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First International Congress Convenes Jesuit Educators

October 27, 2017 — After three years of discernment, conversation and collaboration, Jesuit education leaders from around the world gathered last week 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.

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. David Laughlin, president of St. Louis University High School, stressed in his keynote talk that innovation in education is a part of the Jesuit tradition, and he highlighted its centrality in Jesuit schools.

On Tuesday, Fr. Vincent Sekhar, SJ, a 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.

On Wednesday participants took a pilgrimage experience through Rio de Janeiro, contemplating the world in its complexity and diversity. They visited three places in the southern part of Rio de Janeiro: 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.

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 the Society's educational paradigm, in which students are educated so that they are consistent both in their internal disposition and attitude as in their external action. He accompanied the group 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, Father General said the educational initiative in the universal mission is “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: (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 one's 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, such as with universities and parishes. “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. Sosa encouraged the 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 St. 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 their surroundings through the Jesuits' secondary education apostolate throughout 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 included 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.

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 delegates will review the action points and subsequently confirm the commitments reached to continue building and consolidating the global Jesuit network of education. [Source: Educate Magis]





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