Let me begin by explaining to those of you, who are not aware, of a recent event in the Society of Jesus. Just three (3) weeks ago, on July 31st, the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Pope Francis celebrated mass with the Jesuits to honor the feast of Saint Ignatius in the Gesu church in the middle of Rome. Father General Adolfo Nicolas wrote to us that it was a very moving reunion of Pope Francis and the Society, and that it was a very moving experience to be there in the Gesu. Father General talked about the simplicity, the directness, and the warmth of this Pope. All of us are aware (I think it is not undiplomatic to say) that he has a different style, and the style, I feel, is going to help us because with the Church under Pope Francis, we can hope and increasingly move forward. The Church, I think, will be less Western and less focused on places like Europe and the United States, and increasingly looking to the South and to the East for the “Will of God”, for “What is the work to be done?” And I think the simplicity, the directness and the attention to the poor (that is going to be characteristic of this Papacy) is actually going to serve us because it will make us appeal, and appear to be more reachable for the people.
In the homily of Pope Francis, he called on us to remember two images. He is a Pope of few words and like a good Jesuit, he uses images. He said, “Recall Saint Francis Xavier on the shores looking to the land he could not reach,” China. And when we think of Saint Francis on the shore dying, unable to reach China, what do we think of St. Francis Xavier? Well, we think of zeal, we think of energy, we think of a passion for souls, we think of someone who is totally dedicated for the welfare of other people hungry to do God’s will and to go to places that are unusual, foreign or unknown to him.
The second image that he used was he recalled the last days of Father Pedro Arrupe; the General Arrupe joined those who are suffering, which he had always been attracted to and always thought extremely important. Recall the last days of his life when he had the debilitative stroke. He was left without speech, without the ability to move and care for himself, completely dependent on others. But the joy that came from Pedro Arrupe I remember because I visited him as a scholastic. I was just a young scholastic and it was, in fact, the feast of Saint Ignatius that four or five of us were allowed to go in and speak with him. We spoke to him and he just leaned. He could not speak to us, and he just had a beautiful face, yet this was a man who joined the suffering of the world, which he had always been interested in. There is a story, many of you, perhaps some of you know, that when Pedro Arrupe was a medical student before he became a Jesuit in Madrid, he volunteered with the Society to help pass out food to the poor and the hungry, and one day, he gave a roll, a small bread roll to a young boy and he said, “Well, I suppose this is your breakfast”, and the boy said to him, “No sir, this is my breakfast, my lunch and my dinner today”, and Pedro Arrupe said that he never forgot that. It was in contact with the poor that he was changed. It was the contact with the suffering in Hiroshima. You all know the story of him and the novices taking in people who had radiation burns; it was the direct contact with the poor. And speaking about the importance of contact, our next General [Kolvenbach] said that it is not in concepts that we become attuned to the needs of the poor, it is in contact. It is not in concepts that we’ll educate our students but it is in contact with those in need.
Now I want to remember those two images, first of all Xavier at the frontier and Pedro Arrupe with the poor and the suffering. I think these are two important images for those of us in education today.
Go to the frontiers, it was Benedict XVI who said to us at the opening of our General Congregation 35: “Reach the geographical and the spiritual places where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach”.
What are the frontiers today? You know, when we speak of new frontiers, we do not talk about space anymore. We mostly think of Science and Technology as frontiers. They are no longer geographical; they are now frontiers of knowledge, whether they are the study of the mind, or the study of disease or technologies that allow us to communicate more rapidly. These are what people think of as the frontiers. You and I know, as educators, that some of the frontiers today in education are not really Science and Technological frontiers. There are issues of environmental preservation and sustainability, and the justice issues that it raises. Those are real. Those are real frontiers. Issues of justice, reconciliation and peace among peoples, those are the real frontiers. The globalized world, the network world (as we now talk about it) is a world where these two frontiers, environmental preservation, and the justice issues that it raises, plus peace and reconciliation among people, and the justice issues that it raises – these are the two places that will trip us up, that if we do not address would destroy us. I think those two issues deserve a great deal of attention on the part of us educators, who are thinking “What is the purpose and mission of our schools today?” “In what way, are we creating, forming, or transforming our students to become men and women who can play a leadership role in environmental sustainability and peace and reconciliation among peoples?”
In Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII said that, “acute suffering implies that the shape and structure of political models are inadequate to the task of creating a more just world”. We just celebrated the anniversary of Pacem in Terris, a document that has never been fully realized in terms of its lessons for us. What he was talking about there is that the world will require a different kind of leadership than the leadership it has now, because we will need to invent new ways of interacting with one another.
