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Education as a Mission

Posted on: 1 Dec, 2014

Modified on: 1 Dec, 2014

By Fr. Henry Barla S.J., Prof. Regional Theology, Tarunoday, Ranchi

Our Jesuit Sources
The purpose of the Society is "to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine, by means of public preaching, lectures, and any other ministration whatsoever of the word of God..." (FI, 1). The Society's is a total evangelising mission that is "expressed in a variety of ways;" viz. through interrelated dimensions of the witness of one's life, of proclamation, conversion, inculturation, and of the establishment of local churches; and also through dialogue and the promotion of justice desired by God" (Const., NC 245:1).

"Given the increasing importance of universities and institutes of higher studies because of their influence on the whole of society, we must make our presence felt in them as best we can, whether they are in our hands or not, since it is there that culture takes shape in its ethical values, economic and political orientation, and convictions about the ultimate meaning of being human. It is supremely important for the Church that the Society perseveres in its commitment to the university apostolate" (Const., NC 289: I).

"It is very much our concern that with creative confidence we keep up our effort, hard in itself and often made harder by circumstances, to maintain and reinforce the distinctive features of each of our institutes of higher learning, with regard both to their Jesuit character and to their level of competence and to ensure that these two aspects are well in evidence" (Const., NC 289:2).

"Jesuit universities, since they share in the mission of the Society, must find in their institutional structures and their real goals, a definite and suitable place, in keeping with their nature, where the faith that does justice is given due scope" (Const., NC 289:3).
Introduction
About thirty years ago, ten years after the closing of Vat. II, the idea of the Jesuit commitment to faith and justice was very new. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I heard occasionally from a very tiny minority of our Ranchi Jesuits: "What we have been doing from the time of Father Lievens, the Society could think about it only now." That did not sound heartening. And to assure you, such a voice did not gain ground; thank God. All of us gradually and unmistakably realized that God's Spirit was inviting us Jesuits to set out on a new journey, i.e., in the service of faith that includes the promotion of justice. The Spirit also made us realize that the new direction would be not one of the concerns but a benchmark of all our apostolic engagements. Many of us are aware that, at first, such an orientation was misunderstood or even opposed by some of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities and some members of the Society. But today every Jesuit knows that this option defines our Jesuit identity. It is a matter of to be or not to be a Jesuit.

Some ten years ago approximately three thousand Jesuits all over the world worked "in nearly two hundred of our own institutions of higher learning, touching the lives of more than half a million students" (GC 34, d. 17, n. 405:2). From the very beginning of the Ranchi Mission, the attention was focused on having a network of schools for the total uplift of the tribals of Chotanagpur. Excluding St. Xavier's College (SXC) and XISS, -according to RAN Catalogue 2007- nearly seventy of our Ranchi Jesuits are fully engaged in the educational ministry in Chotanagpur. They are coming in direct contact with ca. 22,690 students ranging from the primary to the plus two grades. In 1944, Fr. H. De Jonghe started SXC to bring the fullness of Jesuit education to the tribals. Ten years later (1955), XISS made its humble debut in the College premises. With passing decades the influence of these two institutions – something like a city set on a hill cannot be hid – has increased enormously. The attendance registers of these two institutes show a total of about 8,690 students – a remarkable gathering of ethnic, cultural, religious, and economic diversity. These are the youths whose lives we touch, we shape, whom we show a direction in life.

Dear Brothers and Fathers, this evening we want to reflect together on the theme: Education as Mission. I propose that we do it in a concrete way by focusing the issue on our mission in Jharkhand. So the perspective is rather confined. But before proceeding further, I should like to spend with you a couple of minutes on what we may call the, composition of place.

Composition of Place
We live and work in the state of Jharkhand where the political instability continues to be the hallmark even in its seventh year of existence. With the emergence of the independent MLAs as a force to reckon with, the political uncertainty continues. In just six years we had four Chief Ministers, and now we are saddled with an unprecedented Deputy Chief Minister. Even in six years the Panchayat election under the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act has painfully eluded, and the local bodies remain un-empowered. The Naxalite menace continues unabated. Who cares if the Ultras are killed? Who cares if half the population of Jharkhand lives below the poverty line? And who cares if unemployment forces the villagers to migrate to the metros? Such a scenario does not inspire optimism.

The 'Jharkhand Vikas Report – 2006’ published by the local Prabhat Khabar, 15 Nov. 2006, with detailed statistics, gives us a dismal picture of almost all basic public sectors: health and sanitation, literacy and higher education, employment, law and order, market and per capita income, transport infrastructure, development and investment, agriculture and industry, etc. Among the three newly created states, Jharkhand is trailing badly in every aspect. This is the predicament in which we find ourselves, and which impinges on us very strongly.

Along with some ‘ailments’ of our state of Jharkhand, there are some more factors that affect our ways of thinking, planning and functioning: national and international politics, rampant corruption, competitive ideologies, gradual erosion of family and communitarian values, communalism, spiral of violence, religious fanaticism, globalisation, etc. There are times when we feel we and our students are caught up in the crossfire of conflicting ideologies. It is quite possible -though we may have no evidence that some of our students and lay collaborators are espousing one or the other such beliefs.

