Reflections in responding to the signs of the times towards social justice and ecological commitment

Reflections in responding to the signs of the times towards social justice and ecological commitment

Pedro Walpole SJ

I feel great peace and encouragement to share my experience in Rome with the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES) and its team (in the SJES office, the social delegates of Conferences, leaders of the Global Ignatian Advocacy Networks (GIANs), and members of the Advisory Council) who gathered for a week in May and emerged with reflected thoughts and feelings about the work shared with others.

Father Arturo Sosa’s reflection with us was deeply affirming of how the Society is addressing the signs of the times and is an important conversation that now engages the whole Society in the process of changing ways. We are challenged to both deepen our personal psycho-spiritual wellness and commitment, and together create processes of change rooted in a humble reconciliation.

For Ecojesuit, the GIAN I am responsible for, its way of proceeding is an effort to lay out the challenges ahead as we learn to engage with the different timing and contexts of the Conferences. This dialogue also contributes to the growth in pastoral perspectives as our networking embodies the territorial experiences and as we share in the cry of the people, the cry of the land and oceans.

Slowly we change with the insights born one or two generations ago – not changing ahead of time but hopefully changing with the times, be it frustrating at times. I need constant reminding that people build an institution as they share an apostolic view, not the finances for a center. It takes the living stories of say 20 people to start to weave a living institute and the possibility of collaboration that has captured our imagination in expressing care for the land, ocean, and life.

In the same way it takes a community to educate a child, it is a challenge to work with the youth in forming communities. Climate action is a process of hope with the youth as they enter society and advocate policy change for the common good.

We can rediscover through synodality what personal meaning is, the human spirit, and the sacrament of the moment. Building networks from the margins into the center does need professional training, but what is also crucial is the practice of accompaniment over time, otherwise we may end up “using” the poor.

My hope is that during 2022, the Ecojesuit work team (mainly staff of Environmental Science for Social Change or ESSC in the Philippines) can continue to reflect using these notes and the process used in Rome.

  1. Providing time for spiritual conversations to get to know where each one is particularly after the last two years, and the shadows and the lights as we share in and discern the commitment.

This is about being called to listen within to what is shared in the group and how one might make sense of what is shared and grow in response. It is not about expectation setting or that the strongest argument wins, but an earnest and reflected desire to live life to the full. “Hire attitude, train skills” is a common slogan these days and has some bearing on how we are challenged to build a serious commitment.

Spiritual conversations are conversations where we talk about what matters to us in life and how all of this comes together as integral living and where commitment is experienced.

Amongst the struggles found, gratitude is often a starting point for sharing a better outlook. Gratitude is also the start of a much broader reconciliation, while hope is the ability to trust in the future possibilities and desires while struggling in the face of multiple opposition and issues. Reconciliation is not meant as a smoothing over of the injustices but is a personal and collective healing and an openness to dialogue and truth. Many times, it calls for a willingness to forgive even when the other does not want forgiveness, for the gravest of injustices are not healed in one’s lifetime.

These tensions need understanding in the context of climate action for example. The youth today need not carry a double burden of seeking action while carrying the disillusionment or anger. What they need is to have a clear commitment and ability to share hope for the future.

  • Reflecting on the insights emerging from Fr. Sosa’s inputs of how SJES can help to restructure and reorientate the apostolate

There is no place of mission that does not take courage for we face risk and vulnerability, uncertainty, and rejection in anything new. We need to show up in life. We are all called to be creative and to give witness to buen vivir. We must not compromise with the world by taking the easy way and giving in to a generic sustainability. We must not negotiate our identity with the world and simply be professional in the work we do.

We must reflect deeply on our experiences and know what these are about. We must know where we belong and what we want to share. We must daily acknowledge our own self and our failings. This is the peace that only Christ gives and is our humble strength even with no road map.

The vision is change and it is a process, not an idea nor even an ideology. It is a felt reality with trust and with no ready answers. The vision calls for a stretch in all we do. This is what management is about, holding the tensions and seeing where the effort is needed to keep the group going. This is when leadership is formed.

