“What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What must I do for Christ?” Spiritual Exercises #53, Ignatius of Loyola
After three years of preparing the Congress, we have arrived at its conclusion. This is the end of a conversation of the discernment about what we want achieve as a global network that began in the International Colloquium for Jesuit Secondary Education (ICJSE) in Boston, Massachusetts (USA) in 2012 when leaders of Jesuit high schools from across the world affirmed the importance of creating a global educational network among Jesuit secondary schools. This came from the call of the 35th General Congregation to see ourselves as a universal body with a universal mission. It was then reaffirmed in Manresa, Spain, in 2014 with the International Seminar on Ignatian Pedagogy and Spirituality (SIPEI). This conversation continued with the JESEDU Virtual Congress this past March and April and ended this week with the first International Congress of Jesuit Education Delegates.
The Congress began on Sunday with the opening Mass presided by Fr. João Renato Eidt, SJ, Provincial of Brazil, and the welcoming address by Fr. José Alberto Mesa, SJ, Secretary of Secondary and Pre-Secondary Education for the Society of Jesus. The first day dealt with an educational tradition that invites innovation. Mr. David Laughlin, President of St. Louis University High School in St. Louis, Missouri (USA), stressed in his keynote talk that innovation in education is a part of the Jesuit tradition and he highlighted its centrality in our schools. The discussion among participants referred to innovative experiences that have been happening in different regions and also affirmed the importance of discernment in helping us to figure out how to be innovative in education.
On Tuesday, Fr. Vincent Sekhar, SJ, member of the Institute of Dialogue with Cultures and Religions at Loyola College in Chennai, India, gave the keynote address, in which he focused on the need that interreligious dialogue should be an integral part of Jesuit Education in responding to a world characterized by secularism and growing fundamentalism. The participants discussed the importance of a more inclusive attitude towards other religious experiences that requires learning, exchange, tolerance and celebration to provide a peaceful space in order to promote coexistence and mutual understanding. In a world increasingly characterized by globalization, how do we prepare our students to be a part of a global context?
On Wednesday we had the pilgrimage experience through Rio de Janeiro, contemplating the world in its complexity and diversity. The participants left as pilgrims to partake in a day of spiritual experience and pilgrimage, with the invitation to contemplate our world with the eyes of God. Divided into five groups, they visited three places in the southern part of Rio de Janeiro, a city of 6.3 million people: a school of children under the age of 6 in the Santa Marta favela, the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the city of Rio, and the Botanical Garden.
On Thursday, Fr. Benny Juliawan, SJ, Secretary of the Social Apostolate and the Coordinator for the Migrant Network in the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific, gave the keynote talk and addressed the theme of social justice and ecology, both of which should be an integral part of Jesuit Education and the formation of our students as conscious and intellectually, ethically and spiritually mature individuals.
Concluding the Congress today, we received Fr. General Arturo Sosa who presided over the final Mass. In his homily, Fr. General reminded us that the leaven of the pharisees, which Jesus understood as hypocrisy, is an attitude from which we ought to free ourselves. He emphasized that the consistency of our life is a way of doing this (the fifth “C”). In fact, he mentioned that consistency should be a part of our educational paradigm, in which we try to educate our students so that they be consistent both in their internal disposition and attitude as in their external action. He accompanied us for the entire morning, delivering a speech to the Jesuit education delegates.
In his speech, after offering a brief historical review of the educational tradition of the Society of Jesus, Fr. General located our educational initiative in the universal mission “to be companions in a mission of universal reconciliation and justice” as described in the 36th General Congregation. In light of this, he stressed that “this Congress is an expression of the thanks we give to God and our benefactors in this area, an affirmation of the importance of the educational apostolate and a push to seek the audacity of the impossible that can carry us even further.”
Fr. General mentioned some of the specific challenges that we should take on as educators and as educational institutions of the Society of Jesus: (1) for our institutions to be spaces for educational investigation, true laboratories in innovation in teaching, from which we can draw new teaching methods or models; (2) without excluding any social class from our educational offering, we need to continue to make progress in educating for justice; (3) respect and care for our “common home” demands that our institutions train our students in the environmental dimension of reconciliation; (4) It should be evident that our institutions seek to protect minors and vulnerable individuals, preventing harm and acting immediately, effectively and transparently when needed; (5) the offering of religious training that opens students up to the transcendental dimension of life and that cultivates an experience of Christian faith that can transform personal and social life; and (6) although the concept of the “global citizen” is still under construction, our education should be a creative actor in this.
He also emphasized the importance of networks, highlighting that “it would be impossible to move forward without them.” Networking is part of how we do things, which “means that our schools need to organize into local and regional networks, in addition to being open without reservation to the global network we need to complete. We should not be afraid to share programs, experiences, materials and even resources to put together our international network.” Networking among schools is not exclusive to the schools alone, but rather it means working as a network with the entire apostolic body, that is, with universities, centers of investigation, parishes, etc. “Only if we think and act in a joint, coordinated way, welcoming and incorporating the wealth of our local diversity, will we be able to use the network to take on global challenges that affect our local conditions.”
Fr. General encouraged the educational delegates in their provinces to be “partly responsible for the proper operation of the networks, on every level, [contributing] to the development of the global Educate Magis platform, and work in favor of a global citizenship that cares for the planet and embodies solidarity.”
He concluded his speech to the Jesuit education delegates citing Pedro Ribadeneira who in the name of Saint Ignatius in 1556 wrote to King Philip II of Spain: “all good in Christendom and throughout the world depends on the proper education of youth.” They are words that “are still valid for the Society of Jesus and the Church.”
This experience has left us hopeful and committed. We have been able to see how God continues to work in our surroundings through each of us and through our secondary education apostolate throughout the world. And we have seen the seeds that God has planted throughout the history of the Society of Jesus. Encouraged and grateful, we end the Congress with the disposition and motivation to continue building a global Jesuit network of secondary education.
The realization that we can face the challenges in our cities and countries as a global network represents a profound consolation. Our capacity to build bridges and dismantle barriers between faith traditions and between different realities constitutes a distinctive feature of Jesuit Education that our global network should continue to expand and deepen, so that our students can have a global and diverse outlook in their mission to transform the world.
The participation of other educational networks engaged in innovative educational work in different parts of the world enriched the conversations during the Congress. These networks include the Cristo Rey Network, Fe y Alegría, Jesuit Refugee Service and Nativity Schools. In addition, the presence of the presidents of three Jesuit Conferences of Provincials stressed the significance of this gathering in the Society’s mission today.
The conversation about this network now moves on to the next level: the launching of a common agenda as a global network of Jesuit secondary education. In the coming weeks, the Jesuit Education Delegates will review the action points and subsequently confirm the commitments reached to continue building and consolidating the global Jesuit network of education.