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Casa Velha: Ecology and spirituality, an Ignatian collaboration

30 June 2015
Youth at Casa Velha

Youth at Casa Velha

Margarida Alvim

Casa Velha is an ecology and spirituality center located in a family farm in the municipality of Ourém, Portugal, about 137 kilometers from the capital Lisbon. In 2009, the Casa Velha project started and since then, has attracted over 1,000 people a year who joined more than 30 different workshops.

When the visitors arrive, they are searching for themselves, for others, and for God. They build experiences in a context of a simple and shared life in contact with nature, prayer, and rural work. To better respond to these challenges, Casa Velha – Ecologia e Espiritualidade (or Ecology and Spirituality) was established in 2012 as a Catholic nonprofit association with a commitment to the environment and local development.

The old barn was transformed into a hostel with 27 beds and the restored farmhouse accommodates nine double rooms with meeting tables. The transformation of Casa Velha inspires and transforms those passing by, showing how possible it is to transform the world in a common house for all. The very slow growth of Casa Velha, with few resources and the participation of many people, is an inspiring example of sustainable development that is inclusive and creative.

This ecological and spiritual center is shared among family members, lay friends of different ages, and representatives of the Portuguese Provincial of the Society of Jesus and of the Servants of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Their identities and missions contribute to the richness of Casa Velha. The experience of being welcomed and feeling at home, rediscovering roots in the earth, strongly affects almost everyone who pass through, confirming the ecological and spiritual dimensions in our being.

Farm Velha

The Casa Velha project started in a family farm.

The mission of Casa Velha is undertaken through various activities in education, with schools and youth groups and movements. These youth are provided opportunities to renew their relations with the land and learning the rhythm of a more sustainable and conscious life, to understand local development by promoting sustainable local production networks, to undergo human and spiritual formation with silent retreats and voluntary service adapted to the rhythm of the seasons.

In 2011, Casa Velha hosted a Magis experience of ecology, with a group of Irish, Spanish and Lebanese youth and which was repeated in 2014 with a Magis youth group from Ireland. In 2013, Casa Velha started to offer spiritual exercises. For three years, a rural Easter has been organized, encouraging Triduum activities for a group of 30 youth from the village of Vale Travesso. For the last four years, Casa Velha has hosted a group of volunteers, college students and young professionals that come together in the community one weekend a month to pray and to serve in different work missions in the village and surrounding areas.

We share two testimonies from that describe well the work of Casa Velha:

“I live in a cosmopolitan city, surrounded by buildings, cars, airplanes, strangers, noise and non-stop advertising. In the street or in public transport, it is normal to see people reading the newspaper, listening to an iPod or surfing the Internet, always in silence. If you want to know what Casa Velha is, you can imagine the opposite. When I arrived at Casa Velha, I was impressed by the landscape in front of me. The landscape gave my eyes the freedom to look away, to look much further than they normally do. It was enough simply to be in a place where there was plenty of space for my soul to explore and seek new horizons.” – Niall Leahy, SJ from Ireland, participant Magis 2011

“The gateway to Casa Velha is always open; almost no one notices that the surrounding walls have a gate. It is the first image that leads to a place where we are expected. It drives us to a place where we don’t live in anymore and it inhabits us. We inhabit because it builds and rebuilds what we are, and moves us to build and rebuild ourselves and elsewhere, construction accompanying rhythms, our own and those of nature, leading to prune, to plant and harvest, to accompany, to see birth and death, to see destroy and rebuild …

“This is a house where you can live, pray, celebrate, accompany, and play. This is a house where the world and God are known, which brings us back to our home and creates in us a desire so that the walls of simplicity are raised and the same spaces of encounter and communion are built.” – Luisa Sobral from Braga, Portugal

Margarida Alvim is the Project Coordinator of the Casa Velha Project. For more information about Casa Velha, please send an email to projectocasavelha(at)gmail.com or visit their Facebook.

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