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An interview with Valerio Ciriello SJ on organizing the Eco Summer Camp for Young People

An interview with Valerio Ciriello SJ on organizing the Eco Summer Camp for Young People

Valerio Ciriello SJ is the coordinator of the Eco Summer Camp for Young People, a one-week academy for students and young professionals held 22 to 28 August 2021 with the theme “From wild consumption to responsible engagement.” Launched by the Lassalle-Institut and jointly organized with Fastenopfer and the Centre for Development and Environment, the Eco Summer Camp takes place at Lassalle-Haus in Zug, Switzerland.

Fr Ciriello speaks with Ecojesuit in this exclusive interview, facilitated by Lumnesh Swaroop Kumar SJ, where he shares his experiences on what moved him to start this venture and how he intends to take this forward. The next Eco Summer Camp is scheduled next year from 25 August to 1 September 2022.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Valerio Ciriello, a Jesuit from Switzerland belonging to the newly founded Central European Province (ECE). Before entering the Society of Jesus in 2014, I was a lawyer. After my theological studies in the summer of 2020 in Paris, I  returned to Switzerland. I am now working as a university chaplain in the University of Lucerne, and at the Lassalle-Institut (Zug) as the promoter of ecological transition, especially among the young people.

How did this idea of an Eco Summer Camp for the youth spark within you?

The idea of the Eco Summer Camp came after my stay in the summer of 2019 at the Campus de la Transition near Paris and at the Schumacher College (Totnes) in England. But above all, it was my encounters with Sister Cecile Renouard, founder of the Campus de la Transition, and then with Prof. Gaël Giraud SJ, that were fundamental in directing my life more and more towards a deeper ecological transition. These encounters ignited within me the desire for a deeper ecological conversion, a desire which I thought the Eco Summer Camp could foster in young people.

Diversity is essential and camp participants have varied cultural, religious, geographical, educational, and professional backgrounds.

How many young people participated in this camp and from which countries?

There were 53 young adults who participated in this first edition of the Eco Summer Camp and they came from 14 European countries. This first edition targeted those living in Europe but all the continents were represented with participants coming from Latin America, North America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. All these participants are residing in Europe but a good number still came from Germany, Italy, and of course Switzerland.

What can other people outside of Europe learn from this camp in terms of organizing and participating in eco camps?

A major lesson others can learn from this camp is that young people are deeply concerned about the ecological reality and are ready to engage responsibly for a more sustainable world. They just need good orientations and a booster to set them going. This camp tried to do that.

Others outside Europe can think of organizing similar camps for young people taking into consideration the reality as their milieu. An Eco Summer Camp can be organized anywhere in the world, it’s not rocket science.

However, one of the most important elements to consider is to assure the diversity of participants. I deeply feel the heterogeneity of the participants (young adults from varied cultural, religious, geographical, educational, and professional backgrounds) at the Eco Summer Camp contributed immensely to its success. I am convinced this won’t have been possible with a homogeneous group. The diversity in a group is a priceless value which cannot be substituted with anything else!

If I could support the establishment of such a camp, in or outside Europe, I would be more than happy.

A major lesson learned from the Eco Summer Camp is that young people are deeply concerned about the ecological reality and are ready to engage responsibly for a more sustainable world.

What are the basic dynamics of the camp?

The dynamics of the camp are varied. The basic group dynamic is fostered by a pedagogy that provided highly differentiated learning modules in the framework of a holistic pedagogy. The training modules ranged from the classic class presentation but with great space for interactivity, workshops, walks through the forest, visit to an organic garden, excursion to university research laboratories and fields, and fireside talks with some of the experts, with the goal to know the person behind the expert.

All of these gave the participants and the experts the possibility of meeting with others at different levels, thus favoring a deeper feeling of fraternity. This was one of the main goals of the Eco Summer Camp: to touch and reach the hearts of the participants in order to start, slowly but steadily, an inner transformation of oneself that is oriented towards building sincere and strong fraternal relationships.

What are the significant results perceived at the end of the camp among the young people?

The most touchable and significant results I perceived are the deep re-connections fostered in the participants with nature and the whole earth, as well as sincere and strong bonds of friendships established in such a really short time among them. I think these bonds were created to support each other in their individual efforts towards a more sustainable word.

Are you planning to have similar camps in the future?

Of course, it would be a pity not to repeat such a beautiful experience, and the next Eco Summer Camp will take place next year from the 25August to 1September 2022, once again in Switzerland.

Do you foresee collaborations with groups outside of Europe in the future camps?

Obviously, we are open to collaborate with anyone in Europe and outside Europe, as we have already done through the participation of Georgetown University in the US through Prof. Gaël Giraud SJ, Founder and Director of the Georgetown Environmental Justice Program.

We are also ready to collaborate with people of different faiths and religions. From the very start, the Eco Summer Camp seeks to be a place open to other religions and worldviews. This is at attempt to be in coherence with the teaching of the encyclicals Laudato Si’ and Fratelli tutti that invite each one to go beyond the differences among us and find a common ground with our brothers and sisters around the world. This is an essential precondition to show the way towards a common destiny.

In what ways can the Universal Apostolic Preference (UAP) of the Society of Jesus for “Caring for our common home” be instilled among the young people with whom we engage ourselves?

I believe, and the Eco Summer Camp experience has demonstrated this very well, that if we really want to inspire young people, to open them up to the care for our common home, then we as Jesuits must open our selves too. We must open up to others. In creating bonds, we inspire the young people to connect among themselves for a more sustainable world.

“If we really want to inspire young people, to open them up to the care for our common home, then we as Jesuits must open our selves too. We must open up to others. In creating bonds, we inspire the young people to connect among themselves for a more sustainable world. I think that the time of “solitary” initiatives has passed, not because we don’t have the means to train the young generations with our structures, but because from a pedagogical point of view, we would be giving the wrong signal if we are not able to collaborate with people and institutions not linked to the Church in this field.”

I think that the time of “solitary” initiatives has passed, not because we don’t have the means to train the young generations with our structures, but because from a pedagogical point of view, we would be giving the wrong signal if we are not able to collaborate with people and institutions not linked to the Church in this field.

The encyclicals Laudato Si’ and Fratelli tutti ask us to walk together with others – and that is, with everyone. If, on the other hand, we only focus on those who are part of “our flock,” I don’t think we give a great signal of openness.

Moreover, as I previously mentioned, diversity makes the search for solutions and the encounter with the other much more interesting. If the Eco Summer Camp was addressed only to Catholics, it would not be as successful.

In addition, collaboration was sought from the beginning with secular institutions in order to give not only a sign of openness but also to remove the suspicion of a hidden “evangelization” agenda behind the event.

In engaging with young people, we need to show them that we are capable of the fraternal relationship, in and out of our circles, which we are calling them to build for a more sustainable world. This is, by the way, how Jesus was encountering the people of his time, regardless of their cultural, social, or religious background.

For more information on the 2022 Eco Summer Camp for Young People, please go to Lassalle-Institut or email Fr Valerio at [email protected].

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