided by Fr. João Renato Eidt, SJ, Provincial of Brazil, and this morning Fr. José Alberto Mesa, SJ, Secretary of Secondary and Pre-Secondary Education for the Society of Jesus, gave the official welcome to the Congress. His welcome address focused on our common responsibility for the global network, emphasizing that the work of JESEDU-Rio2017 will be centered on the challenge of creating a common agenda for our global educational work and the formulation of global responses to the four main topics of the Congress: innovation, interreligious dialogue, social justice and ecology, and networking. Fr. Mesa encouraged us to “think globally without losing local roots in order to accomplish our joint goals as a network.”
A key concern in the planning of JESEDU-Rio2017 was to provide a methodology that produces the greatest possible impact in the global network. To achieve this, our starting point was the lessons learned from SIPEI (Manresa, 2014), which served to develop the central methodological elements of JESEDU-Rio2017. First, it is intended that each participant be an active subject throughout the meeting, playing a specific role in order to prioritize active participation and interaction. A second element consists in the keynote talks already discussed this past March and April during the Virtual Congress, allowing the keynote speakers to now share their reflections based upon the comments and reactions they received to their original document. And lastly, it is noteworthy that Ignatian spirituality is incorporated within the Congress’ structure. In this way, the spirit of prayer and reflection permeates all the sessions, making the Congress a spiritual experience in daily life. It is also worth mentioning that the methodology is inspired in communal discernment, fostered through moments of prayer, reflection and Mass that are integrated throughout the daily schedule.
The first day’s sessions were focused on the dialogue that emerges from an educational tradition that invites innovation. This morning we listened to our first keynote speaker, David Laughlin, president of St. Louis University High School in St. Louis, Missouri (USA). David’s speech began with his main reflections from the presentation made during the Virtual Congress. He emphasized that innovation lies at the core of the Society of Jesus and its mission throughout the world, noting its presence since the Society’s founding. This affirmation led to the question of how do we use innovation and adapt according to our history as we move forward, followed by the call to revisit the structure of the past as an essential element to determine how the Society will continue to serve its educational mission. David also stressed the call to not be afraid, since fear and the “tyranny of the immediate” can often impede us from the necessary process of innovation and adaptation, as well as limit our awareness of the global dimension of our network.
In the discussion that ensued after David’s presentation, participants warmly welcomed and concurred on the importance of this invitation to innovation in education, pedagogy and networking. Furthermore, they affirmed that the diversity of our local contexts should not be a barrier to innovation, nor an obstacle to deepening relationships within our network. Rather, our local contexts represent part of the richness that we rely on to promote innovation.
During an animated conversation, the shared interest in the innovation of Jesuit education was highlighted among participants. In light of this, discernment was identified as a fundamental element to continue enriching the educational mission of the Society of Jesus, not only among provincial delegates of education and representatives of regional and global networks, but also extending it among the entirety of administrators, teachers, collaborators, parents, students and all those that form part of our educational communities. Other elements shared among participants included the organizational structures of our educational centers, the emphasis placed on the direction we want to go in with regards to innovation, concrete examples of educational innovation, and the importance of maintaining the central elements of our tradition to illuminate processes of innovation.
Innovation is at the core of our educational tradition, in the pedagogy employed in our educational centers, in the local and international experiences we expose our students to, and in our general way of proceeding. If today’s activities are any indication of what this Congress will represent, we are in store for a week full of enlightening and enriching speeches, conversations and group reflections.