By James Kulvi, SJ
Children’s Day, celebrated in India on 14 November every year, is a good occasion to reflect on what we Jesuits offer children and what we should offer in today’s situation.
Before coming to what we have offered children in the past, let me emphasize what we need to offer them today as a priority – protection from all forms of abuse. We are well aware of the disastrous consequences of the clergy abuse scandal that erupted a few years ago. The Church lost its image and followers. Many dioceses and religious congregations paid a huge price. Therefore it is heartening to see that the recent General Congregation understood the importance of protecting minors and vulnerable adults. Fr. General has insisted that all the Jesuit provinces come up with policies and strategies that would ensure the protection of children from sexual abuse.
Jesuit schools need to ensure that children are free from also emotional and physical abuse. They need to deal sternly with teachers who tend to vent their anger on helpless children. Teachers who habitually resort to physical punishments should be handed over to the police, so that they come to face the legal consequences of their behaviour.
The founder of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius of Loyola, did not specifically direct his attention towards children in a way modern gurus would; but his principles laid the foundation for how Jesuits should serve and nurture children. Ignatius called the Jesuits to follow and imitate their Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
Jesus had a deep love and concern for children as portrayed in the Gospels. Jesus welcomed and embraced children. He also affirmed their worth and preciousness. He urged his disciples not to stop children from coming to him and declared that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”. He received them with kindness, respect, and love, setting an example for the people around him to follow. His interactions with children emphasized their innocence and importance.
Let me emphasize what we need to offer them today as a priority – protection from all forms of abuse.
Jesus frequently employed simple anecdotes and allegories that youngsters could readily grasp. His parables concerning the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan, etc retain their power to enlighten and inspire.
The teachings and actions of Jesus continue to deeply influence the Jesuits. By following the teachings of Jesus, Jesuits work for the welfare, education, and spiritual formation of children in schools, parishes and boarding houses.
One of the main pillars of the Jesuit contribution is education. Over the centuries, Jesuits have believed it was their mission to start schools and universities wherever they worked. Through these they have sought to promote academic excellence and character building. These institutions have made a significant contribution to the world and have shaped generations of students into refined individuals.
Jesuit schools and institutions worldwide are committed to delivering exceptional education that goes beyond academic excellence. The objective is to form well-rounded individuals with analytical thinking, ingenuity, and a sense of societal responsibility. Through a meticulously crafted curriculum and extracurricular activities, Jesuit education nurtures a yearning for knowledge, persuading children to explore diverse fields and disciplines, and cultivating an enduring passion for learning. Jesuits try their best to forge ‘men and women for others’.
Jesus had a deep love and concern for children as portrayed in the Gospels. Jesus welcomed and embraced children. He also affirmed their worth and preciousness.
As educators, Jesuits believe in the power of education to shape young minds and instill human values and ethics in children. Jesuit schools and institutions strive to provide a holistic education that promotes not only intellectual growth but also moral development. Therefore, in their dealings with children, Jesuits are called to foster an environment where children are encouraged to think critically, cultivate compassion, and engage in service to others. Such an environment emboldens children to examine, explore, question, and discover.
The Jesuit model of education emphasizes care for the individual and imparts values of justice, empathy and concern for fellow humans. Through their educational apostolate, Jesuits must continue to embody the teachings of Jesus and strive to create a nurturing environment where children are empowered to reach their full potential academically, spiritually, and socially.
A hungry child cannot learn anything. Therefore the Jesuit schools in some States in India offer free breakfast to poor children. They support the noon meal scheme initiated by some State governments. At the time of the Covid lock down almost all Jesuit schools made it a point to reach out to the families of poor children and provide them with the essentials, so that none of them had to face starvation.
Jesuit superiors are expected to give priority to ‘cura personalis’ – caring for the individual. This calls the Jesuit educators providing individual attention and support to every student, acknowledging the distinct strengths and requirements of each student. They are inspired to facilitate the personal development and overall well-being of their students and teachers.
Jesuit schools enable children to become aware of social problems and inspire them to actively participate in social justice initiatives. They try to address the needs of children with learning disabilities, or those living in poverty, or conflict areas. In many of the schools students are made aware of the basic human rights and the rights our Constitution give us. Some Jesuit provinces, because of the fear that certain political forces may undermine the Constitution, have doubled their efforts to make their students understand the merits of the Indian Constitution and all the rights it guarantees to citizens.
The Jesuit schools come up with what might help in the spiritual growth of their students and staff. They offer Masses to Catholics on the First Fridays and feast days. While Catholic students attend Mass non-Catholic students are given classes on value education. They organize also annual retreats for both students and the staff. Some schools try to follow the Ignatian pedagogy, which draws inspiration from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Some schools have tried to implement a version of ‘the Examen’ in their schools. The last 15 or 20 minutes of the school day are set aside for a review of the day in an atmosphere of silence. Some Jesuit schools have a ‘Magis Club’, that try to promote vocations to priesthood or religious life.
In the light of threats to unity that come from divisive politics Jesuits need to underline inclusivity and diversity, ensuring that children from different backgrounds, and cultures, feel safe, included, and assisted in their institutions. This approach cultivates appreciation and respect for those who are different. This would imply that Jesuits should provide opportunities for students of other faiths too to pray and celebrate.
Bearing in mind the new challenges today’s children face, Jesuits must strive to actively help them become aware of the dangers posed by addiction to drugs or alcohol. They must organize lectures, videos or films that can help the students escape these evils that try to enslave them. Occasions like the Children’s Day and the Teachers’ Day should remind us Jesuits that as educators we should strive to provide children with a nurturing ambiance that helps their all-encompassing growth – physical, intellectual, spiritual, and ethical. We must create an environment where children can attain not merely literacy and knowledge, but also faith, wisdom, empathy and kindness.
Fr. James Kulvi, SJ, a Jesuit priest of Kohima region, is a Tutor at Vidyajyoti, Delhi. He did his Licentiate in Sacred Scriptures (SSL) at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome. He can be contacted at email@example.com.