In this chaos we see a total moral and political bankruptcy of Jharkhand's policies. Politics without principles, wealth without work, commerce without morality, pleasure without conscience, education without character, worship without sacrifice – seem to be the characteristics of our Indian/Jharkhand society today. The worse is that no one from the mainline political parties seriously questions those policies. No one follows – what M.K. Gandhi called – his/her 'inner voice,' antaratma ki awaaz. There is no excitement at all among us or among our youths, after being free from the clutches of Bihar. We are like frustrated people journeying nowhere, with many detours, full of potholes, doors slamming on our faces. We can shout, weep, moan, and hope for a miracle.

The Society of Jesus is called to work in this context and to change the face of Jharkhand. The Spirit of God is inviting the Society to heal the little planet of Jharkhand. While very closely watching the current affairs of the real world around us, we need to be attentive to the Spirit who continually speaks to us in various ways, and respond positively and creatively.

Education as Our Mission
In Chotanagpur, all our Jesuit educational institutions are under tremendous pressure – to bursting point. The more so our two institutes of higher education; and with the autonomy status, SXC all the more. The awful days of yester years, when the college was frequently crippled by strikes are long over for good. Nevertheless our institutes find themselves in the whirling vortex of a changed ideology that has brought back the old law of the jungle, viz. survival of the fittest. The annual intake of our students shows the bright, not so bright and the plodders. But everyone's aim is to live a decent life, support their families, and live in peace and security. The average students want to get ready and be equipped with professional skills so as to compete in the market and obtain lucrative jobs. Success is their goal in life. If they are enterprising, they will transform the fabric of life wherever they will be: as entrepreneurs, high-tech professionals, policy makers, white-collar workers, etc.

These are the young men and women we seek to serve; the youths whom the Lord of the vineyard has placed in our hands. We educate them, give them degrees and diplomas, and equip them with skills. But we are also aware that in Jharkhand and Bihar, in the whole 'cow-belt' in general, the degrees and diplomas are available in the market. The skills our students acquire from us are also 'marketable’. Therefore, as Jesuits sent to the institutions of higher learning, what is our mission? 'Education’, of course. And education by definition is a transformative process. Hence anything less is less than education. Since education changes the human person, it is a spiritual activity. As mission education looks beyond degrees and diplomas, beyond food, clothing, shelter, success, name and fame in the world. Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. rightly says, “The real measure of our Jesuit universities lies in who our students become” (emphasis added). I think, that is the point we need to ponder about.

