ARGENTINA, Maria Fischer •
We begin our visit where it all began ten years ago, when Alejandra Pastene and Guillermo Ferreyra, from the Schoenstatt Institute of Families, together with Maria Pastene and Juan Ignacio Barrena, made their dream come true and founded the Covenant School, a school with Kentenich pedagogy. “Covenant”, can be seen on the door of the house where the initial level or kindergarten is located, and covenant awaits us in the wayside shrine, and in every corner of this house, in every person who greets us, in every child playing in the garden. —
“Hello Maria, again we want to thank you for your visit and for the beautiful mission of spreading Schoenstatt and setting hearts on fire. We particularly want to tell you that your words about our school not being a place where the Kentenich pedagogy is developed, but that it is Schoenstatt itself, have mobilized us, moved us, since we try to consecrate our life to the mission of our Founder,” Guillermo Ferreyra commented to me a few hours later. This is the best summary he could and I can give of this visit on March 22, the same day that in Rome, in his weekly catechesis, Pope Francis spoke to us about the church that “dialogically encounters the contemporary world”, a process that “also entails the capacity to change the ways of understanding and living its evangelizing presence in history, avoiding taking refuge in the comfortable zones of the logic of “it has always been done this way””.
In this school, its founders, along with many leaders and teachers – several of whom come from the Schoenstatt Men’s and Girls’ Youth – have created a Schoenstatt that is an answer to the real questions of the families, a Schoenstatt that dialogically encounters the contemporary world in Gonnet, a locality of Greater La Plata with some 23,000 inhabitants.
10 years ago, with eleven kids
“Ten years ago, four people with a big dream and eleven children started here, in our home,” say Alejandra, the director of the nursery school and in charge of pastoral care and ESI (Integral Sexual Education), and Guillermo, the legal representative of Covenant. Today there are 500 students, from nursery to high school, in three modern buildings, clean, full of light, with large green areas and with the presence of Jesus and Mary in every classroom, in every corner. These buildings are shrines, I think. Shrines that are open to the people of today.
Later, when we visited the building that houses the first two years of secondary school, we met the “proud founders”, those children of that time. In Argentina it is very common to mix students from the same grade after a couple of years. “We thought about it a lot,” Alejandra told me, “and decided not to do it. It seemed more organic for the children to stay together with their friends. Over time, they understand that they are not just a group, but a community, and that it’s for a reason that they are together.” In a very simple and organic way, the students in each grade get to find and express their name, their grade ideal. When we were with the “Peregrine Falcons”, we wanted to know if this ideal is really something of their own, so we asked the young people… What would be my surprise (and joy) when with conviction, pride and creativity they take turns to explain to me all about the big and strong wings of the Peregrine Falcons, how they know how to find their way in their hectic lives, seeking to go further and further, to discover something new each time, without ever getting lost… The same thing happens in the other course. It is authentic, totally authentic. The joy of these young people talking about their ideal and about their school is contagious. “Do they like going to school?”. The “Yes”, accompanied by happy faces, speaks for itself.
This pedagogy of ideal begins at the initial level, and it begins just as it began more than 100 years ago among the students in the Schoenstatt Valley, at the hand of Joseph Kentenich: with real stories of people who lived a life that inspires. The rooms in the Kindergarten house are named after outstanding people, and the children are shown the life of Joseph Engling, of Barbara Kast…and instead of the sort of old-fashioned photos, they asked a painter to draw pictures.
Evangelization from the encounter
“In the reality of La Plata we experience that families begin to approach the faith through their children, who receive an organic catechesis, with religious experiences beyond the formation. This is what Francis proposes when he urges us to return to the Kerygma”, says Guillermo. They begin to talk about the Masses in the school with Fr. Tommy Nin Mitchell, how he knows to reach out to the children, the joy of the older students when preparing these Masses for and with the younger ones, the visits to nearby shrines such as those of La Plata, Sion del Padre, Confidentia or Nuevo Schoenstatt for some festivities, and religious celebrations like Confession or First Communion, or to more distant shrines during the end of the year trips, such as the ones in Cordoba or Rosario. “We always look for places with shrines,” Jeremías Ferreyra, director of the Primary Level, tells me. “We share the dream of traveling to the Original Shrine, in Germany, in the future, with the high school graduates…”.
In the families, Guillermo commented, there is not much ecclesial or religious life. The children find the living faith at school, through words, gestures, songs and forms proper to their age and their concerns. The parents of the children, who are sharing moments at school, are people who are looking for… and find answers to this time, in the organic, in the respectful and supportive coexistence, in the joy in the other and their gifts. One student, because of difficulties, had to cancel his participation in the year-end trip he had longed for, since “my family cannot afford it”. “While we were discussing among ourselves the way to take him, the parents of the students of that class appeared with the money for his trip, raised by all of them”. Does that sound like the “New Man in the new community”? It is. It is Schoenstatt. It is like that Schoenstatt that emerged and grew in the trenches of the First World War, in real life. Only that the “sodalists”, the apostles of this Schoenstatt are children (and their teachers).
Give me the right words…
After our tour of the classrooms, dining rooms, kitchens, wayside shrines, home shrines – including the one with the picture blessed by Pope Francis -, we sat around the table and began to talk….
The great theme of the church, as well as of Schoenstatt: the “usual” words and expressions. To hold on to them, or to look for new ways of expressing the same content, the same message? At Covenant School they opt for understandable words that reach the people. It is always a search, an evaluation. It is a listening to the voices of the soul, an observation of the processes of life. What is it that God, through Mary of the Covenant, is developing in the children, in the youth, in their parents? Which of the Schoenstatt experiences and ‘answers’ is it that we can and should offer at this moment? We mutually inflame each other when we speak about the fact that “only” Schoenstatt needs to become life in me, so that the right words will spring from the heart.
For the world needs “evangelizers who speak to it of a God whom they themselves know and treat familiarly” (EN, 76). It is not to transmit an ideology or a “doctrine” about God, no. It is to transmit God who becomes life. It is to transmit God who becomes life in me: this is to give witness; and also because “contemporary man listens more willingly to those who give witness than to those who teach, […] or if they listen to those who teach, it is because they give witness” (ibid., 41)”, Pope Francis affirmed hours before. Schoenstatt (the Church) “must be a Church that dialogically encounters the contemporary world, that weaves fraternal relationships, which generates spaces of encounter, applying good practices of hospitality, of welcome, of recognition and integration of the other and of otherness, and that takes care of the common home that is creation. In other words, a Church that dialogically encounters the contemporary world, dialogues with the contemporary world”.
On the return trip, we did not stop talking about what we had experienced: We lived Schoenstatt – nothing more, nothing less.
Original: Spanish. Translation: Maria Fischer @schoenstatt.org