Synodality in the Mission and Life of Our Educational Apostolate. JECSE Annual Delegates Meeting 2023

Education Delegates and Coordinators from JECSE (Jesuit European Committee for Primary and Secondary Education) met in Drongen, Belgium, from 28 November to 1 December to share experiences and strengthen collaboration. It was for us an opportunity to talk about the challenges of our educational apostolate and discuss how we can face them together.

Offering hope in a time of hopelessness

We began the meeting by sharing updates from each region. We were strengthened by the testimonies of many of our colleagues who showed how, in the midst of wars in our region, natural disasters, post-pandemic challenges, increasing secularisation, teacher shortages and demographic decline, our schools are caring for and empowering young generations. We were particularly moved by the testimony of the delegate for education in the Near East, Fr Denis Meyer SJ, who came to us from Beirut. Despite the enormous needs, the unimaginable crisis where everything is falling apart, our schools in Lebanon continue to provide high-quality education and are a place of hope for young people. It was also a call for us to continue to join forces and support them so that young people do not lose access to education and can rebuild their devastated country in the future.

Synodality as a lesson of unity in diversity

Our special guest at this meeting was Sr Nathalie Becquart XMCJ – Undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, the first woman to have the right to vote in the Catholic Synod of Bishops. We were honoured and grateful that, despite her many responsibilities, she accepted our invitation and shared her unique experience and testimony with us.

Sr Nathalie gave us an insight into how the current Synod differs from previous ones and what our educational world can learn from the fruits of the October Synod session. Synodality as a lesson of unity in diversity has a particular message for our diverse but united by common mission educational network. It is therefore important that we reflect together on how we can create space and time for such a synodal experience for ourselves, our staff and our students.

We concluded the meeting with Sr Nathalie with a special time of prayer and reflection. In a Spiritual conversation prepared for us by Fr Jimmy Bartolo SJ, we asked the Holy Spirit to help us discern how to become synodal leaders for our schools and networks. This short retreat-style time was an important moment to stop, listen to the voice of the Lord and seek how to follow in the footsteps of our Master Jesus.

Called to strengthen educational apostolate

During meeting in Drongen we were also honoured by the presence of two distinguished guests. For the first time we met with the new President of the Jesuit Conference of European Provincials (JCEP), Fr Dalibor Renić SJ, who is also the new President of the JECSE Board. It was an opportunity to get to know him and his perspective on Jesuit education, to share with him our insights into the mission entrusted to us. Fr Dalibor  also shared with us the important information he received from Father General for our network of schools. We were called to continue our mission and given the task of strengthening the educational apostolate in Europe.  Guided by these words, we reflected together with our President on what kind of JECSE we need in our region and how to build a strong network of Jesuit schools in Europe, the Near East and Central Asia.

We were also privileged to host Fr Jose Mesa SJ – Secretary for Education of the Society of Jesus. The meeting with him allowed us to learn more about the context, current challenges and tasks of the Jesuit Global Network of Schools. We are grateful to him for his words of support for our current work and for his guidance on the direction we should take in the future.

Facing future challenges together as a community

Both meetings led to a session where we jointly planned further cooperation and important activities to be carried out in our network in the coming months in relation to the implementation of the JECSE Strategic Development Plan. During the meeting, we felt a strong call to walk together hand in hand, because only together we are able to fulfil our mission.

The time spent in Drongen was extremely enriching, allowing us to experience in practice what it means to build a synodal community, albeit diverse, united in a common mission. We hope that many new initiatives and plans for cooperation can now be successfully realised, and that next year, when we meet in Hungary, we will share the fruits of it.

We would like to thank all the participants for the great atmosphere at this meeting and for building a lively network of cooperation and accompaniment. A special word of thanks we would like to pass on to the hosts of the meeting – Education Delegates from the Northern Belgium – Bob van de Putte and Frederic van Rampelberg for their hospitality and warm welcome.