June 28, 2019 — Last week, Pope Francis reiterated the importance of inclusion in the world of education, using the Fe y Alegría model as an example. This exhortation is a recurring theme in the Pope's speeches and is in line with a call for renewal in education which dates back to 1965.
The Pope’s appeal echoes the conciliar declaration on Catholic education, Gravissimum educationis, signed in 1965 which requests, among other things, that children, through education, “become actively involved in various community organizations, open to discourse with others and willing to do their best to promote the common good.”
Following the same line of thought, in 2017 the Vatican published new guidelines for Catholic educators in the document entitled “Educating to Fraternal Humanism.” Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani highlighted the goals of the document: to humanize education, to promote a culture of dialogue and to make room for inclusion. According to him, inclusion means to meet people where they’re at instead of excluding them.
Thus, this culture of inclusion would suggest knowledge understood as a good that is not positional. It is not a question of acquiring a certain status through knowledge. It is rather a relational good that helps each person better develop their relationships with others.
The pope himself recently reiterated the importance of inclusion, of “putting the entire person at the centre of education” and of “orienting educational work towards the margins, social margins and existential margins,” for example through “service, encounter and welcome.”
Fe y Alegría is a good example of education in the service of other because within this movement, “no one is discarded.” It was founded in 1955 in Caracas by José Maria Vélaz, SJ, who wanted children from local slums to have access to good education. Today, Fe y Alegría operates in several countries in South America, Africa and Europe. In their eyes no one is useless; an approach that, according to Pope Francis, is opposed to today’s culture, “which is rather exclusive and where, to create a certain order, elements that don’t fit are excluded.”
This appeal to young women and men in the movement goes well beyond Fe y Alegria. In fact, it is also in line with the recent apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit, which called leaders and institutions to be inclusive, to leave “room for all kinds of young people, to show that we are a Church with open doors. Nor does one have to accept fully all the teachings of the Church to take part in certain of our activities for young people. It is enough to have an open mind towards all those who have the desire and willingness to be encountered by God’s revealed truth.”
The Pope’s appeal could have broad repercussions, since more than 38,000 lay people and religious are presently involved with Fe y Alegría and more than 1.3 million children and adults currently benefit from their work.
By founding Fe y Alegría in the last century, Fr. Vélaz, SJ, was demonstrating the importance that the Society of Jesus gives to education. Today, there are approximately 850 Jesuit high schools in the world. But if we add the schools of the Fe y Alegría movement and those of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), this number reaches and exceeds 2,000.
Through his visits, Fr. General also often highlights the importance of these educational institutions. Last May, for example, he visited Konsomi College in Kinshasa. He was also able to visit the art workshops born out of the Fe y Alegría network. He also pointed out “that he himself was Venezuelan and that he was a proud admirer of this educational network.”