CAN WE TALK ABOUT JESUS? – Jesuit schools in a multi-faith context
“Jesuit schools are to create opportunities for students to ‘bump into’ the person of Jesus.” Over 120 Jesuit school principals gathered in the Loyola Retreat Centre from 27th February to 2nd March to discuss the challenges and opportunities that the religious plurality in Europe pose for their schools in the countries they serve. The objective of the Jesuit Secondary Education Conference (JECSE) this time was to discuss the question “Can we talk about Jesus – Jesuit schools in a multi-faith context?” P. Ferenc Holczinger SJ, Hungarian delegate and member of the steering committee noted that education is a priority and significant structure for the Society of Jesus in fulfilling their mission, as it was emphasized by Fr General Arturo Sosa SJ at the congress for Jesuit education delegates held in Rio de Janeiro in October 2017.
According to Brian Flannery, Education Delegate for the Irish Jesuits and conference steering committee member, “The plurality of religions found in Europe today is both enriching and challenging. We have a more colourful public discourse but we can encounter barriers – sometimes the very mention of the name Jesus can inhibit dialogue, even within the Catholic tradition. We wanted the conference to consider this contradiction and to give confidence to our head teachers that Jesus, far from being an obstacle to dialogue, can become the source and the means of an open, deep and fruitful dialogue in a multi-faith world”.
Two keynote speakers, British Jesuit and former headmaster Adrian Porter and Dennis Gira, theologian, and French writer of North American helped with the discussion.
Fr Porter guided delegates through five key encounters with Christ in the life of St Ignatius. It became Ignatius’ mission to share these experiences and Fr Porter translated them into five key questions for head teachers in Jesuit schools:
• How do you propose to your students and alternative vision of life based on the values of the Gospel? (Inspired by St Ignatius’ dream of the call of the king.)
• How do your students come to a deep knowledge of Jesus? (Inspired by St Ignatius’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land.)
• How do you move them from knowledge to intimacy with Jesus? (Inspired by St Ignatius’ sensory immersion in the Gospels.)
• How do you talk about vocation in your school? (Inspired by St Ignatius’ vision of Christ at La Storta.)
• How do you create a sense of worldwide community through the network of Jesuit schools? (Inspired by St Ignatius’ establishment of the international Society of Jesus.)
Fr Porter believes that Jesuit schools are to create opportunities for students to ‘bump into’ the person of Jesus through liturgy, prayer, challenges raised in class discussion, and relationships and community in the school, and propose an ‘alternative vision of life’ to students, different to what they’re being bombarded with from popular culture on a daily basis.
Dennis Gira, a specialist in Buddhism, offered rules of engagement for real and effective dialogue, emphasized the need for a profound respect for the ‘other’ without pre-judgement and with complete openness to them. He talked about the real challenges posed by inter-cultural dialogue, by giving the striking example of how in western culture the table is the centre of the living room as a spot where people gather to eat and talk and share together. The westerner in a Japanese house finds themselves very disoriented because there is no table – simply an open space. Consequently they may find themselves at a loss regarding how to communicate and interact with those present. Yet this is precisely the gap that has to bridged and it’s not easy”.
The delegates, in a “world café” model of engagement, reflected on the six major challenges identified by Fr General Arturo Sosa SJ in Rio de Janeiro in 2017:
2. education for justice;
3. education in care for our common home;
4. safeguarding children;
5. experience of the transcendent and
6. global citizenship.
The delagtes, sharing their individual experiences, considered how best to meet the challenges.
In the congress 18 counties were represented, 12 languages spoken, but English, French and Spanish were the primary forms of communication. In JECSE the diversity of Europe with all its challenges, political, educational and linguistic, is being held together by the spirit of St Ignatius.