I write this fraternal letter shortly before leaving for Mexico, to participate in the 48th General Chapter of our Order. We have been waiting for some time for this Chapter, which had to be postponed for several months because of the health situation we are experiencing. Finally, if there is no novelty, we can celebrate it, always taking into account the rules of natural prudence that help us to live it with the greatest possible safety for all participants.
I would like to share with all of you a few simple reflections on what it means for us to celebrate and welcome the General Chapter. I would like to refer to the context in which we celebrate it, to the challenge of welcoming it -later- into the daily life of the Pious Schools,and to some of the greatissues to which we will dedicate our work.
It is impossible to collect all the “keys of context” that define the moment in which we celebrate the General Chapter, but it is possible to collect some – by way of example – that are especially influential.
There is no doubt that, from the ecclesial point of view, there are several calls to which we can and must be especially sensitive. Among them, the following: the reconstruction of the Global Educational Pact to which Pope Francis calls us; the invitation to work for a synodal Church, from the keys of participation, communion and mission; the proposals of “Laudato Si'” and “Fratelli tutti”; the welcome of the poor, the different and the migrant, or the call to a renewed impulse of the Pastoral care with Young People in the line of “Christus vivit”. All of them, and many more, are options that the Church proposes to us and that we welcome from the center of our charism.
Socially it is quite clear that the context caused by the pandemic we are experiencing must be considered by our Chapter. Not only because of the consequences it is causing, but because it is highlighting various challenges that were present before COVIV-19 but that the pandemic has helped to make explicit: issues related to the educational challenges of our world; the need for an integral ecology; the economic sustainability of our mission; attention to young people’s searches for a “meaningful life”, etc. The post-pandemic, which may not have yet begun, needs to be well analyzed and discerned.
And in our small Piarist context there are also very significant points of attention: the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the elevation of the Pious Schools to the category of religious Order of solemn vows and the approval of the Constitutions written by St. Joseph Calasanz are especially significant data for us, but there is more: the Vocational Year, the need to redefine priorities for our “keys to life”, the process of consolidation, restructuring and expansion that we live; the development of the new “Piarist subject”, or the experience of the opening of new modes of relationship and construction of “life of Order” through technological possibilities, etc.
We all know that a General Chapter needs time to be understood, received, and welcomed in a reality as broad and plural as ours. But, if we know how to do it, these dynamisms are produced little by little, and end up marking direction. This is one of the great virtualities of the General Chapters: they point out the horizon to which we wish to tend and the path we can travel.
I have been able to participate in four General Chapters (1997, 2003, 2009 and 2015). I am sure that each of us has our own memory of these Chapters (and of the previous ones, those who have lived them). I would like to share mine with you, to illustrate what it means to welcome a Chapter and advance along the paths traced by it.
The Chapters work and reflect on many topics, analyze reality, elaborate plans, approve or not propositions and proposals. But each of them makes some significant contributions, which are the ones that end up marking the line and renewing our Pious Schools. I will give some examples of the chapters in which I have participated.
The General Chapter of 1997 approved a very significant document: “The Laity in the Pious Schools”. This document has decisively marked – and continues to do so – the life of the Pious Schools. That General Chapter consolidated the shared path between religious and laity, presented the diverse modalities from which the laity participate in Piarist life and mission, marked itineraries, inspired directories, and guided all the decisions and options from which the Pious Schools have profoundly transformed their own reality. Without this document, and without this capitular decision, we would not be where we are. And even today we continue to welcome this document, because it is still necessary to work on it in all our demarcations and presences.
The General Chapter of 2003, in addition to approving a very valuable institutional document (it entitled it “From Christ” and was a very strong underlining of what it means for us to seek the centrality of Christ in our lives, a theme that will be especially worked on in the General Chapter of 2022) gave birth to two very important institutional documents that, without much “public prominence”, have helped us decisively in these years. I speak of the Directory of Economics (“Management of Economic Goods“) and the document on the Piarist Ministry (“Evangelizing by educating in a Calasanctian style“). In these years we have come a long way in everything related to the economic management of our assets and, on the other hand, there is no doubt that the document on the Piarist Ministry approved by this Chapter provoked a very rich work on the identity and quality of our ministry. We continue to work from what was received by that Chapter.
