Dear Brothers, I write this fraternal letter from Rome, after three months of confinement in the Piarist community of Santander (Bethany Province), to which from here I reiterate my thanks for its welcome and for its patience. These weeks (or months) are being very special and different for all of us, and possibly their consequences – which we do not yet know clearly – will continue to affect us for quite some time. Probably things will be different after COVID-19. Without a doubt, we are facing a new moment, which defies us strongly. That is why I wanted to headline this letter with the motto that the General Team of the Calasanz Movement has proposed for the new school year: RESTARTING.
What have we learned in these weeks or months of mandatory confinement for public health reasons? I think it would help us all to dare to answer this question. I am going to try; naming some experiences I have heard and read these days. I am going to try to do it even though in many places in our world we are still confined, we still cannot carry on our normal life and our mission
Normally, our lives are always full of activity, a lot of work, endless things that fill our day and that hardly allow us a certain quiet. This is very common in the Piarist world. But perhaps these weeks of confinement have helped us to meditate, in some depth, on how we live, about what is really essential, where the center of our lives is, and the reasons for our mission.
Perhaps these months we have been able to delve a little deeper into the central experience of the person of faith, of the person who has his trust in God, and who goes through all the Sacred Scripture. It is the experience of the Psalmist, who proclaims with certainty: “Stop and recognize that I am God”. I do not resist transcribing the first and last verse of this psalm 45 with which we pray so many times in community:
God is our refuge and our strength, powerful defender in danger. That is why we are not afraid, even if the earth trembles and the mountains collapse into the sea / Stop, recognize that I am God: higher than the peoples, higher than the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us, our Refuge is the God of Jacob.
Maybe these weeks we have learned that we can “stop”. And that “stop” has helped us to recognize that there is a God, to make us more aware of where the meaning of all that we do is, to understand that only if we live in his presence does that to which we dedicate ourselves acquires plenitude. Obviously, we have to keep working and, God willing, our lives must be back loaded with activity. But have we learned the lesson that from time to time we need to stop and recognize that God is God? This has many consequences, some of which are contained in Psalm 45 that we are talking about.
I want to share with all of you some small reflections because of everything we experience, what we are living, and what we are about to live.
God is our refuge, that is why we’re not afraid. Fear is free. And every now and then it’s good. I always remember a good Piarist brother, now deceased (Fr. Jaume Pallarolas), who always said “Mood, courage and fear”. And he was right when he said it. But it is true that the man and woman of faith, even if he has his own human fear of those who feel insecure, have full confidence that God is Father and knows what we need. That’s why we pray daily saying “Thy will be done”. The human experience of insecurity can be well combined with the deeply believing experience of unconditional trust. I think we’ve all experienced it in these weeks. This is a first invitation that we have to make to each other after the pandemic: to increase and take care of our trust in God, so that it is always greater than our insecurities.
The value of the community. As I was saying, I’ve spent confinement in a community different from mine. These days I have learned to value every detail of the brothers, every moment of shared prayer, of help and closeness, of listening and dialogue, of confidence and reflection. I have even learned to miss my own community in Rome, even though I can be very little in it. Hopefully, we can all grow in our capacity for community life and in our desire to live it, which is not to “always be at home”, but to “be a brother and live in common”.
The passion for mission. During these months, we have moved on, as we can, with our mission. And we keep doing it. Schools operating online – where possible -, either by radio or WhatsApp. Accompaniment of students, educators. Eucharists and faith celebrations shared through the Internet. Catechesis, training spaces, testimonies of life, fraternal meetings among religious from various places, etc. In most of our Provinces the schools have continued with their educational mission, with a great effort on the part of the teachers. But it is also true that, in certain places where resources have not allowed it, children have lost courses and have not been able to continue their education. This pandemic has reminded us of Calasanz’ conviction: the right to education, integral and of quality, and for all, remains a challenge. We have to make it clear that “the more poverty, the better the response and the higher the quality”. This is the way.
