As we all know, to work in a school is a continuous challenge. The school, Colégio das Caldinhas, located in Portugal, and which I’m writing to you about has a particular complexity, as it includes five schools and a thermal spa. The pastoral work involves many ages and many ways of understanding school and education. We have;
• a kindergarten – API, with children from a few months to 5/6 years old.a regular and technical school – INA, with pupils from 6 to 18/20 years old.
• OFICINA, a new technologies technical school, with teenagers from 15 to 18/20 years old.
• A technical school for music – ARTAVE, with pupils from 13 to 18 years old.
• And a Conservatory – CCM, with pupils from 6 to 18 years old.
We are two Jesuits dedicated to the pastoral ministry and we receive great help from a team of professionals from all five schools. We gather weekly to think of ways of presenting Ignatian spirituality to our pupils, in order for them to achieve tools for their lives. Our idea is that Pastoral Care can be the heart of the school, that vital place where hidden life beats…
Beyond the daily presence in halls and recesses, there are some activities for the pupils. We work together with the psychologists and social workers from the different schools. We also may count with the support of the sports Association from our school that works with some pupils to whom Pastoral ministry is unfamiliar.
Each class goes out once a year for a reflection day where they reflect more profoundly on a specific subject related to the “Theme of the year”. Pupils are accompanied by a representative of the Pastoral team and their tutor.
Twice a year, the whole community gathers for the Eucharist at the sports gym. Once to celebrate our Patron Saint, in November, and once during the week of the canonization of Saint Ignatius, in March. In this week, the three schools in Portugal gather again with activities for the different classes and teachers and staff from each school. A week full of emotions to celebrate the life of Saint Ignatius.
There is a group of Alumni from the last two years who help in the Pastoral ministries. We meet with them once a week to talk and discuss about human relationships and spirituality.
Networking is very important to us. For some years now, the three schools of the Society of Jesus in Portugal gather their pupils, especially the seniors, in some activities where they deepen their faith. On those weekends, we approach subjects evolving faith and how to make decisions. We also gather a group of pupils on Easter triduum, where they can live the central Mystery of our faith in a different way. For the most committed pupils, we organize a trip to Loyola and Xavier for them to have an immersion in the roots of the Society. With regards to networking, for a number of years now some schools in Portugal and Spain work on the same pastoral theme. For us this is a great work of close collaboration and sharing of materials.
During summer, we have the much anticipated summer camps. Ten days spent in the countryside, bathing in the river, and working on dimensions such as service, friendship, nature, and relationship with God.
There are so many challenges! One of our schools is going through a difficult time. For more than forty years, the Portuguese government had a protocol with Jesuit schools, financing education, since there weren’t any public schools in that region. The government has now completely withdrawn that funding, relocating pupils to public schools far from ours. Families are now starting to finance the studies of their children, but in a poor area like the one the school is in, the solution for many is to give in to the new policy and move their sons and daughters to public schools chosen by the Public Administration. One of the direct consequences is the dismissal of teachers, staff and administration. Pastoral ministry is working more and more, not only with families, but also with teachers and staff dealing with their mourning processes in seeing their fellow colleagues being dismissed and fired due to the reduction of the number of pupils. Now, more than ever, it is important to work on the cura personalis, a characteristic so central to the Society’s pedagogy.
What fills me with great hope in the beginning of a new year is the look of each pupil arriving to the school, full of dreams and the desire to be better.
I encourage other pastoral ministries to share their work with us. There is a topic we are dealing with that we would particularly like to explore: how should we propose pastoral ministry and activities in technical schools? If you have any ideas, please be so kind as to share them with us.
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The Educate Magis Community is growing in invaluable friendships and relationships thanks to community members who share their experiences, challenges and hopes. Samuel Afonso, the author of this article, is one of those active members who constantly seeks to connect with other members, to learn about their cultures and to generate creative and instructive conversations with others. We would like to thank Samuel and all the members from the community who share wonderful articles like this one. This is a collaboration that enriches us all and allows us to know more about Samuel and his school so we can reach out to him for future collaboration.