Reflections from the Task Force on Ecology

Reflections from the Task Force on Ecology

2011_09_Reflection_EN-Photo“Healing a Broken World” is the title of the just published report by the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat in Rome and is the latest issue of the electronic review Promotio Iustitiae. A Task Force (TF) on Ecology, organized at the request of Father General, produced the report as the response called for in implementing GC 35 (see the Editorial of this issue). The TF members came from the five Jesuit Conferences and was a multidisciplinary team composed of Jesuits and a lay woman, with very different backgrounds to give a wider perspective to such an important and complex challenge.

For this, we feature the authors of the report to share with us some reflections about their experience participating in the TF as an opportunity of intercultural and multidisciplinary collaboration. We also spoke with them about future ecological challenges for the Society.

Joseph “Joe” Xavier is a Jesuit from Madurai Province, India, and a former coordinator of social ministry at the Jesuit Conference of South Asia in New Delhi. Upon the request of the Archbishop of Orissa, he is helping the displaced Christian population suffering persecution from extremist groups. Talking about his experience in the TF, he commented: “Participation in the Task Force on Jesuit Mission and Ecology provided me with an opportunity to deeply realise the renewed call of our times that the world is in need of reconciliation. This broken world is a reality and acknowledging that I am part of the problem is a step forward. But mere acknowledgement is not good enough. We need a transformative agenda at the individual, community life and in our ministries.” This need for a “transformative agenda,” as Fr. Xavier puts it, was the shared vision for the TF, and explains why the report got into the sensitive area of developing “Recommendations and Practical Suggestions” at the different levels of governance in the life of the Society of Jesus.

Leonard Chiti, a Zambian Jesuit and current director of the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection in Lusaka, and José Aguilar, a Colombian Jesuit responsible for the Suyusama Project and Professor at the Javeriana University, both highlight the meeting held by the TF with Father General at Rome. The meeting with Father General made it clear how much he is ready and willing to commit the Society in this challenging and most necessary mission of reconciliation with creation. On this occasion, Father Nicolas was so confirming when he spoke of the need for healing whether it is the healing of the age-old cultural differences and the deep-rooted suspicion across Europe, or of the oil fields of Nigeria destroying unknown livelihoods and life of a vast landscape. We need to be a healing force and a force of greater capacity and accountability for what we do in and with Creation. Father Nicolás also stressed the need to do it intensively with other non-Jesuits already committed. Reconciliation with creation is certainly a meeting place with many people worldwide deeply involved in social change today. This is a place also to test the credibility of our own faith engagement.

Pedro Walpole, a Jesuit from the Philippines and responsible for the Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change was especially moved during the work of the TF “when Nancy Tuchman was telling us about the destructive extraction of tar sands and shale oil, and the blasting off of the tops of the Appalachian Mountains simply for coal. I thought, have we gone power-crazy in our urban drive for development and aloof political centers of decision making? These are mountains I visited as a student of geography and geology; I felt a loss of the sacred and a growth of the suffering. We get a couple of more kilowatts to sustain an illusion of invincible institutions of energy.” Nancy Tuchman, representing the US Conference in the TF, is a Professor in the Department of Biology at Loyola University Chicago ( and she was describing to us one of the most aggressive environmental actions taking place in probably the most developed country of the world. This illustrates how environmental threats and devastation are everywhere in the planet, and where legislation is not existing, or States have no capacity to enforce the law, what we can expect is even more damage because of impunity.

Members of the TF were also asked to share with us the major ecological and environmental concerns they foresee in their own regions. There is a general agreement that the articulation of the local responses with the global challenges is the main task ahead of us, and this will need to be addressed both from the present structures of the Society (sectors, social centers, and others) or from new networks that can be established in the future.

