The Planet Is Our Home

There is no institution so old that it has nothing left to learn – and the Catholic Church must commit to learning about and changing its practices in relation to ecological issues. This was the message from Colombian Jesuit Fr José Mesa, Secretary of Primary and Secondary Education at the Jesuit Curia in Rome and one of the keynote speakers at the JCAP Education Colloquium in Sydney.

Titled The Planet is Our Home, the colloquium brought together nearly 100 delegates from nine countries across the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific to discuss the role that Jesuit schools can play in reconciliation with creation.

“We have to be wary about a tradition that is simply replicating what is done in the past,” said Fr Mesa. “We have seen the natural environment as a raw material for our own comfort, but now we need to see ourselves as part of the natural world.”

“We don’t see problems, we see challenges and solutions, because we believe God is working with us,” he said.

JCAP Colloquium small groupKnowing how successful the JCAP Education Colloquium in Fukuoka in 2010 had been, planning for this colloquium began some 10 months earlier under the energetic leadership of Jennie Hickey, Sharon McLean, and Sue Martin.  Fr Christopher Gleeson SJ, JCAP’s Secretary for Basic and Secondary Education, said that a decision was taken in the early planning phase to focus the Colloquium on one of the Society’s highest priorities and greatest challenges – Reconciliation with Creation. Each of the three days had its particular sub-theme: theology and spirituality of creation; reconciliation with creation globally; and best practice in reconciliation with creation.

Fr Mesa’s opening address was followed by eminent Australian theologian, Fr Denis Edwards, and Dr Pat Fox, a Mercy Sister and specialist in Ignatian spirituality. “Their theological and spiritual inspiration underpinned the whole Colloquium for us and provided what St. Ignatius would call an excellent composition of place,” said Fr Gleeson.

On day two, the Colloquium looked out on our globe. Fr Benny Juliawan SJ from Indonesia provoked the delegates with questions about teaching justice to today’s generation.  He said that progress is one of the driving forces of the destruction of our planet, and that Jesuit schools are partly responsible for instilling this drive in students. This presents a conflict between the ideal of an entrepreneurial self and the Jesuit concept of men and women for others, and challenges schools to encourage a student body which sees service of others as more fulfilling than material achievement.  

“There is no place in our schools for a faith that keeps things merely personal and is divorced from the concerns of the world. Solidarity should be real in the perspective of students.”

This led into hearing a young Riverview alumnus, David Lukas, sharing his story about leaving the law and financial sector to begin his own company helping businesses to manage their energy, and another engaging speaker – Jacqui Remond, Director of Earthcare Australia.

2014 JCAP ColloquiumThere was also time to examine and share resources in best practice. A passionate JCAP Coordinator for Reconciliation with Creation, Fr Pedro Walpole SJ, opened proceedings with some powerful reflections on the importance of living a simple life.

“[It’s] an interior movement that forms our attitudes, for if we do not form them, they are formed from the world around us, and we do not know what values we hold,” he said, adding that our “response to the environment has to be something out of joy and simplicity, not out of coercion and the weight of the responsibility”.

 Award-winning Ann Austin spoke, with great vigour and humour, about best practice in building construction and management, providing some thought-provoking advice for those in the audience contemplating new school buildings.  Maria Tiimon from the Pacific Calling Partnership shared her own moving story about the devastating effects of climate change on her family home in the low-lying Pacific islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu.

Each afternoon was devoted to two sessions of workshops on a wide variety of topics including ecological conversion and the Ecological Examen, an environmental walk around the scenic Riverview campus, First Nations spirituality, Ignatian listening to God in nature, teaching justice, energy audits and lowering one’s energy bills, sustainability in the Australian curriculum, bringing higher education to camp-based refugees, stimulating growth in low-income countries, visiting a coal loader, a Healing Earth Coordinators’ course, environmental best practice in building, climate justice, and empowering students to solve our waste crisis.

“Clearly, it was a very packed program, but participants had sprinklings of time for Ignatian reflection on their experiences. The beautiful celebration of the Eucharist each day picked up the various Colloquium themes and enabled us to praise and thank God for the wonders of His creation!” said Fr Gleeson.

The JCAP Education Colloquium was held at St Ignatius’ College Riverview from July 8 to 12, 2014.  The nearly 100 participants came from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines, Timor Leste, and of course Australia. [Fr Christopher Gleeson SJ, Province Express]