For their annual meeting, the JECSE Education Delegates were invited in Albania this November by Fr Jimmy Bartolo sj, delegate for the Euro-Mediterranean Province.
In Tirana we received a warm welcome, prepared by Fr Zef Bisha sj and the Jesuit communities’ wonderful assistant Ms Nevila Zeneli. They explained the complicated history of their country, as it has been struggling through long periods of Ottoman invasion and devastating communist suppression; and the impressive role of the Jesuits, among which their works of reconciliation among families caught up in matters of blood feuds. Today holistic education, interreligious dialogue, and strengthening lay-Jesuit collaboration are part of their dedicated mission. In Tirana, still a colourful intercultural place, we visited among other interesting spots the cathedral that in communist times was hidden by a concrete wall and turned into a social centre, hoping that people would forget its history and meaning as a sacred place for Catholic religious. For the delegates this was a unique opportunity to get to know the unfamiliar context of the Albanian college that is part of our network.
Our actual meeting took place in the Seminary in Shkoder, in the North of Albania. An important topic was the role of the Education Delegate, who is indeed in a position of major importance if it comes to supporting different colleagues in the local network (heads, teachers, pastoral coordinators and formators) ánd strengthening the link between important developments at the local, regional (European) and global level. Delegates and a number of coordinators reflected and shared on their specific (sometimes very different) settings and mandates, on their inspiration and challenges, on what they consider key-aspects of their role, and on what may support them in their work. Their reflections are an important ground to proceed from, not only in JECSE but also in ICAJE, to review the role of the delegate at the global level.
Also the three JECSE Task Forces (started during last years’ meeting) presented their proceedings. In line with last years’ reflections of the Task Force for Formation on what would be a first need within JECSE, Mr Paul Yperman was asked to present the North-West European (cross-sectoral) lgnatian Leadership Program which he facilitated, and which the Task Force thinks can be of huge importance within JECSE to offer in-depth formation for people in leadership positions in our schools (including the delegates themselves) during many years to come. The focus of the program is very much on learning ‘a style of discernment and spiritual conversation’, that can deepen personal experience but also be transferred to the school community as a way to deepen reflection and sharing on how to shape Jesuit education in the context of today.
We feel there is a strong coherence here with Fr General Sosa’s suggestion to ‘start and accompany processes’ linked to the new Universal Apostolic Preferences through this dynamic of ‘leadership and discernment’. And also with the new document on ‘Jesuit education – A Living Tradition’, that Fr José Mesa sj presented during our meeting as ‘ a living document’; and that, as Eamonn Mc Guinnes, director of Educate Magis, emphasized, is unique and extra valuable since it will develop in time through the input and involvement of our school communities. A document that will also be helpful during the virtual colloquium preceding the next global colloquium on Jesuit education in Yogyakarta, in the summer of 2020, on the theme of ‘Education for depth’.
Likewise, the Task Force that wants to support the schools in the difficult but important field of Safeguarding presented its plans for a conference in the same period, to be organized together with the Centre for Ignatian Pedagogy in Germany (ZIP). For this conference Headmasters from all of our European schools will be invited together with one other (expert or support-) person from their schools to deepen reflection and help implement truly living protocols and training models. As Fr Franck Janin sj emphasized during his introduction of the topic, it is very important not to narrow the subject to prevention of sexual abuse, but to learn to be aware of different kinds of abuse and to establish a true ‘culture of integrity’ in our schools. The plan is to have a follow up procedure to support the schools after the conference. For schools in need of resources in the meantime, various materials developed by – or in collaboration with – the ZIP were made available, like a list of minimum standards, a risk analysis and an introduction and road map to help schools work with both.
Apart from the work done in the Task Forces, JECSE’s progress during the last year was focussed on strengthening collaboration and reflection on its further direction. In the coming years, regarding its conferences for different audiences from our European schools, JECSE will be moving into the important theme of ‘accompaniment’.
How accompaniment can be truly lived, we witnessed on our last day in Shkoder, when we visited the Atë Pjetër Meshkalla school, where Headmaster Fr Giangiacomo Ghiglia sj told us about past and current challenges, while Sr Valentina told us about the inspiring program the school is providing in spite of these. After some students showed us around, others surprised us with a beautiful Albanian song and a colourful traditional dance.
We finished our journey with a moving Eucharist near the confronting museum on ‘Totalitarianism in Europe’, at the very place where the 34 martyrs who remained faithful during captivity in times of a severely brutal communist regime, were held prison or were executed.
When we left the country, we could not suspect that within two days it would be hit by a severe earthquake. As Fr Ferenc Holczinger sj, Hungarian Education Delegate, expressed: “This is very sad. I came back feeling blessed and with deep sympathy for the Albanian people. We walked on holy ground, in the country of the martyrs. I pray with them for those affected by this natural calamity.”