The First International Congress of Carmelite schools was held from April 8-13, 2010 at “Terenure College” in Dublin, Ireland. All of it, from the beginning to the end, was a great moment and wonderful opportunity to share our educational and personal experiences with all those present.
There were religious and lay people from five continents gathered to discuss education, specifically catholic education with a Carmelite stamp. This congress made us see how in spite of the geographical diversity, the core values of our Order are present in all our educational centers. These values we try and live out in each concrete reality within the culture and time that each one of us is living in our place of origin.
Also, we could live the internationality of the Order, which I think was a great discovery for the laity that accompanied us and for the many religious who participated, especially the young people.
The four lectures that were presented helped us to rethink the reality of our schools and can be a good reference in Carmelite formation for our houses if we are able to share it and work with it.
The round table discussions were moments to share our education and pastoral experience and helped us to see how the geographic, cultural and economic situations of the different participants do not make our local educational projects very different. In fact, the opposite is true.
We observed values, so important to us, including: prayer, commitment to the poor in all places, devotion and fondness and worship of Our Lady of Mount Carmel are present in the daily life of all our schools.
An important and well-liked part of the Congress was working in small groups where we could get down to discussing the specific reality of each school, where we could share concrete and daily experiences of our educational work, of our social commitment and solidarity as Carmelite schools and how we collaborate with the local church in each place. In these small groups we also found concrete ways of applying the human and religious values (especially those arising from the charism of the Order) to both the students and faculty of our schools and with the families that entrust the education of their children to us.
The setting was very nice and unbeatable: we could participate in the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Terenure College. Without a doubt, the best part in regards to logistics was the support that was given at all times by the local religious community and the teachers and students of the school who were always conscious of the needs, suggestions or requests of the participants.
Another special moment was the celebration of the Eucharist that was held in the school gym with the school community and presided by our Father General. It was a celebration that impressed many of us, not only because the student body and teachers were participating in different parts of the liturgy, but also by the silent atmosphere that was present in the gym. The surprise was greater for those of us who live in places where the celebratory and sacramental practices are cooler than in our school in Dublin.
Another important aspect of this first congress, especially for the religious men and women who participated in it, was the ability to check the support and involvement of the lay people who work in our schools. Their support and commitment to education assists the Order in the different educational projects that we have in many parts of the world. The vitality and existence of our schools would be endangered without this support and commitment to the continuation of our schools in those countries where there is a decline in the number of religious.
Both in the breaks and in the times of sharing the participants commented on the great opportunity that the congress provided to know each other personally, to know the different educational projects of the Order that are happening and the opportunity that is before us with respect to enrichment that can bring to our students and teachers the reality of the exchanges or visit that can be realized between schools and families of the Carmelite Family.
Personally, I hope and wish that this great educational opportunity will not remain wishful thinking of a moment of euphoria, but that we are truly able to open up personally and make available our facilities for this possibility that many are realizing in centers that have been discovered and are not Carmelite Schools.
Perhaps this experience between us was more enriched, more easily and, in one way, better able to create the reality of our Carmelite family.
Thanks to our Father General for his effort and participation in this Congress as a participant and for his translation work which is especially important for those who do not handle English well.
What stands out finally is the necessity to continue this Congress, perhaps on a regional or national level so that it is not just a passing event. Its continuance would provide an opportunity for a greater number of members of our school communities to participate and this would produce a greater enrichment of our schools.
May Our Lady of Mount Carmel help us reap the fruits of what has undoubtedly been the result of much hard work and dedication of our Father General and the International Commission for the organization and development of the First International Conference of Carmelite Schools.