Day 1: Building a family of Jesuit higher education institutions

Today, leaders of 300 higher education institutions from all over the world began their Assembly at the University of Deusto (Bilbao), under the theme «Transforming Our World Together». Their purpose for the following four days is to explore the most urgent priorities for their institutions in today’s world and to create a network that will help them to face those challenges, in the spirit of GC 36’s call for greater use of networks and more intentional collaboration for the promotion of faith, justice and reconciliation.

The Assembly was inaugurated by King Felipe VI of Spain along with the lehendakari (president of the Basque Country) Iñigo Urkullu, in a ceremony during which Father General Arturo Sosa SJ emphasized that we have “the opportunity and great responsibility of starting to build the future”, furthering collaboration among our institutions “to help the Church in its discernment of the service of reconciliation”.

Today the Assembly had two keynote speakers: Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, who referred to the recently published Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium, and said that Catholic universities should insist on “dialogue”. And Cardinal Ravasi, who analyzed some of the major challenges that humankind faces in today’s world, insisting on the necessity of not giving in to the temptation of closing ourselves in little ancient worlds.

The six thematic areas of the Assembly were presented in the afternoon: leadership background, civic and political leadership, environmental and economic justice, educating the marginalized and the poor, inter-religious dialogue, and peace and reconciliation. After the presentations, the “conversations” began: interactive meetings to discuss new possibilities of collaboration to face those challenges.

Participants also received a proposal with a chart for the new IAJU network and a strategic plan upon which the Assembly will have to decide. On Thursday, they will also choose the members of the new IAJU board, a new advisory body comprised of two delegates from each of the six regions of the Society. Michael Garanzini SJ, Secretary for Higher Education of the Society of Jesus, said this morning that the new network will be one of the largest in the world and there is hope that it will do “something significant to address global problems”.

A beautiful moment of this first day was a private meeting at the Rector’s Office at the University of Deusto, when Fr. Arturo Sosa was handed the Basque “makila” or walking stick by the rector of the University of Deusto, Jose Maria Guibert SJ. Handmade by traditional craftsmen and engraved in this case with the emblems of Deusto and the Society of Jesus, the “makila” is a powerful symbol of authority and respect among Basques.

The day began with a moment of prayer and ended with a Mass. The memory of Blessed Brother Francisco Gárate SJ was very present in the prayers: Gárate (1857-1929) spent 41 years at the door of the University of Deusto, helping everyone however was needed, “teaching the best lessons of the University without being a professor”. An inspiring figure that keeps us from forgetting what our fundamental identity and mission truly mean.