During the time of St. Ignatius, there was a widespread challenge to the Catholic faith through the Reformation. Jesuits got involved in the defence and eventual restoration of the Catholic faith. This they achieved by educating people through their own institutions as well as working in tandem with like-minded Catholic institutions. The aim of the Jesuits at that time was to mould young minds in right principles of faith and morality, along with critical thinking, positive values and personal decision-making.
If we think in these lines in today’s context of India, we too will be compelled to analyze and respond to the signs of our times. Selfish politicians and self-made religious leaders bombard the young people with many values which are counter to the universal values of love, brotherhood, tolerance, peace and harmony. They are promoting aggressive fundamentalism and hate agenda. They are dividing people in the name of caste and religion. They are hoodwinking people in the guise of development. There is also intrusion of selfishness, loss of collective consciousness, lessening of human values and lack of spirit of enquiry. Thrusting of one kind of spiritual tradition as a template against which the ideas, beliefs and behaviours are to be measured is taking place. Socialistic, secular and democratic values are getting thwarted. There are threats to social, economic and political justice and stifling of liberty related to thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.
Hence, in this context, the Society of Jesus, especially in India, must reorient itself to respond to these challenges which are counter to universal values, constitutional principles and democratic rights. Through our numerous institutions and other networks aligning with our vision, we should boldly propagate the noble ideals of love and acceptance during the time they spend under our care and mentoring. We have to propagate the rich cultural and spiritual diversity of our country. We need to train our students to develop a scientific and inquisitive mindset which is guided by conscience, in order to respond to the societal needs with love and compassion. We should help them overcome evil passion and prejudices, by giving them greater experience on unity-in-diversity. We should positively train them to promote social harmony and acceptance.
We should stress on the social aspects of growth along with their intellectual formation. We should promote social affectivity entailing both social sensitivity and the need to contribute to alleviate social ills in some way or the other. We should form students who are imbued with the spirit of MAGIS to better the world. We need to motivate our students to get out of the limited mindset of egoistic thinking and warped vision, and lead them to a much richer and wider perspective of life, with universal values of love and compassion.
We should mentally prepare them, empower them and equip them with sufficient pedagogical tools to counter the heinous and inhuman trends propagated by a few fundamentalists. We should provide our students the necessary skills to withstand such onslaughts and counter such forces through proactive engagements. We should constantly engage our students to identify negative forces and root them out. To do this, we need to re-imagine our educational pedagogy.
If St. Ignatius was alive today, I am certain he would have galvanized his whole troupe to face the present day challenges and counter them with positive values of love, acceptance and tolerance. Our institutions should train our students to analyze critically, issues of concern that affect humanity and the universe as a whole. We need to make them agents of social change and protectors of universal values.
We have to mould our students into right-thinking citizens and socially involved persons, so that when they leave us, they act as leaven in the midst of people, to promote positive values. We need to take steps to drill into the hearts and minds of our students, the imperishable and eternal values which are the cornerstones of an enlightened society. We need to evolve methods in our educational institutions to help students become men and women of moral calibre and thus stand up to the assaults of pseudo-nationalists and religious fanatics.
The author is the former Principal of Loyola College, Chennai and former Vice Chancellor of Bharathiar University, Coimbatore and University of Madras, Chennai. Currently he is the Director of Xavier Research Foundation, St. Xavier’s College, Palayamkottai.