According Joe Xavier’s view, the major attention by Jesuits in India should be directed to reflect on the governance of natural resources: “In the recent past, particularly in India, geographical zones which have a huge deposit of natural resources like iron ore, bauxite, aluminium, coal, etc, are increasingly emerging as conflict zones. The indigenous people and other poor people are facing the wrath of the State, the mining companies, the Maoists and State-promoted people’s armies. The conflict is uneven. The State is determined to promote ‘development at all costs’ and inviting multinational companies to exploit the natural resources and boost the state exchequer. The indigenous people who have been living in these areas for generations together are forcefully displaced without proper compensation and rehabilitation.  The people have no say at all in the development agenda of the State. In this scenario, how can the indigenous people be part of the development agenda of the State? Can we create and promote new developmental models ensuring sustainable growth and shunning naked rape on mother earth?” If Father Xavier brings the perspective on how environmental abuses provokes poverty and social exclusion, Leonard Chiti takes the picture from the other side and advises us how poverty impacts negatively in environment: “Here in Zambia, one of the biggest problems we face is deforestation. Many low-income families cut down trees for energy and this is rendering our country vulnerable to accelerated climate change. We should be helping our people to plant again after having cut trees for their energy needs.”

The same concern on energy, changing the context of course, is shared by José Ignacio García, a Spanish Jesuit working at the Jesuit European Office or OCIPE. Describing the major environmental challenges for Europe in the coming years, he shared that “energy is going to be the biggest challenge for Europe. On one side is its energy dependency that is putting at risk the pre-eminent position Europe has played in the global economy. Scarcity and higher prices of fossil fuels will reduce our competitiveness and this will weaken our economies. The alternatives of nuclear or coal have very bad environmental records, the first because of security and waste, the second because of its impact in CO2 gas emissions and their impact in climate change. The option for renewables, only feasible in the medium term, will reduce competitiveness, as they are less efficient, at least presently. The dilemma is about how we want to live: in a predatory way destroying the future or by assuming our responsibility and developing strategies that could allow us adapt and live in a more sustainable way and face the changes to come. If we add a minimal conscience of solidarity with the rest of the world, then the options are even more evident.”

Looking forward, the TF shares a strong and consistent optimism towards the future. José Aguilar indicates that from this document, its discussion and the foreseen resulting engagements, he expects “it will encourage Jesuits and collaborators to integrate in their daily apostolic lives some of the recommendations, hopefully as an expression of a growing experience of communion and tenderness with Creation.” Jesuit formation is challenged to embrace deeper experiences and reflection on how all life is constantly renewed from within, and our right relations in sustaining creation. If our own lifestyles and institutions are deeply affected, our formation with and of others is deeply rooted in reconciliation, then our engagement partnering with others will make for a different world.

Pedro Walpole shares some of this concrete signs of engagement that reinforce the stream of hope that underlines all the document: “In the months since the Task Force ended its work, I have met many Jesuits and partners in Asia Pacific and I am humbled by the extent they are seeking change for closer relations with and care of creation. Attitudes and institutions are the greatest challenge as they set how we live. Working through the garbage bins with the ground staff of Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, we reduced the waste by 30% and we will reduce it further in the months ahead with student engagement. Every Jesuit institute and community is taking this on and we can do this when we practically apply ourselves and be seen to care. On the Mekong River, 40 people gathered last month and touched the vastness of this flow of life that it is so great as to embrace 60 million people; and yet, development of the region’s economics, of energy, and extraction of resources, threaten to strangle the living ecosystems and cultures of this flow of life. We need to live life and have lifestyles reflecting Creator and creation as celebrated and upheld. There is no lasting development, no human development for all of us, without Creator and creation.”

The members of the Task Force on Ecology are:

Joseph Xavier SJ (MDU)

José Alejandro Aguilar Posada SJ (COL)

Leonard Chiti SJ (ZAM)

José Ignacio García Jiménez SJ (CAS)

Nancy C Tuchman, Loyola University Chicago (USA)

Peter (Pedro) W Walpole SJ (PHI)

Invited member: Patxi Álvarez SJ (LOY)

Co-conveners: Ronald J Anton SJ (MAR), Fernando F Franco SJ (GUJ)

Staff Support: Uta Sievers (SJES–Rome)


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