Governments are unable to solve the problems happening in the world. When I spoke with the business deans of our Jesuits schools (we have perhaps 90 to 100 schools of business in the Jesuit network), I said to them the same thing: that governments are not solving these problems. I said, “But you can play a very important role.” Unfortunately, governments do not listen to intellectuals; they don’t pay attention to scholars. They pay attention to the economic engines that drive your country. They pay attention to business leaders and the governments do what the business community wants them to do, we know that. They deal with pressures; they will put off the plight of the poor, the plight of the environment, the plight of peace. They will put those away if economic considerations trumped those issues.
We produce business, engineering and scientific leaders. What are we doing to create the men and women who will shape the new future? The Society of Jesus has been known to have invented, if you will, the modern liberal arts curriculum. It was 450 years ago that we drew on (in the West) the Classics, the Greek, the best of Renaissance and we educated men and women to be leaders for the community by giving them the competence and the capability that will allow them to be in tuned to the needs of the poorest, the needs of the local community. And for 400 years, when you say Jesuit Education you mean academic rigor, you mean competence, you mean people, students who are well equipped to critically evaluate what is happening in society.
Fr. Arrupe, because of his suffering, added an extremely important element to our history. Competence is no good without compassion, and compassionate leaders are people who know what suffering is about and who know what injustice is about. The Jesuit education today has to be about critical reflection. It has to be about competence in the professions, but it also has to be one in which the men and women we educate become compassionate people who are attuned to the suffering of those who are the subjects of injustice. That was Fr. Kolvenbach’s “contact and not concepts”.
The question for us today is, how can we train our students to be aware not only of the issues of environmental sustainability, and peace and reconciliation but also, how do we make them aware of the justice, the injustice, components that those two issues are part of? How do we make them people who are involved, in what Father Kolvenbach called “the nitty-gritty”, “the dirt, the mud” of the world, so that they will become the people who are touched – the same way Father Arrupe was touched by the young boy who he handed the bread roll to. He said, “I would never forget two things in my life. That young man and the fact that the clock at the mission in Hiroshima stopped that 1 o’clock, and the world changed, time stood still.”
When Father Adolfo Nicolas talked in Mexico City three years ago, he tried to lay out two things, two important points. Many of you had read the talk and you know that the first part of the talk is about the globalization of superficiality. The fact that our students today, our young people today, are exposed to stimuli and media, and even knowledge that comes to them quickly with little depth. There is little rigor, there is little work, even, that goes into the discovery of knowledge. You know well, as educators, that it is very hard to let them memorize anything today because they don’t need to. There is always the cell phone and on the cell phone, you can get any knowledge about any fact that you need. So getting the young people to think today is a difficult thing. I would like to reflect for just a few moments on the first part of Father Nicolas’ talk, which was the globalization of superficiality as one of the characteristics of young people.
These comments are mostly about what we are seeing in the West, and I give them to you only because I would love to know how you see your students in the East, in Asia.
This is what we are learning to deal with in the Western world. First of all, our students in the Western world are privileged; we must begin with that fact. When we do a meditation or reflection on the students – where they are from, they are privileged. Their homes, their ambitions, their careers are set for them. The students who make it to a Jesuit University in Europe, United States and many places in South America – they are not the poor. There are people who are struggling and striving in many cases but because they made it to a Jesuit University, they are very likely set on a good course for life. We need to be sure they know that.
What will they become? We have to ask them. I tell our students when they come to the University for the Freshmen Assembly, “If this was the village and there are 100 young people born when you were born, only fifty-six would have gone to elementary school of the one hundred. Only twenty-eight of those one hundred would have finished their secondary school. And only one goes to the university. You are the one, of one hundred in the world that are going to this university.” So we know that, and I suspect it is true for many of our schools here. The fact that they are privileged is something we need to be very clear about.
We’re finding, that because of the way society is, they are morally adrift. We say morally out-at-sea, adrift. They know that there is a right and a wrong but they can’t explain why something is right and something is wrong. And most of their thinking is self-referential: I think this is wrong. I believe this is wrong. And if someone believes something differently, how can I argue with that? So, their morality is self-referential. It is individualistic and it is not based on any sound system. We could go on about this for a long time, I won’t. We can find that they are captives of consumerism, that their goals are acquiring things; even a career is an acquisition. But the first thing they will tell you about the good life is, is that it means a nice car, it means a nice house, it means a good salary, it means the ability to take vacations with your family, to put your children in good school, to live in the right neighborhood. They are consumers, of every new gadget that comes out.
What kind of a person are we becoming if we’re becoming a consumer of goods? What does it mean? There is a shadow side to the sexual revolution that they are discovering: they’re discovering that freedom, the lack of restrictions on their access to one another, is producing an emptiness, that is, relations between the genders, between the sexes and the easy access that they have with each other, that this is not so easy and not so positive as they were led to believe. They say, “I didn’t know there was a dark side to sexual expression and sexual freedom”.
