To “pay tribute” to his physics and English teachers from St Joseph’s College, Tiruchirapalli, President APJ Abdul Kalam lit the inaugural lamp on Tuesday afternoon at the Summit of Joy, the Sixth World Congress of Jesuit Alumni/ae.
The meet, organised by the city’s three Jesuit educational organisations — St Xavier’s Collegiate School, St Xavier’s College and St Lawrence School — is being held in Asia — at St Xavier’s College — for the first time. Though a South Asian address for the four-day event had been decided upon, Calcutta had to make a bid during the Sydney conference in 1997 to play host to the international event.
“One of the factors working in favour of Calcutta was that the Pope had visited the city,” explained Kalyan Chowdhury, member of the World Union of Jesuit Alumni/ae council. With a million Jesuit alumni/ae in India and a high concentration of Jesuit-run educational institutes, the country was “a natural choice” for the venue.
The Congress, which has adopted Tagore’s “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high” as its theme, brings together educators, industrialists, social action groups and others to promote international cooperation and “to facilitate the integration of efforts of Jesuit alumni/ae around the world”.
The President, invited as chief guest more in his capacity as a Jesuit alumnus, “took over” the ceremony, which was brought forward from 4 pm to 3 pm to accommodate the changes in his schedule. Arriving with guest of honour Governor Viren J. Shah (chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, though invited, could not join), he took the dais, flipping through papers and sharing notes with General Shankar Roychoudhury, president of the congress’ organising committee.
But as he delivered his highly personalised speech, the applause grew warmer. “It was because of them (his teachers) I could reach this place today,” said Kalam. Speaking highly of the Jesuit contribution to what was “holy and sacrosanct”, the President held forth on the importance of imbibing “values” through education.
Though he did not specifically refer to a secular academic agenda, Kalam spoke of the shared philosophy of Islam, Hinduism and Christianity — as he had learnt from his father and his two friends (a Christian who built a church and a priest in a Hindu temple) — to “love human beings”.
Though the meet comprises members of the church as well as laity, Jesuit dignitaries, including Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., superior general of the Jesuits, are present in numbers. Four focus areas of education and development, the role of business corporations and human development, environment and development, and empowerment of women have been chosen.
Representatives from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Congo, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Peru, Poland, Rwanda, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States will attend the workgroups, along with their Indian counterparts.