Rappai Poothokaren, SJ and Robert Athickal, SJ
Jesuits from the South Asian Assistancy gathered in Sawantwadi in the western part of India for the Ignatian Eco-Retreat from 8 to17 November 2012.
It all began with a suggestion at the Western Region JESA (Jesuits in Social Action) meeting at Saint Xavier’s College, Mumbai to have an Eco Spirituality Retreat. Fr. Rappai Poothokaren, SJ volunteered to organize and Fr Robert Athickal, SJ of Taru Mitra, Patna, the pioneer in Eco Action among Jesuits in India, agreed to conduct an ‘Ignatian Eco Retreat.’
Jesuits from all over India were invited and 24 from eight provinces joined the retreat, 13 coming from Gujarat Province. All ministries were represented – social action, parish work, college and school education, theology teaching, missionary work in Adivasi lands, social research, and ecological action. All seemed to look for an experience of the Lord of the Universe, in and with the Universe. The ‘Principle and Foundation’ and the ‘Contemplation to attain love’ – the beginning and the culmination of the Spiritual Exercises were an invitation to find the Lord of Creation all around us, and commune with him in the whole Universe.
A team consisting of Fr. Robert and Sr. Mudita RSCJ of Taru Mitra, Patna, ably assisted by Dr. Orla Hazra, guided a very enlightening and inspirational retreat. With all the senses open and receptive, the group went out into Nature, and found the Lord everywhere. “We are called to be mystics, in intimate communion with a sense of cousinship with the entire universe,” said the Biblical theologian, Fr. George Mlakuzhy from Delhi.
After very enlightening and informative films about the beginnings of the Universe, Dr. Orla Hazra conducted the “Cosmic Walk” to internalize our 13.7 billion year history. Called the” Big History,” the attempt was to see salvation history extended to the beginning of the cosmos at the Big Bang when the universe exploded into existence. The feeling of cousinship with all beings in the presence of the immanent God in the universe was exhilarating; we felt intimately related to everything around us, a deep sense of fellowship and total belonging.
Quality time with the Earth
The group spent quality time with the Earth, most of it outdoors. The Eucharistic celebrations were organized in “God’s Cathedral” under the stars above, tall trees around and with candle/earthen lights. One day the team from Tarumitra led a pilgrimage to the biodiversity-rich Narendrapur mountains nearby. As the group climbed, they gathered at stops representing billions of years in between to reflect about the evolution of the universe – from the Big Bang to our present day.
“The meditative walk to the hills interspersed with stop overs to make reflections turned out to be very helpful for my journey into the heart of the universe!” said Fr. Jimmy Dabhi of Gujarat, former Director of Indian Social Institute, Delhi.
Some of the retreatants said that they liked the insistence to spend quality time outdoors. “The sayings of the early church fathers, Ignatius of Antioch and Ireneus, that creation was the primary book of God’s revelation struck me as something of a turning point in my life,” said Fr. Chacko from Dumka-Raigunj Province.
Fr. Mathias Kisku SJ from Dumka-Raigunj Province, Jharkhand, expressed satisfaction over the week of PowerPoint presentations, prayers and celebrations. “It is time for the Church to explore the rich tradition of the Adivasis for an effective way of living in harmony with nature,” he said.
The call to mysticism
Fr. James Mascarenhas SJ, an activist and lawyer from Mumbai, liked the way the Tarumitra team explained the stages of spiritual growth. He said that spirituality was always in transition, from the elemental popular spirituality of rites and rituals, the Church helps the religious to travel towards ascetical and mystical levels. “Eco-spirituality in all these three levels needs discussion, guidance and experimentation. You have certainly made us more determined to play our part in making this world a better place to live in, especially for the generations that will be coming,” said Fr. Mascarenhas.
Quoting Carl Rahner the theologian, Fr. Robert Athickal kept talking about the need to become mystics in the 22nd century. “Mysticism consists in transcending the temporary into the eternal, from the prosaic rituals to an intimacy of one-ing with the Divine,” said Fr. Robert. He suggested that Jesuit tradition is intimately based on the mystical experience of Saint Ignatius by the river Cardoner when the saint experienced the Oneness of things in God.
Call to action
The group felt that only a deep, personal and spiritual experience of our co-existence in the Lord’s universe with all beings could lead us to transformative action, within and without.
“We need to relate to nature differently, enjoy the fellowship of all creation and experience our ‘cousinship’ with all – that would lead us to a life of joy and gratitude, to a life of ecological sanity. Caring for our Earth would become a spontaneous outpouring of the fellow-feeling within,“ added Dr. Orla Hazra.
Recapitulating the progress made by the participants who were mostly in their fifties, Fr. Lancy D’Cruz SJ from Saint Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad, said “We are in the process of constituting a resource team of activists, pastors, formation personnel and scholars in life sciences at the national level to promote a holistic eco-spirituality for our times.”
The group suggested that religious communities must experiment with an eco-friendly way of life through practices such as using bio-wood stoves for cooking, planting trees, saving electricity, using alternate energy, organizing appropriate liturgical celebrations on earth themes, among others.
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