Xavier Jeyaraj SJ
Following the publication of Limits to Growth in 1972 and the Rio Summit (UN Conference on Environment and Development or the Earth Summit) in 1992 in which six Jesuits working in the field of environment participated, there emerged a growing concern from Jesuit Provinces that recognized the relationship between the promotion of justice and the challenges of environmental degradation.
The general feeling was that the option for the poor and the option for the earth were inseparable, as environmental degradation particularly affected the poorest more than others.
Evolution of justice and reconciliation with Creation in the Society
During the 34th General Congregation (GC) of the Society of Jesus in 1995, there was an official recognition for the first time of the growing ecological and environmental problems in the world and their impact on the poor, on the vulnerable, and on nature. This concern emerged from Jesuits who already saw and experienced its impact in some of their mission countries.
Hence, the 34th GC recommended to Father General to make a study and orient the entire Society of Jesus for its future mission on ecology. The Social Justice Secretariat, under the guidance of its Secretary, Michael Czerny SJ, made a study and published its results in We live in a broken world: Reflections on Ecology in 1999.
Subsequently in 2008, reflecting further during the 35th GC on the ecological challenges faced, every Jesuit was called to establish right relationship with God, with one another, and with creation. It invited everyone to reconcile with creation and “move beyond doubts and indifference to take responsibility for our home, the earth” (emphasis mine). To do this in an organized and collaborative way, the GC invited the Jesuits to “build bridges between rich and poor, establish advocacy links of mutual support…”
Taking cognizance of the GC invitation to reconcile ourselves with the creation and establish networks and advocacy links in tandem with each other, the then Social Justice Secretariat established the Global Ignatian Advocacy Networks (GIANs) for Ecology and three other areas in 2008 after a weeklong global discernment and planning.
The GIAN Ecology is commonly known as Ecojesuit today. Since the Secretariat was entrusted with the additional responsibility of ecological justice works for the Society of Jesus, the Secretariat was rechristened as Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES) in 2010.
With this mandate of then Father General Adolfo Nicolás, a Task Force was formed to collectively discern, plan, and prepare a plan of action for ecological justice works at all levels. The outcome was the document, Healing a Broken World in 2011, a kind of Jesuit precursor to Laudato Si’ of Pope Francis.
Having gone through a year of discernment within the Society of Jesus – in communities, provinces, conferences, and the universal Society – current Father General Arturo Sosa promulgated the four Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) on 19 February 2019, after getting confirmation from Pope Francis.
In his note, Pope Francis affirmed that the proposed preferences “are in agreement with the current priorities of the Church.” For the Society of Jesus, to collaborate in the care of our Common Home is one of the four UAPs for the next 10 years.
The Ignatian/Jesuit characteristics for promoting ecological justice
In this short reflection on how the Society of Jesus promotes the justice and reconciliation mission with creation, I present seven discernment characteristics or steps that Jesuits are called to follow. They are:
1. Establish personal friendship with the poor
This is a fundamental aspect. As Saint Ignatius wrote to the Jesuits in Padua in 1547, “Our commitment to follow a poor Lord, quite naturally makes us friends of the poor.”
These poor are neither a sociological category nor a pious intellectual generalization, but the faces and names of real persons and communities among whom we live and with whom we work.
Hence, being in solidarity with the voiceless and the powerless is an absolute must. “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Pro. 31: 8-9)
2. Listen to the cry of the earth and the creation
It is not only the poor and the vulnerable who are voiceless and powerless, but the entire creation.
As Saint Paul says, the entire ‘creation is groaning in travail.’ Hence, we must listen to the groaning of the polluted waters, abused land, threatened oceans, disastrous and extreme weather, dying plants and animals, degraded forests, vegetation and soil, etc.
The prophet Isaiah so clearly articulates in saying, “The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants, for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt.” (Is. 24:5-6)
3. Rigorous scientific research and analysis
Intellectual apostolate is central to the mission of the Society of Jesus and its contribution in every field of knowledge is well known. Rigorous scientific study and analysis is a charism of the Society and a dimension of the Jesuit way of proceeding in every apostolate.
Father General Nicolás said, “It is not only scientific knowledge – knowledge about something – but a kind of knowledge that leads the individual to have an attitude of constant search for the big questions and, moreover, which leads the individual to empathy, to be compassionate towards all human beings, and to be respectful of nature as a gift and, even of the Ignatian principle of seeking and finding God in all things.”
4. Examen from personal, structural and inter-cultural perspectives
The Ignatian five-step examen, namely: Gratitude, Awareness, Understanding, Conversion and Reconciliation is a wonderful tool of prayer. It helps one to reflect on one’s personal relationship with God’s creation, to acknowledge and amend one’s ways, and to promote ecological justice by standing in solidarity with those most impacted by environmental harm.
A sincere ecological examen is not only a prayer, but also in action; one that leads to conversion and commitment to care for our common home as Pope Francis tells us.
5. Work in collaboration with others:
Recent Popes have told the Jesuits that ‘the Church needs you.’ Following this invitation of Pope Benedict XVI, GC 35 gave a decree titled as ‘Collaboration at the heart of our mission.’
We recognize that we are not alone in the mission of justice and reconciliation in the world. Our mission is to collaborate with people of good will in the service of human family and the entire universe. “Our identity is not alone but in companionship: in companionship with the Lord, who calls, and in companionship with others who share this call” (GC35, D2, #3).
Pope Francis told the Jesuits during GC 36, “We must continue to work, through movements, academically and also politically.” I would add that if necessary, even legally.
6. Share love, peace, joy and hope
In this broken and wounded world, with the environment despoiled by human hands, and amidst the raging pandemic, our call is to share the Risen Christ’s love, joy, peace, and above all hope.
We must be messengers of hope and not prophets of doom. We have much to learn from nature, plants, birds, and animals, and all God’s creation which continuously renew the earth with hope. They are our guide and they are our joy. Healing is possible only with sensitivity, a positive attitude, sharing, and compassion.
7. Discern together and commit to live God’s mission of reconciliation
Pope Francis at the start of his pontificate invited the Jesuits to contribute to the leadership of the Church through Ignatian discernment. The processes of active listening – letting go of control and leaving room for the movement of the Holy Spirit, and spiritual conversation with one another is a way to live God’s mission of justice and reconciliation with commitment.
As Father General Sosa shared, “discernment implies a holistic way of living and it enables us to enter in communion in the only body whose head is Christ.”
“So that our work will be credible and effective”
These seven characteristics are not in any way exhaustive but are only guiding forces to implement what we feel invited to do, together with the Church, the entire humanity and nature.
As Father General Sosa in his homily at the end of GC36 said, “Our discernment leads us to see the world through the eyes of the poor and to work with them so that true life may grow.”
And by doing this we are invited “to renew our own lives so that our work will be credible and effective.” (Arturo Sosa SJ, Superior General, Letter to the whole Society on the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus 2019-2029, 2019/06, 19 February 2019)
Xavier Jeyaraj SJ is the Secretary of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES) of the Society of Jesus. This article was originally published in Sequela Christi 2020/02, a Vatican periodical of the Congregationis pro Institutis Vitae Consecratae et Societatibus Vitae Apostolicae (Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life).
This article is also available in Spanish.