As you all know, last February we organized in Rome a “working seminar” on two fundamental dynamisms in the life of the Church and, therefore, of the Pious Schools: interculturality and inculturation. In a few weeks, all the documents that were the basis of our reflections there, will be published. I would like to bring a small grain of sand to our further reflection, with this fraternal letter.
Starting point: the reality is what it is, and it is new
I would like to start from a few words from Pope Francis. This is a very short – and accurate – description of what we live on each continent, published in a letter addressed to the President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in February 2020. This is what Pope Francis says: “The mission that you will one day be called to perform will take you to all parts of the world. To Europe, which needs to wake up; to Africa, thirsting for reconciliation; to Latin America, hungry for food and interiority; to North America, determined to rediscover the roots of an identity that is not defined by exclusion; to Asia and Oceania, challenged by the ability to ferment in the diaspora and dialogue with the vastness of ancestral cultures.“
Reading this paragraph leaves in me, at least, two feelings. On the one hand, it helps me to understand what we live through in each continent, and that is very important to be able to discern what the Piarists can and must contribute in each of them. On the other hand, I think that what is lived specifically on each continent is moving to others, little by little and inexorably. Nothing and no one is isolated, and everything communicates. Moreover, we are all challenged in this task of understanding that the world ceases to be monolithic and becomes plural and diverse.
What we say about our world can also be said of our Order. We must only open our eyes to understand the extraordinary interculturality from which we are shaping our Piarist life. And, therefore, the formidable challenge of inculturation.
Some examples can help us understand what we are living through:
- African provinces have religious from eight countries each. For example, the juniors of Dakar, in Senegal, belong to 21 different ethnic groups.
- Our presence in Mozambique is made up of religious from Senegal and Cameroon, and some will be formed in Brazil. And it belongs to the Province of Emmaus, with its language being Portuguese and Makua.
- Our Vice-Province of Japan and the Philippines has religious from ten different countries and is working on vocational pastoral care in new Asian countries.
- The Province of the United States and Puerto Rico are made up of Piarists from eleven different countries.
- We have more and more formation houses where there are young people from different countries and cultures, even in single-country demarcations. The experience of intercultural formation is given in most of our Juniorates, although it is clear that we must deepen it. Some examples: Buenos Aires, with young people from India and Argentina; Madrid, with young people from Italy, Spain, Timor Leste and Indonesia; Belo Horizonte, with young people from Brazil, Bolivia, Senegal and Cameroon; and we don’t need to say anything of the many training houses in Africa and Asia, or our International House in Manila.
Our reality is plural, and the challenge is very clear: to deepen what it means to carry out a common project between different people (interculturality), and to know how to place ourselves in each specific context so that our charism reaches the core of each culture and evangelize it (inculturation).
Two different and complementary dynamisms
Seeing our reality, it is good that we take one step further. We are facing two different but absolutely complementary challenges. They need each other. We can say that they are the two sides of the same coin. Interculturality without inculturation causes “foreigners”, and the second without the former tends to forget the processes on the grounds of which it occurs and consolidates.
Interculturality is not the same as plurality. The discovery of plurality is not sufficient. The important thing is the dynamisms that make it possible for this diversity to become shared responses, in common life, into fraternal approaches, a witness of communion and dedication to mission.
Inculturation is not simply about adapting to new realities, but about loving them to evangelize them. The Gospel is inculturated when it is placed in the cultural roots, to transform them, humanize them and open them to God..
Years ago, during the Generalate of Fr Josep Maria Balcells, the Order produced very valuable documents, focused on reflecting on what the Pious Schools should take into account in each continent. Sometimes we forget documents that we consider “old”, but they continue to offer enlightening contributions. By way of examples, I would just like to highlight briefly “old”” paragraphs that clearly mark the direction.
“In the initial formation of all Piarist, the missionary dimension will not be lacking; the temporary presence of our juniors on missions will be encouraged, depending on circumstances and possibilities.”
“Our attitude is of respect and admiration for the ancient cultures and religious traditions of Asia, rich in spirituality and humanism. Therefore, the Mission in Asia goes through interreligious dialogue and inculturation of the Gospel. Nothing positive and beautiful about Christianity and cultures will be lost, if we proceed in open dialogue and respect for freedom of announcement. It shall be responsible and respectful, recognizing any sparkle that indicates Truth and leads to a fraternal and friendly relationship of people and peoples .”
“Inculturation is not convenience or evangelizing tactics. It is a fundamental part of the truth of our faith. Inculturation is a spiritual experience, an Easter process in which we die to ourselves to meet Jesus, present in the Latin American continent, embodied in its ecclesial communities and walking with its people .”
I like to quote texts from previous times because I think they help us a lot to do two important things: appreciate the effort, work and clairvoyance of our elders, who have helped us a lot to move forward in what is clear to us regarding our day. And, on the other hand, take on with humility that we cannot afford to make “good schedules” capable of uninstalling ourselves and then forgetting them to always remain in the same place. We must work hard so that the dynamisms we talked about in our Seminar on Interculturality and Inculturation will help us move forward. It is our responsibility and certainly one of the strong tasks of the next General Chapter.
Some clues to advancing on the path we have set ourselves
The road we are walking on comes from afar. We have been able to verify this by reading texts of our history. However, there are clues that are becoming clear and that we must highlight. I will quote some of them.
- Interculturality and inculturation, both of them, need formative processes. You do not spontaneously “learn” them. Initial and Permanent Formation must take all of this into account.
- The project GOING FORTH seeks to offer a new perspective to the Order, in line of interculturality, inculturation and missionary dynamism. We will have a chance to dig deeper into it.
- Interculturality and inculturation must permeate the life and mission of the Order. They must come to the life of communities, to the dynamisms of formation, to spiritual approaches, to the way of understanding and living the charism, etc. They must be thought of in depth and incorporated in an intelligent, shared and Calasanctian way to the life of the Pious Schools.
- The critical discernment of what we do and live must also be very clear among us, to avoid accepting dynamisms, styles and customs that can and must be changed, and which are even different – and maybe contrary – to what we want to live as Piarist religious. Attention to priesthood style, dynamisms too influenced by belongings, economic functioning, etc.
- Inculturating the charism from intercultural communities. This can be a good synthesis of what we need to live and promote. I think it is clear that we are slowly entering that dynamic. But maybe we’re not thinking about it too much. That is why this seminar took place.
- We are advancing what we call the “Piarist presence model”. I think that introducing these two dynamisms into the projects of each presence will help us to enrich our experience of each of them and to move in the right direction.
I invite you all to work on the materials developed in our seminar, and to offer your contributions for a better and more appropriate experience of our charism in all the Pious Schools.
Get a fraternal hug.
Fr Pedro Aguado Sch. P.
 Pope Francis. Letter to the President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, February 11, 2020.
 St. Paul VI. “Evangelii Nuntiandi” 18-19
 General Congregation. “Religious, educational and missionary presence of the Pious Schools. Point VIII.6. CUADERNOS Collection N º 12. 1987
 General Congregation. “Witnesses of Jesus and disciples of Calasanz in Asia”. CUADERNOS Collection, point 67.
 Senior Superiors of America. “Incarnation of the Pious Schools in Latin America”. Point 3.1, page 29. COLLECTION CUADERNOS, N º 17.