Jaime Tatay Nieto SJ
Two weeks ago, a group of graduate students at Universidad Pontificia Comillas approached me and invited me to join the Fridays for Future climate change demonstration, a student-led protest started last August by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager. They knew I was part of a group of teachers trying to push forward the sustainability agenda in the university, and they assumed I would encourage them. They assumed well.
In a time when university students hardly ever mobilize or protest publicly, I thought this was a great initiative, so I decided to join them. We walked all the way down from the downtown campus to the Spanish Parliament in Madrid, where we sat and sang for an hour and half.
The weather was great – indeed, too warm for March – and the atmosphere festive, but I felt a bit like an outsider, since this was a protest where most demonstrators were high school and college students, and I’m already in my 40s. So, I decided to stay at the peripheries of the group and pay close attention to what they were doing, singing, and speaking. As time went by, I felt energized by their songs and their creative slogans, though I didn’t agree with all of them.
Then, a sentence from Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, came to my mind: “We see increasing sensitivity to the environment and the need to protect nature, along with a growing concern, both genuine and distressing, for what is happening to our planet […] The goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.” (LS 19)
This type of message of deeper personal change can be continually highlighted in the Madrid climate strike. Almost every song and every slogan written on the cardboards asked for an economic or a political change. The need for a personal transformation is present given the impact on parents and people who see they must respond with greater personal integrity to this younger generation.
I also must change, as often I demand rapid changes “out there,” unwilling or unable to kickstart little personal ones within.
Lent is, for us Christians, the time for conversion, the time for personal transformation. In a way, it is also the time to go on strike – both internally and externally. I hope and pray that this period of grace helps me to be authentic, to bring together the external and the internal, the ideas and the feelings. I hope it helps me internalize the numbers and facts I teach in the classroom.
Because the goal, especially during Lent, is “to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
I believe this is a goal – a very particular type of sustainable development goal – that, along with political advocacy and social mobilization, could change the world for better.
Jaime Tatay Nieto SJ is professor at the Faculty of Theology at Universidad Pontificia Comillas and is also part of the Higher Education for Social Transformation Ecology Cluster (HEST-Ecology), a group of scholars from European Jesuit higher education institutions working on sustainability concerns and promoted by the Jesuit Conference of European Provincials.