Rigobert Minani SJ
In a joint discernment in the light of the encyclical Laudato Si’, around 120 delegates gathered in Quito, Ecuador from 23 to 27 November for the first Latin American and Caribbean gathering on integral ecology with the theme Disciples-Missionaries, custodians of creation and discussed concerns on human rights, development models, climate change, the church and mineral governance, and resilience and adaptation of communities to climate change.
The seminar activity was undertaken to foster a space for meeting and articulation between different ecclesial actors interested in caring for the common home and sought to encourage, deepen, and guide the meaning and implications of integral ecology, inspired Laudato Si’.
“Integral ecology is grounded in Jesus Christ and it needs immediate action” said one speaker. One after the other, the speakers talked of the urgency of dealing with this issue of ecology in different ways. “This issue cannot wait until tomorrow because tomorrow will be too late to save our common home….” Everyone is invited to take part in this issue as no one can turn a blind eye to it. “There is need for conversion for those who are indifferent to ecological issues. Laudato Si’ is a strong critic of those who do not believe in climate change and its effects on all creation.”
The gathering was convened by the Department of Justice and Solidarity-Latin American and Caribbean Episcopal Conference (Departamento de Justicia y Solidaridad-Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano or DEJUSOL-CELAM), with assistance from Cáritas Ecuador, Red Eclesial Panamazonica (REPAM, Confederación Caribeńa y Latinoamericana de Religiosas y Religiosos (CLAR), and Red Iglesias y Mineria.
Lay men and women, religious, and members of indigenous communities joined and Archbishop Pedro Jimeno Barreto SJ of Huancayo, Perú and REPAM president and Bishop Gilberto Alfredo Vizcarra Mori SJ, Vicar Apostolic of Jaén, Perú and former missionary in Chad were present along with other Jesuits in Latin America. From the Vatican, representatives from the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development also joined.
Archbishop Barreto told participants that in the journey of the Church to respond to the call of Pope Francis to take care of our common home, REPAM in Latin America and the Ecclesial Network of the Congo Basin Forest (réseau Ecclésial de la forêt du Bassin du Congo or REBAC) in Africa, are kairos initiatives that contribute to the needed responses to the impacts of climate change and pave ways for a better future for the generations to come. These networks represent an opportune time to deal with and address ecological concerns. “REPAM and REBAC, says Bishop Barreto, are very important for life in the world.”
This is echoed in Laudato Si’ where it is written: “Let us mention… those richly biodiverse lungs of our planet which are the Amazon and the Congo basins, or the great aquifers and glaciers. We know how important these are for the entire earth and for the future of humanity…” (LS 38)
Participants were also reminded of the strong statement of Pope Francis “everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.” (LS 70)
This invites us to develop a spirituality of global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity. This eco-spirituality accompanied the entire meeting with a song in Portuguese Tudo está inter-relacionado.
Madre Tierra celebration
One of the key moments in the seminar was the two-hour celebration of Madre Tierra (Mother Earth) led by a group of Indigenous Peoples and a woman leader as the main celebrant.
All the participants gathered around a tree with many symbols, one of which was the Maya calendar. The recognition of the value of the elements around the tree was followed by songs and incantations. Different beverages from forest products were then offered to the participants.
The aim of this celebration was to connect participants with nature (Madre Tierra) and to remind them that people are part of the earth, along with the rivers, the plants, the trees, the birds, the animals, etc. People are part of nature and destroying nature is destroying life itself. This celebration was an eye-opener for most participants and many believe that they now have a better understanding of the message of Pope Francis in Laudato Si’.
A learning gained for broadening Laudato Si’ in the African region
As I was also there to represent REBAC, there is a need to investigate symbols in the African spirituality that connect with nature so as to better popularize Laudato Si’ in Africa. To promote integral ecology and popularize Laudato Si’, communities will need to organize different forms of activities that can help Africans recognize the place of nature in their own lives.
The Church of Africa can learn from the different experiences of Latin America in putting Laudato Si’ into practice. In fact, all our work in ecology should be done in a spirit of thanksgiving and praise to the Lord.
Laudato Si’…Praise be to you my Lord.
Rigobert Minani SJ coordinates the JESAM Social Apostolate and is the Director of Jesuits Africa Social Centres Network (JASCNET). He represented REBAC after its delegation concluded an exchange visit with REPAM in Brasilia (Brazil) and Porto Velho in Amazonia.