The feeling of Order. We were – and we are – worried about everyone. We have followed with interest the information from each Province. We have prayed for our deceased brethren for the sickness and healing of the sick. We have held various meetings to share what was happening in each Piarist presence. We have known the postponement of various professions and ordinations (Pablo, Carlos Arturo, Geremia, Francesco, Harvin, Orlando, Sergio), and we have shared those that have been celebrated (Shanto, Karuna, Charan, Alex, Emil, Dawid, Aliaksandr and Przemysław), and we are still waiting to confirm many others that are planned for these next weeks. The Piarist Fraternity has had to postpone its general assembly to a new date. The Order is built day by day, and these months have also been very fruitful in this experience: we are a family, and we take care of ourselves as such.
Open to a new horizon. Lots of people talk about “new normality.” We can call it in many ways, but what is clear is that a lot of things are going to change. And many must, and for the better. For us, who believe in education as an engine of change, it is important to discern the keys from which we will have to move little by little in this new situation. When Pope Francis summoned society at large to rebuild the Education Pact, he gave the key to what is now being asked of us. We need to build a different society, capable of sustainable development, and built on more human values. And this will be possible if we move towards an Education in all that means “global citizenship”, an education in peace, solidarity, ecology and the right to education. These are the pillars proposed for this Global Education Pact. Moreover, we, as children of Calasanz, will do so from the keys of faith in Jesus and the values of the Gospel, which are the ones who most accurately make us brothers, because they shape us as children of God.
We must continue to fight for the Piarist project, for its free development and for its full capacity for social transformation. It has never been easy, and we sense signs and signs that the difficulties will grow. However, we are bearers of a project in which we believe deeply, and we will move forward, seeking and finding paths, summoning those who feel identified with it to move forward. Without a doubt, from the experience of this pandemic, we must go forward with a renewed commitment to the fundamental keys of the identity of our mission
The precious experience of smallness. This small particle, which does not even have a life of its own, has provoked in us a new awareness of something that we had very forgotten: we are very small, and our life has a limit. The man and woman of the 21st century, who feel so capable of almost all the achievements and advances, have suddenly discovered that this is not true, that we are very small and poor. When all this happens, and wishing and working for it to finish as soon as possible, we must know how to take care of this truth that perhaps we have rediscovered: we are small. May we know how to live it by increasing our confidence in the one that can give fullness, and hopefully we will be able to educate our children and our young people in a life less full of ourselves and more full of love. It is the way.
The need for a change of life and to grow our solidarity. We live in a society that is going to go through a severe crisis. Crisis of hope, labour crisis, economic crisis, in short, a crisis that must be lived by us with peace, with certainties and with commitments. We cannot live and work as if nothing happened. We need to consider what new Piarist responses of life and mission we have to give, what new choices and commitments for the poorest, what new decisions about our priorities of life and mission, what new responses of education in the faith and witness of Christ’s love we can and must embody. Perhaps our next General Chapter is a good opportunity to discern about it.
The feeling of humanity, which suffers from so many other viruses. After COVID-19, if it happens, we must renew our gaze on humanity to discover other viruses that affect humanity. The “viruses” that Calasanz perceived (poverty, ignorance, bad customs, lack of horizons, lack of education, etc.) are still present, and acquire new forms, new mutations. We must know how to give name to other viruses that we suffer and our young people suffer: the superficiality of faith, the need for listening and accompaniment, the desire to possess, the short-termism of life, the unfrotined acceptance of values that destroy the lives of the little ones, the “everything is worth” if most thinks so, self-sufficiency, conformism, poor ecological awareness, clericalism… The list would be very long, but the awareness that the best antibody for these viruses is Calasanctian education not only cannot be lost, but we must increase it.
Therefore, I want to finish this letter by remembering that there are things that will never change in the Pious Schools, however new and unknown the context in which we are starting to walk, because there is no virus that can defeat them. I am talking about the passion for mission, the closeness to students, the proclamation of the Gospel, the commitment to quality in everything we do, the Calasanz Movement, the Shared Mission, growth in identity, etc. We believe in an education sustained by an educational relationship that is not content to be virtual, but authentic. To move forward, it is time to renew our conviction and commitment to what defines our educational proposal, and to help each other live in a way that our testimony reflects, albeit de in an ever-poor and weak way, the One who is the answer to all questions.
Get a fraternal hug.
Fr. Pedro Aguado Sch. P.