From January 22nd to 25th almost a hundred chaplains and pastoral coordinators involved in Jesuit (secondary) education – from 17 countries from all over Europe and as far as Albania, Egypt and Russia – gathered in Manresa for a JECSE Pastoral Conference. ‘(How) can we talk about Jesus in the multi-convictional context of Jesuit education in Europe today?’ was the main question for this conference, repeating and deepening the important theme of JECSE’s last Conference for Head Masters in Secondary education.
In this meaningful place of Manresa, where Ignatius discovered God’s presence in this world, we focused together on our common mission, as the soul of our engagement every day. Remembering Father General Arturo Sosa’s words during the last worldwide Conference for Jesuit Education in Rio de Janeiro, we started with the notion of reconciliation as being at the heart of our JECSE collaboration:
…striving for a kind of education that helps us to understand human beings and the world in all their complexity, so that that human beings can configure the world in a way that is more compassionate, and therefore more divine.
As the RIO action statement makes clear, spirituality and faith, infused with the experience of God, are essential in such transformative education. Our present context calls us to find new ways to transmit our faith and to be always sensitive and responsive to the signs of the times. Whilst our starting point is our beautiful Ignatian spirituality which has the teachings of Jesus as its cornerstone, we also wish to respond to the new quest for meaning and the need for true dialogue that can be found in our European, secularized and multi-convictional context today.
Ways to respond to the challenges of today
Our two key note speakers helped us to explore the depths of this theme and suggested ways in which we might respond to the challenges of today. Father Adrian Porter talked about why the Jesuits named their Society not after its founder but after Jesus Himself; about the spirit behind this, the connection to the Spiritual Exercises and about ways to creatively build on this tradition in our own context. Following St Ignatius’ essential encounters with Jesus, we grew to better understand the stages of development of his faith. Participants were invited to reflect afterwards on two questions: ‘who do I say Jesus is?’ and ‘who do we think he is for our students?’
Father José Maria Rodriguez Olaizola talked about the transmission of faith in education today, taking into account the genuine need to announce the gospel and to give our students the best we have to offer. He also emphasized the need to find new, authentic ways to do this because there cannot be only one way of uniting Gospel and life, as all our lives are very different. His analysis of the spurious and reductive nature of the cultural messages on what constitutes love, happiness and friendship was very powerful. He contrasted this with the deeper and radically different perspective our faith can offer, delivering us from the burden we have made for ourselves in our ‘feel-good’ culture out of the myth of unlimited success.
Practices from all over Europa
There was also plenty of opportunity to learn from each other’s experience and best practices from all over Europe, not only through sharing in dynamic groups but also through a range of workshops. Topics varied from ‘practicing interiority’ and ‘the examen’ to ‘educating the hero within’, ‘stages of faith development’ and ‘how to proclaim Jesus in a Muslim-dominated school-environment like in Kosovo’. These workshops allowed for a lively exchange of views and experiences.
In addition to the beautiful morning prayers and consoling masses we had the opportunity to discover the Ignatian sites of Manresa during a meditative walk. On the last morning we visited the monastery of Monserrat – the place where St. Ignatius left his sword and became the pilgrim – to have a guided tour and to celebrate mass there.
The otherwise positive and upbeat mood of the conference was dampened by several sad tidings from the teams from Belgium-South, Malta, France and Ireland on the sad and premature loss of students in their schools, and one colleagues’ young son, through fatal diseases. Our sincere prayers and sympathy go to the families and school communities who suffered these immense losses.