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Accompaniment: The Heart of Catholic Education

Accompaniment: The Heart of Catholic Education

“We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.” [1]

Coming to see ourselves as accompaniers is not a native skill for those of us coming from a rational, Western intellectual tradition. A tradition often painted as a ruggedly individualistic paradigm that makes it hard to see, much less understand, how a community-based approach to education operates on the ground.

Francis recognizes the importance of the accompanier, and stresses the nuanced combination of experience, strength, vulnerability and humility that effective accompaniment requires. He articulates the qualities that young people have identified as necessary for effective accompaniment:

…someone who actively listens to the needs of young people and responds in kind; someone deeply loving and self-aware; someone who recognizes his or her limits and knows the joys and sorrows of the spiritual journey.” [2]

Accompaniment begins with an acknowledgment of one’s own humanity, of shortcomings and mistakes, and accepting the fact that we are “not perfect people but forgiven sinners.” The accompanier cannot occupy a pedestal; this keeps the accompaniment relationship chilly, even callous, and when the accompanier falls from the pedestal – as we all must at some point – “it may have a devastating impact on young people’s ability to continue to engage with the Church.” Accompaniers “should not lead young people as passive followers, but walk alongside them, allowing them to be active participants in the journey.” [3]

So how do we know if we are accompanying? Francis guides us: “A sign of this willingness to listen is the time we are ready to spare for others. More than the amount of time we spend, it is about making others feel that my time is their time, that they have all the time they need to say everything they want.” [4] Accompaniment is quality time, and in our Catholic schools, educators are challenged to embrace the core belief of accompaniment – to listen, to walk alongside, to spend quality time with their students, starting from their situation, not our own, and to not forget that Christ and the Communion of Saints are joining us on the journey.

[1] Antonio Spadaro S.J., “A Big Heart Open to God.” America (New York, N.Y. :1909) 209, no. 8 (September 30, 2013): 26.

[2] Christus Vivit, §246.

[3] Christus Vivit §246

[4] Christus Vivit §292

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