And finally, this consumer mentality and these other issues that I have just mentioned have produced more civic disengagement. There is a feeling that these young people have, that “government is too big and beyond them” and that “government is powerless anyway and that control is in the hands of things like corporations, as well as governments, maybe just corporations,” and “It’s corporations that lead life and feed life, why should I be engaged?” “Why should I build my local community?” We don’t see more political involvement; we see less political involvement as people become more and more interested in their acquisitions in their small world. So, when I do a reflection on where are students are today in the West, what I think we really need to be serious with with our faculty is to get them to do the same reflection on the students that they are seeing and to begin to think about what is the purpose of a liberal education in a Jesuit institution today, if the world is changing them as people? We want them to go change the world, but the world is changing them first. What does this mean for a university education today?
But then, you may have a completely different situation but I think what Father Nicolas started in our reflection in Mexico City was the beginning of a meditation on who are the students and the world that they would want. Who are they today?
Let me close with just three issues that I think I am seeing. I move from the West now, trying to be more universal. What I see, as I go from areas like this region to other regions, I see issues that we seem to be struggling with around the world. What Jesuit education is struggling with. I will mention 3 things.
First, all of us in each region seemed to be obsessed with, in a good way, our mission and identity as Catholic and Jesuit institutions, and the challenge that we are facing in Latin America, in Europe, in the United States, in Asia, the challenge seems to be: how does the Catholic institution (like ours) – increasingly led by lay people – how does it carry on the Jesuit and Catholic mission? And I particularly want to focus on the lay people because they are carrying the mission. What programs are there for our leadership to learn about the charism of the Society of Jesus and Ignatian pedagoy, etcetera? What are the programs were we are training and encouraging each other in best practices? Could we be sharing more?
The second issue is the core curriculum. What should be the core experiences of every student who goes through this institution? I think there are some large issues that we want to commit ourselves to and I will give these two that should be embedded in the core experiences.
One is environmental sustainability, which I mentioned earlier. The students, the young people get their heads around this very quickly. They see it; they know the issues of water, issues of mineral resources, issue of climate change, issues of energy. They know those issues will consume their world and they already see, eventhough they are young (and they don’t like to read newspapers), they already see that these issues are changing the geopolitical dynamics of the world. For the ones who come to us, they know that the poor will be the last to get justice because the rich will be the last to feel the effects. The poor will feel the effects first (as they already are, whether it’s climate change or water issues or you name the issue), the poor are having it worst and they will be the first who will experience it and the rich will make sure that they will be the last to feel the effects of this huge changes.
The second issue is the inter-religious knowledge and dialogue. I think they are also aware vaguely (but we are aware more acutely because we are people who are interested in religion), that they need to know what their brothers and sisters – not of their own faith – believe in. They need contact with people of other religions. They need to understand those religions because they see that religious issues drive so many of the geopolitical activities around the world today, and no one should go to a school that calls itself Jesuit and Catholic who comes out ignorant, not only of Catholicism but ignorant of what others believe in. Where are we alike, what do we share, as human beings who are men and women of faith? So, I think, this is an incredibly important part of what an education could bring. It doesn’t have to be in the classroom. It doesn’t have to be in a formal curriculum. It should be in the experiences that they have: interreligious knowledge and collaboration, and environmental sustainability.
And the last thing, the last trend that I see is – I think we’re beginning to take advantage of the fact that we are a global network. We are the only group that I know of in the world that has 190 outposts, 190 branch offices, 190 places where we are already implanted in the local community, in higher education. That is a remarkable resource. When the United Nations, to give you an example, found out and discovered that we are interested in bringing higher education to the camps, to the refugee camps with Jesuit Common Higher Education at the Margins (this program is now moving four, five, six camps, and we’re planning to be in more camps), they jumped on this. They said, “The Jesuits can do it; you have resources all over the world. You are in Asia and there are camps in Asia. You are in Africa; there are camps in Africa. You are in Middle East, at least in some way, and there are camps there.” They want to support us because we have the capacity. If we educated by exchanging faculty and students, we could make a huge impact on producing not only citizens for the local community, but citizens for the globe. If we educated around the environment, we could make a huge impact on the new leadership that would be necessary to create the new structures that will deal with these issues, because the present structures, as we learned, way fifty years ago, Pope John XXII told us, are not adequate. And it’s true. Nothing is happening. If we put our minds to it and we’ve taught a generation of young people about how to respect, and understand, and work with people of different faiths, we could make a huge impact on the tensions that have accrued between Hindus and Christians, Muslims and Jews, Jews and Christians, and so forth.
I think those three, (1) the concern for passing on mission and identity to the lay people, (2) looking seriously to core curriculum, first by studying who our students are in the world that is creating them, instead of them creating the world, and finally (3) if we use the network, I think we will have reinvented Jesuit Higher Education for the next century. So those are my thoughts.