Jesuits and friends from all over Asia Pacific met along the banks of the Mekong to bring together two very clear experiences. First is that of gratitude for all life and of wonder for the Mekong River and the life in it and along its banks, and second is the call to act. We usually associate Franciscans, Redemptorists, and other religious orders with a clear ecological spirituality and engagement, so why are Jesuits getting into the picture? Since the 35th General Congregation and the election of Fr. Adolfo Nicolas as Superior General, there is a clear organizational reflection of how creation is a fundamental basis of our faith and physical and social reality.
Jesuits are known for their critical deliberations and also for holding to a clear and focused path. So we might ask how significant is such a meeting? Creation today for the Society of Jesus, which is scientifically engaged both in academic excellence and social change, is challenged to understand and live the graces of Creation and integrally seek the best of human will in sustaining the planet we live on. The Jesuits are seeking to collaborate with others in the total human concern and scientific action to reconcile with Creation and build sustainable relations.
What was the agenda? The group was able to build a common understanding and shared approach to engage with reconciliation with creation. The group discovered and strengthened its engagement and commitment to reconciliation with creation across the Conference and committed to action aligned with the ecology strategy and action plans already emerging.
What did people bring to the event? People brought their personal lives, the reflection of Jesuit intellectual and social apostolates, education and research institutions, and openness to new horizons and challenges with a further sense of mission. The presence of lay partners during the workshop provided the opportunity to broaden the networking and foster partnerships with other Jesuit people on reconciliation with creation.
What did people come away with? There was clear support for the identified lead people in each province or region and those associated with ecological work. The existing programs were re-affirmed, guided by the strategy already outlined. In the process of discussions and visits with community, many gained a greater awareness of the ecological, social and developmental complexities of the Mekong River Basin and understood how they might continue to relate with these concerns. It was occasion to experience the river’s vast and magnificent flow of life-giving water with a complex hydrology and ecology that the world is challenged to manage sustainably.
There is a need to promote lifestyle-check and “internal” advocacy and conversion within the Jesuit community and its institutions. One group presented a general framework that included the basic elements of prayer, reflection, information resources, and possible steps for action to promote “internal” advocacy within our community.
The link with the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) in Asia Pacific gives the basis for the ecology group to engage with universities on green campus management. While the structural connections with universities are being established through AJCU, work will continue with Universitas Sanata Dharma (Sanata Dharma University), Akademi Teknik Mesin Industri-Solo in Indonesia and with the Ateneo de Davao University, Ateneo de Zamboanga University and the Environmental Science for Social Change in the Philippines. The effort is to lay out institutional options for environmental policy development and its rationalization through the training of “sustainability” officers with, for example, capacity for carbon accounting.
Programs previously identified include scholastics’ and lay partners’ formation, courses on cultural and ecological sustainability, apprenticeship, learning sustainable life, and engagement and reflection. One group agreed to have a focused program to train the trainers and began to identify the participants and training design and the basis and content of the training.
As a long-term action, Mekong may develop as a centre for learning where people can come together to engage, learn, and collaborate in action. The experience may indeed help others see the value in establishing a level of institutional commitment to move beyond exposure and develop strategies for engagement.
A focus for synergy and linkage is needed, and people can learn, like from the efforts to ban landmines, and seek to integrate environmental concerns and sustainable livelihoods with broader action.
Part of the emerging strategies and next steps include Our Environmental Way of Proceeding, the orientation of the Conference for environmental reflection, which was used during the meeting. There are planned activities for reflection using this orientation during different institutional reflections and events.
Many provincials have already appointed a “Fr. Green” or “ecology representative” who will share the basis for orientation and development of programs seeking to adjust our lifestyles and for managing our waste, electricity, and water.
It is a challenge, which the Jesuits are ill prepared to take on, yet clearly recognizing that with others they must, and propel their capacity and will behind these efforts not just locally and nationally, but regionally and internationally. The endeavour has begun and many are showing their interest to join forces. Not surprisingly, accountability for our own housekeeping and for educating and learning from an extensive student population are good places to begin.
The JCAP Mekong Workshop Report and Briefing Kit can be viewed and downloaded here.