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First International Congress Convenes Jesuit Educators

“What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What must I do for Christ?” - Spiritual Exercises #53, Ignatius of Loyola

November 1, 2017 — After three years of discernment, conversation and collaboration, Jesuit education leaders from around the world gathered recently in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the first International Congress of Jesuit Education Delegates, examining the goals to be achieved as a global network of Jesuit secondary schools. Delegates representing the USA Midwest Province included Matthew Couture, Provincial Assistant for Secondary Education; Fr. John Foley, SJ, representing the Cristo Rey Network; and Fr. Jose Mesa, SJ, of Loyola University Chicago, who serves as Jesuit Father General Arturo Sosa’s General Secretary for Secondary and Pre-secondary Education.

It was important to bring together Jesuit education delgrates from around the globe "because we need to remind ourselves of our core identity, which is a global organization," said Couture. "Ignatius envisioned a global religious order, able to respond to any need, anywhere. Yet, our approach has Jesuits and partners enculturate locally, serving a particular community in a particular place. So we grow deep local ties, falling in love with people and their particular culture, making it easy to forget that those local ties, as good as they are, don’t define us in our entirety." 

The Congress began on Sunday, Oct. 15, with an opening Mass presided by Fr. João Renato Eidt, SJ, provincial of Brazil, and a welcoming address by Fr. José Alberto Mesa, SJ, secretary of secondary and pre-secondary education for the Society of Jesus. The first day addressed 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. 

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 for interreligious dialogue to 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 toward 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 participants took a pilgrimage experience through Rio de Janeiro, contemplating the world in its complexity and diversity. The participants took part in a day of spiritual experiences, 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.

To conclude the Congress on October 20, participants received Jesuit Father General Arturo Sosa, who presided over the final Mass. In his homily, Fr. General emphasized 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. 

"Father General feels we, in forming our students, need to 'do what we say',” said Couture. "That our interior reflects our exterior. This is very challenging and much in line with Pope Francis’ challenge of renewal."

Father General accompanied the group for the entire morning, delivering a speech to the Jesuit education delegates. After offering a brief historical review of the educational tradition of the Society of Jesus, Father 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 educators should embrace within 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…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.”

The Congress left participants hopeful, committed and able to see how God continues to work in our surroundings through our secondary education apostolate throughout the world. 

"The Midwest, our works and our people, are a key part of this global family," said Couture. "Like any good family, we need to pay attention, give our time and lend our talents to the fuller body. Our Midwest Jesuit schools do this well, and have done it for a long time, through immersion trips and sharing relationships, particularly with province partners in Kohima, East Africa and Peru. Because this is core to who we are, and our students will soon serve in an increasingly global context, we need to do this more and more."

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 the 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.

For Couture, connecting and enjoying meals with delegates from around, as well as visiting a Jesuit school serving a favela community were some of the highlights of the Congress. He said the meeting was also a reminder that "we are a global body, belonging to the Universal Church. As Pope Francis reminded the 36th General Congregation, 'The world is our home,' echoing the words of St. Peter Faber, SJ." 

[Source: Educate Magis]





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