  • Appreciating the territorial context and integral call of the biome that seeks new and hope-filled expression through the affirmation of the social apostolate and ecological commitment

This cry for life accompanies the moves for new pastoral perspectives coming from the context of the margins and from an integral living of the biome as belonging, as territory.

The biome is not simply a complex mechanical, chemical, and biological series of balances, made further intricate by the political, economic, and financial actions that contribute to reality. The biome is also filled with sentient and spiritual relations. Encounter with sentient beings (from domesticated animals to whales) and all of creation is dominant in marginal cultures. The Earth must become the subject of life and not the object of work as we form and are formed and find our options within this existential reality.

Reality is the result of history and is constantly changing. The balances of the living world are changing because of human processes accumulated in history and are being written into the land, oceans. and sky. Territoriality and the interconnected/relational processes are impacting all life, relationships of origins, identity, and spirit.

While the church suffers in places from its history of domination and participation in colonial cultures, there are those who sought to serve through a possible pastoral perspective of care that makes a difference. The Church has been too often self-referential, but with this new apostolic planning, it seeks a path of listening from the margins and experiencing together with humility a renewed sense of service and care from the margins. These are the prophetic voices of the margins that do not know the extent of their insight for all the biomes and all humanity.

Jesus was incarnate – incarnational reality – in the territory of Galilee and lived in relation with the land and city of Jerusalem, the powers of the time, and the surrounding cultures and practices. This holds a distinctive understanding of the material and existential choices that sustain all relationships in a particular territory, and that the Church is called anew to live.

So many of our cultures today are not Christian and are post-Christian. Are we humble enough to listen and not use institutions as defense, but seek new paths of accompaniment and of care to share dreams and visions of the common good? This is done in community, and it is essential that the church holds community as sacred. As Christians, we must discover our identity in caring for life systems, from individual organisms to the biomes and territories we live in, to the climate that is our balm not our bane.

  • Taking stock of our way of proceeding, calling for renewed collaboration, and giving a clearer vision and mission

As part of a creative community, there is no loss of identity but there is a sharing with compassion. There is a need to work with a reality in context and time to understand a process of change. The vision is that of peace on Earth (Lk 2:14), the mission is Jesus’ three years of walking around, preaching and healing, not simply law and institution.

The power is in the reconciliation, in feeling and caring for others – the feeding and the healing that people, usually the most vulnerable, need to experience. The power is in the relationship. People build an institution that is a living partnership much greater than the justification for a building.

What is it we now want to do, being renewed in our deeper conversion to the meaning of a life of service? In working with an environmental science for social change, how are we renewed and strengthened in our actions to collaborate and serve the people in the apostolic action? This is a deeper empowerment and is more than simply project actions and outcomes.

  • Looking anew at the apostolic goals and objectives to help in more clearly defining roles

The “future is now” is increasingly heard, but the future is forming now with the youth, with inequalities and vulnerabilities (including isolation), and this needs communities that build youth and that youth build with trust and flexibility.

We must also acknowledge that while we are political persons, we are also spiritual beings. Each one of us must live in the wilderness (we are all individual persons and must ask questions at times within) so as not to negotiate our identity in Christ with the world. We don’t compromise our integrity and witness to the good to fit in. Though we may be forced to accept the limitations of the present time, we continue to explore networking a larger area, not in terms of greater accomplishment but for the common good.

A blessing and a challenge

It has been such a blessing to be with this creative community and I look forward to sustaining such relations, as we in Ecojesuit (along with organizations and networks I work with such as the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center, ESSC, and the River above Asia and Oceania Ecclesial Network) and the broader community take up anew the challenges with a greater sensitivity to being present to others and conscious of our purpose.

Ecojesuit Global Coordinator Pedro Walpole SJ joined the annual meeting of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat in Rome, Italy from 10 to 14 May 2022. A related article on this meeting is shared in SJES.

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