At the heart we want to see our institutions as ‘missionary’. The same sobriquet de- fines us. In spite of the cliché of the ivory tower we are 'missionaries' at heart, committed to integral evangelization as our first priority while serving as educationists. We are concerned about 'fullness of life' of the people to whom we impart knowledge, with whom we share our life and time, whom we help see visions for a better world that is inspired by solidarity. We may not be very qualified missionaries or educationists; but obedience in the Society makes us do almost anything and do it well enough, even if not brilliantly. Besides being missionaries and educationists, we are prophets of liberation in this part of Chotanagpur and bring our students the Good News of salvation. We are able to do this because we are the heralds of Christ the Risen Lord and we participate in his life, mission and victory.
Therefore, our mission is to provide an education
• that forms young men and women of character, competence, and conscience (the three C's);
• that frees persons from social conditioning, (i.e., ideologies);
• that nurtures an encounter with God as a personal event, a free response to the call to faith and generate encounter with peoples of other faith traditions in view of making a new society (i.e., a communion of communions).
In More Concrete Terms
The foregoing paragraphs convince us that we are in touch with the real world. As Jesuits, our point of view is always that of the poor and the marginalized. That is our mission today. Therefore, in all that we do or share – be it knowledge, skill, piece of advice, or whatever – is always from the vantage point of the poor and the less privileged. In this connection, a question that we need to often ask in our institutes of higher learning is: 'In my research and teaching who are the option people? Who are in my heart and mind?' Such a question entails shift in values, taking risks, and sometimes being less popular. We must reflect on how we, as Jesuits, see our teaching and research apostolates, our lay colleagues and other co-workers, our students, the whole campus. For us it is a privileged opportunity to do so many things. And if nothing, at least we can bear witness to God who loves all. And we can do this because we ourselves have experienced God's love in our life.
From our lecture halls we can know the academic worth of our students; but from our contacts we discover them as persons. Through our personal contacts we can educate the whole person. And if we are sensitive and discerning, we shall be able to see what goes on in their minds and hearts. And, those are the moments we can give them a listening ear, encourage them, challenge them, and give them a sense of purpose in life. In classrooms we impart knowledge; in contact with them we can communicate what we cherish, zest for life, to be of service to others, to be men and women for and with others. We are able to do this because we have received so much in the Society. We have received the best, and the best must we offer to our students.
Besides the purely academic syllabus, there are many programmes for integrated personality development, e.g., in-service programmes, social outreach, field study, seminars and exposures, campus ministry, CLC, AICUF, campus fraternities, and a host of other in-house societies and sangams. Beyond the peripheral, these are the ways and means to develop the head, heart, and hand (the three H's) of our students. Thus they are aided to come to grips with the real world in which they live, to learn to reflect, evaluate critically, and respond constructively. Such a formation also helps them to make choices for themselves and for the well-being of the society. Such a mindset, though it appears like a daydream, would be a great achievement. The ability to judge values that build up human persons and society, and care for nature, is nothing but a life lived in solidarity with others. If the students learn this when they are still young, as adults they will involve themselves with others creatively and, hopefully, be accountable for their decisions.
Speaking about ourselves, let us be convinced that no word, expression or action of ours can be neutral. Methodology of our teaching and research, our views, our standpoints on ethical or justice issues and moral responsibility or the dignity of human person and quality of life send a silent but powerful message to our students, colleagues, research partners, and to the world outside the campus. Therefore, these are the defining moments – the kairos – when we mediate between ideas and views that dominate the world today and the divine wisdom that pervades and makes everything new. We must see our roles as being catalysts for change in the social order. We must see our roles as being salt and light and leaven in the dough, i.e., being a witnessing community. Nevertheless let us remember that impacting the present generation is the most difficult proposition. But is not the Lord present there, labouring in events, structures and persons to bring out a new creation? (This is what we learn from the Second and Third Weeks of the Spiritual Exercises.) And so the challenge awaits us to join the Lord in his mission to bring the Father's kingdom here in our midst.
Conclusion
Dear Brothers and Fathers, last week we concluded the triple jubilee year of the three founder members of the Society of Jesus: Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier and Peter Faber. Among them Xavier was only too eager to share his faith with others through his words, actions, his very life. He travelled great distances to share his faith in Christ. Constant Lievens shared his faith with our ancestors. Like Xavier in India, Malaysia, and Japan, Lievens proclaimed and shared in Chotanagpur that which he had heard, which he had seen with his eyes, which he had contemplated and touched with his hands, viz. the Word of life. All of us seek to share that same Word of life, which we have experienced, so that all those whose lives we touch, whom the Lord places across our paths, may also have the fellowship with us (cf. 1 Jn 1,1-3).
There is an invisible world of reality around us, which we influence imperceptibly by our attitudes, recreate by our words and contacts. As Jesuits we are responsible for the world we are creating, for the values we are inculcating. Students come in contact with us not simply as teachers and course directors, but as those who are men of God, men on whom so many depend for their future both in this world and in the next. Thus we are sharing with them in various ways the fullness of life.
Thank you for listening to me patiently.
SXC + XISS, Ranchi
Saturday, December 09, 2006

Reflection and Sharing


Need of Constant Reflection and Working together
Inspired by the ‘composition of place’ (the Jharkhand scenario today) as given by Fr. Henry during his presentation, it was felt that there needed to be constant reflection, planning and action on the prevalent situation to meet the challenges through the ministry of education. Some of us work individually quite all right, but we need to work more together. Thereby we can attend to the building of three Cs in the students: character, conscience and concern.

Are Our Students Self-Centered or Persons for Others?
We must see as what kind of students we are educating in our institutions. Are they persons for others or mostly self-centered, money minded, power hungry and status conscious? Our experience shows that most of our students fall under the latter category. If that is so, how different are we from other educational institutions? We need to have data on this situation through some survey to streamline our position.

Sharing of the Jesuit Vision with Students and Staff
Though there are some outgoing students who are well settled in life and have fostered the Jesuit values in their life, majority of them do not even know who we Jesuits are and about our society, let alone imbibe Jesuit values. Same thing can be said of the students studying currently in our institutions. If we want that they become men and women with a difference then we must share with them and the staff our Jesuit vision and inculcate in them the same values we cherish as Jesuits. We must search ways and means to impart our spirit into them. What kind of personal touch / attention can we give to the care of our students in this regard?
Formation of Students’ Heads, Hands and Hearts
Where are we in the formation of the students’ heads, hands and hearts? Perhaps we are quite good at forming their heads and hands, but as regards forming their hearts there is a question mark. It is because our students succumb to corrupt practices very easily. And in today’s global market our students become easy prey to corruption and immoral ways to get things done. Unless we take concerted efforts in the formation of the students’ hearts, we will go on producing egotistical and lumpen elements and not men and women of character, integrity and balance.
Reaching out even to the Families through the Students
Many of the students are coming from troubled families. So in order to understand such students we have to understand their family background and deal with them accordingly. We have to find a new methodology to educate them and not tread on the beaten path.
The general feeling during the Apostolic Interaction was that it was good to hear the mind of St. Ignatius regarding education as a mission once again and the mandates of the General Congregations as well as the exhortations of Father Generals. The present context of Jharkhand made it more demanding as how through our educational apostolate we could bring about a much greater personal and societal transformation in the State. Keeping the Jesuit vision of education, we must reflect, plan and act together through new approaches, strategies and methodologies to achieve the overall goal of the transformation of society according to the kingdom values – freedom, justice, peace, equality and solidarity – to mention a few.