This year 2022 marks the 25th anniversary of the approval, by the 44th General Chapter of the Order, of the institutional document “The Laity in the Pious Schools“. It is a “round” date, which can suggest a grateful look at the path traveled over the years and that this document that we remember so much contributed to promote and develop.
That General Chapter of 1997 was convened with a very interesting motto. It said: “Charism and Ministry: a history to remember, a history to build.” We were summoned to the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the Calasanctian mission in the School of Saint Dorothea (1597), and the Order celebrated with deep joy that story – an unfinished story – that Our Holy Father began in the small sacristy of a parish in Trastevere.
It seems to me that it would now be good to apply the same motto to this small anniversary of the document on the Piarist laity. Indeed, we are facing a beautiful history that we must remember and continue to build. I would like to contribute to this with this simple fraternal letter. I would like to refer to a few points that I consider important.
First of all, I think we have to ask ourselves a question: what did that General Chapter seek with that document? Nothing is approved in a chapter without an intentionality. Rereading the minutes and the document itself, the three objectives that were on the table in those years clearly appear:
- Clarify the Piarist consciousness on that subject.
- Respond to the concerns of so many lay people who wonder about the project that the Pious Schools have in relation to them.
- Accept that openness to the laity is a sign of the times that challenges us deeply.
These were the three objectives. This is stated in the minutes of the Chapter and in the document itself. I want to share with all of you that all three are still real, current and provocative. It is still necessary to deepen and clarify what we are experiencing; we continue to receive questions, proposals and aspirations from people who share our charism and our mission; it remains true that this path challenges us and provokes in the Order desires for an answer and for new steps, as well as questions and concerns. We keep walking, brothers.
Alongside this assertion that the goals are still current, we must also affirm that in all three we have made a lot of progress. I offer some data on this journey and this progress, while also alluding to the difficulties and mistakes that we have made.
1. The document we commemorate was canonically approved with 65% of the votes within the 44th General Chapter. We all know that a proposal or a board of directors, in order to be approved, needs an absolute majority. The vote with which the document was adopted indicates a clear majority, but also expresses difficulties or doubts. Years later, the current Directory of Participation, which is the updated concretion of the 1997 document, was approved with 84% of the votes of the capitulars. Perhaps they are not very relevant data, but they help us to understand that we are facing a challenge and a process that needs its time, but that little by little is being well understood and assumed by the Order.
2. On the other hand, we know that the four modalities of participation have been consolidated and there are many rich experiences of promoting each of them. It is true that the charismatic and juridical integration continues to be an option that is not widespread, but no less significant for that. And it is also true that the work for the accompaniment of our collaborators, the richness of the processes of Shared Mission and the development of the Fraternity have been formidable.
3. Along with these background data, I quote many other things that are sufficiently clear among us: sharing the charism and mission between religious and laity is good, rich and necessary; the greater the Calasanctian identity of the laity, the better for the children and young people who grow up among us; Piarist vocational plurality is rich and creative; the Piarist ministries entrusted to the laity provoke a wealth of mission and even the possibility of creating new ministries; the model of Piarist presence is making its way among us with progressive naturalness; the Fraternity and the Order share a mission in various ways, the “ITAKA-Piarists” network being especially significant; the Fraternity is gradually endowed with structures of animation and accompaniment, and is being born in new contexts and demarcations, etc.
4. As in any process, there also seem to be difficulties and situations that need to be reviewed or accompanied. Let us cite a few: in some places it is difficult to find the right way for the Fraternity to be well placed in the dynamism of the Province and of each of the presences, so that it can grow and contribute as what it is, an important Piarist entity; to understand the formation of the laity in dynamics of Shared Mission as “something to be learnt in an academic year” and not as as an integral process that transforms the educational vocation of people; to believe that we religious do not have to be formed, together with the laity, in everything related to the Calasanctian identity of our mission, “because we already know everything“; not to reflect sufficiently on the importance of the presence of religious in the life of the Fraternity, etc.