The one held in 2009 (in Peralta de la Sal) offered us a valuable and rich series of documents. I believe that there are at least four major options underlined by that chapter, always in continuity with what was approved by the previous ones and always in tune with the life of the Order. I am referring to the following: the commitment to the expansion of the Order, with the criteria from which it should walk; the ten elements of Calasanctian identity, which have helped us so much to improve our ministerial proposal in each of our mission platforms; the coming of age of Non-Formal Education in the Pious Schools and, finally, the decision to go ahead with the process of restructuring and revitalization of the Order. This chapter is quite recent, and it is not necessary to elaborate on the importance of the options for which it bet, because they are in the sight of all of us.
Finally, the one held in Hungary in 2015 offered the Order the ” Keys of Life” that have been inspiring the global process of the six-year term that ends. Walking with clear and consensual “keys of life” makes it possible for the Order to advance in a systemic and systematic way in all areas of our life and mission. I can say, at the end of the sexennium, that these “keys of life” have been decisive for the General Congregation and for all the demarcations, which have been able to integrate them and adapt them to their reality, to renew it in communion of Order, always with an eye on the whole of the Pious Schools. They are “keys of life” that still have a lot to say. From the General Chapter of 2021 (2022) we expect new accents and clarity for the development of these “keys of life”.
I think that this is the process of welcoming and implementing our Chapters. It takes years, but there is no doubt that the decisions that are taken mark direction and, if we know how to understand and respect them, they help us to walk in fidelity to the Spirit, to the Church and to the Charism of the founder and impel us to give an ever better response to children and young people, who are the meaning of our lives.
It is not necessary for me to refer to all the topics that we plan to work on in this General Chapter, because they are known to all of you, and I have referred to them in various letters. I just want to say something about all of them.
A General Chapter cannot offer a “complete doctrine” on a subject, nor can it make every possible decision on each of them. But it can put on the table of the Order some issues that are especially significant and offer important guidelines to develop them.
This General Chapter will propose us to go into depth on very important issues that are at this moment in full development in the Church, in society and in the Pious Schools. I am referring to such fundamental issues as synodality, the integral sustainability of the Order, the relationship between interculturality and inculturation, the renewal of our culture of Order or the centrality of the Lord in our lives. These are very strong and significant challenges that will mark us in the coming years. This is the value of a General Chapter: to collect the calls we receive from the Church, from society and from the Order’s own life; to receive them and welcome them from our vocation; and try to point out new horizons and paths of renewal. Let us give time – years – to this Chapter and let us celebrate and welcome it in a spirit of discernment and mission.
The reception of a Chapter has the same dynamisms – on a small scale – as a Synod or an encyclical in the whole Church. It is slow, a lot of work must be done on it, because it is a fact that occurs or not, and it is not “decreed”, but itis verified a posteriori. Our Order will have, in the coming years, a great challenge: to welcome – or not – the General Chapter. Because it may happen that we do not welcome it, or that we do it superficially. If this were so, we would be missing an opportunity.
Working for the reception of the Chapter does not consist only in encouraging the reading of the documents or promoting training plans so that they are better known and studied. For the reception of the Chapter to take place, a global dynamism is necessary, which implies positive and operational attitudes. It means bringing the decisions and options of the Chapter closer to all the Piarist religious and laity, helping young people to know them and discovering the potentialities and demands that they contain, promoting initiatives and concrete bets that make possible what the Chapter approved. If “nothingnew happens”after a GeneralChapter, it is because nothing new was said or because we have not been able to accept the novelties we approved.
I do not want to end this fraternal letter without thanking you all for your welcome, patience and collaboration throughout these years of service to the Order as Father General. May the Lord bless us and inspire us in this new period of the life of the Pious Schools.
Receive a fraternal embrace
Fr. Pedro Aguado Sch.P.