Food and energy for all and the common discernment to engage from common reflection toward common action was the theme for the Eurojess Congress 2015 in Milan, Italy from 24 to 28 August 2015, gathering European Jesuits in Social Sciences (Eurojess) and work collaborators.
Eurojess is a group of Jesuits and collaborators in Europe involved in social analysis and social work and who meet every two years in a congress. Beyond theoretical reflections on food and energy, the purpose of this congress was to experience a process of Ignatian discernment to lead the congress from strategic thinking on these issues to social and transformative action. The presence of leaders and members of the Jesuit European social centres ensures that the guidelines will be likely implemented, individually or at a European level.
First day: defining the scenario
The first session provided an introduction to the entire congress, opened by two keynote addresses from representatives of two social centres, CERAS in Paris, France and Aggiornamenti Sociali in Milan, Italy, followed by small group discussions.
CERAS has gone through a deep reflection about the challenges of energy transition, especially during a congress organized in Paris in September 2014 sponsored by Scribani. Maria Drique, researcher at CERAS, shared that CERAS undertook several seminars with different stakeholders in preparation for this congress, and these included business representatives, an academic working group, a working group with poor people, civil society (NGOs, trade unions, youth organizations, education), and a multidisciplinary scientific committee including a group of members of the editorial board of the journal Projet that CERAS edits.
The study focused on energy as a social and political question, showing also that in the vicious circles of poverty, the energy factor contributes to stress and to perpetuating poverty. There emerged a tension that will last throughout the congress: that social problems (energy poverty) are generally short-term problems while ecological problems (energy transition) are certainly long-term concerns. How then can this tension be articulated? To what extent can we sacrifice the present welfare of the poor in order to assure a sustainable future for all?
In a similar way, Aggiornamenti Sociali, represented by Chiara Tintori, organized a series of seminars in Milan and Padova under the theme of “Feeding the planet” through October and November 2014 in preparation for the Expo 2015 in Milan. The seminars organized were on: food, natural environment and lifestyles; right to food and food rights; and food, cultures, and religions.
Second day: Experiences and social change
After defining the scenario, the second session looked for examples of campaigns and activities related with food and energy that will lead to social change. There was a presentation by Michel Griffon, an agronomist and consultant to the French government on food security for developing countries and member of the editorial board of Projet.
Griffon described extensively the risks that present societies must face and the dilemmas to confront. One of the main dilemmas that emerged is the tension between the demands for political action and the technical aspects of the problems that politicians have to deal with. Griffon thinks that politicians cannot solve these problems alone and another source of control should be established. On the one hand, civil society, through suitable platforms, is proposing universal values to guide the work of politicians, and on the other hand are the technicians who are capable in looking for the most efficient alternatives.
Philippe Lamberts, a Belgian politician and Member of the European Parliament of the Group of the Greens, and from deep Christian convictions, presented the global and European emergency situation, both the social and ecological. Talking about inequalities in Europe, he showed how the Gini factor (that measures inequality) had been increasing up to 2007 and rocketed since the beginning of the crisis in many European countries. Using a periodic table of the elements, Lamberts showed how many critical chemical elements being exhausted due to intense extractive activity. According Lamberts, the answer to these challenges requires a major social change that incorporates the following: a) bottom-up that favors the initiatives on social economy, local small energy changes, changes in individual behavior, and other locally developed efforts; and b) top-bottom that puts pressure on politicians and business groups and does not contribute to environmental sustainability and social progress.
Paolo Petracca, leader of the Associazioni Cristiane Lavoratori Italiani (ACLI) Provinciali Milano Monza e Brianza or the Association of Italian Workers-Milan, and Paolo Pastore, director of Fairtrade Italia also shared local testimonies in behalf of groups working for social and environmental change.
Third day: Theology, spirituality and advocacy
After the analysis of experiences and processes of change, the third day was devoted to a theological and spiritual reflection including an experience on advocacy inspired by Ignatian spirituality.
Fr Prem Xalxo, SJ, Indian professor of environmental ethics at the Gregorian University presented Laudato si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical, with detail and intelligence. One statement sums up his presentation, that the encyclical presents scientific evidence of climate change and environmental degradation and urges to take effective measures to combat environmental problems both on religious and ethical grounds. Xalxo highlighted the potential tension between environmental and social problems, a tension that Pope Francis does not want to solve, but on the contrary, urges people to carry on properly.
The second theological reflection was provided by Gregoire Catta, a French Jesuit who just finished his doctoral thesis in theology at Boston College and who joined the Paris-based Centre Sèvres and CERAS. Catta also reflected on the encyclical of Pope Francis, arguing that this encyclical deepened the idea that both the poor and nature are our teachers. He shared that it is not only about the concerns on poverty or the environment, but that we should go a step further and recognize that the poor and nature can change our ways of life.
The application of Ignatian spirituality to advocacy was developed through the testimony by Peter Balleis, International Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), a Jesuit global organization that links with national and international advocacies on behalf of refugees and whose mission (to accompany, serve, and advocate) comes from the perspective of the three theological virtues of faith, charity, and hope.
As explained in their website, Eurojess is the network of Jesuits in Europe aimed at fostering discussions and dialogues on social issues. For the past two years, some were engaged in activities on energy transition, feeding the planet, access to safe water, and climate change. The social and environmental challenges that Laudato si’ highlighted reflect the critical urgency by which these should be addressed. The purpose of the Eurojess Congress 2015 is to identify the common challenges of these issues, the specific actions needed, and to reflect on possible joint commitment. By going to Milan, the congress was able take advantage of the World Fair whose theme was focused on “Feeding the planet” and where Aggiornamenti Sociali has been engaged in partnership with the Holy See, Caritas Internationalis, and other Christian and non-Christian organizations.