5. We must be careful with certain ways of thinking or perhaps rather phrases or ideas that sometimes underlie among us, especially in some places, and that do not reflect at all either the way of thinking of the Order or the synodal dynamics proposed by our Church. I quote some of them:
- “As long as we have enough religious, it is not necessary to promote the project of the laity.” It reflects a utilitarian concept of the Piarist laity and does not respond at all to the desire to build participatory, plural and identity-generating Pious Schools. It is one thing to be clear about the priority of building a demarcation, and quite another to think that “we will promote the project of the laity only when we need it; for now, it is not necessary.”
- “It is not a problem that there are no religious in a school, the laity already carry it.” Affirmation and way of thinking that not only baffles the religious, but also the laity. It does not matter if in a Piarist school there are religious or not. It is better, absolutely better, that there are religious. I affirm that it is not only better, but that it is necessary. But if there are not, obviously, you have to take things differently. But turning the solution of a problem – the lack of religious – into the ideal or the best, is a very serious mistake.
- We must accompany our young people well so that they properly understand all the dynamism of Participation. The things that baffle the most are those that are located at the “extremes” and that turn the dynamism of Participation into what it never is and never will be. Our young people must know and feel that their vocation is full, necessary, exciting and irreplaceable. As it has always been. And we must all transmit this – religious and laity – and not only with the word, but also with our lives.
6. New challenges are appearing, all of them the fruit of life and the path we are traveling. I quote some of them:
- To develop and live in fullness the identity of the Order and that of the Fraternity. The Order of the Pious Schools and the Piarist Fraternity are different realities that opt for communion. But this can only be done from clear identities and from full experiences. We need a Piarist Order that lives intensely the consecration and prophecy, that grows and walks from the dynamisms and structures that are its own, and that takes care of its significance and its capacity for Life and Mission. Likewise, we need a Piarist Fraternity that grows in the development of its own identity, clearly exposed in its documents, and that seeks a clear experience of the Christian vocation enriched from the Calasanctian charism so that, in its bosom, religious and laity can share the gift of vocation received.
- Share the missionary challenge. The Order, the Fraternity and the whole of the Piarist laity are sent to children, to young people, above all to the poorest. This sending in mission can and should be shared. It is already so in many places of the Order, and we have rich and fruitful experiences of this “sending in shared mission”. We even have Piarist presences that were born like this, together.
- Configure a clear and fruitful Piarist subject. When we speak of “the Piarist” we are not only talking about the Order. This is gradually becoming clearer among us. But this new Piarist subject that we are configuring, formed by the Order, the Fraternities and so many people who share the Mission that we have received from God through Calasanz, needs to be well reflected and structured, in its various dynamics, so that it is fruitful. If it is confusing, if the various identities are not well respected, it will not work.
- Develop Piarist ministries. We live in a moment of creative reflection on this theme of ministries, which is decisive in the promotion of a plurality of Piarist vocations. Our last General Chapter asked the General Congregation to study the possibility of creating a new Piarist ministry, related to listening and accompaniment. It is a beautiful example of life emerging among us.
- The leading role of young people and their contribution to better Pious Schools. There is no doubt that along this path will come many more contributions and suggestions in everything related to Participation. We are very grateful to the Lord for the gift of the presence of young people who grow and walk among us with growing Piarist co-responsibility, knowing that the construction of the Pious Schools is a beautiful contribution to the ecclesial and social utopia that they want to build and that we all know and believe that we should expect as a gift from the One who can do everything: the Kingdom of God and his Justice.
I would like to conclude this fraternal letter with a few words of thanks to so many people who, with their best will and love for Calasanz, sincerely wish to grow in their Piarist identity and bond and, with their sensitivity and dreams, bring new energies to the whole of the Pious Schools. To all of them I express my gratitude and for all of them I thank God. We ask the Lord of the calls to continue to summon more people, each according to their vocations, to continue promoting the always unfinished dream of Saint Joseph Calasanz.
Receive a fraternal hug.
Fr. Pedro Aguado Sch. P.