Ecology leaders from the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA), the Amazon region, and Latin American Jesuit Higher Education joined parishioners from the Metro New York Catholic Climate Movement, Christian Life Community members, and several students from area Jesuit high schools. (Photo from Ann Marie Brennan)
Amidst the climate crisis and the resistance to respond to the care needed for our common home, Jesuit ecology leaders are called to move from desolation to hope and to share that hope to create a better world. Where do we find hope?
In spiritual conversation with one another, 30 ecology leaders from the Jesuit world gathered at the USA East Province offices on 24 March in New York City, sharing our faith, moments of ecological conversion, responses from our varied local contexts, successful initiatives and ongoing struggles, after several days of meetings for the UN Water Conference.
Many gathered in the room addressing the climate crisis felt resistance from family, friends, neighbors, and in our church. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis called for a worldwide conversation on caring for creation that includes everyone, but people at the local level inspired by that vision and ready to lead engagement within individual parishes are running into walls.
But through this deep sharing of our work for ecological justice, I found hope, clarity and resolve to respond to the climate crisis with the urgency with which it demands.
Listening to Fr. Endashaw talk about the practice of Orthodox churches in Ethiopia building cathedrals in the mountains among the trees, reflecting the beauty and sacredness of creation that connects us to God, I remembered experiences of my youth with renewed appreciation.
Growing up along the Long Island Sound in Milford, Connecticut, I spent a lot of time walking, playing, and swimming along the sandbar of Walnut Beach and took for granted that I could walk to the beach from the house I grew up in. Most summers, my aunt would come from Western Pennsylvania to visit and when we were not cooking and eating with my grandma, we would spend our days on the Sound. Now separated from the seashore by several states, my Aunt Linda saw the Milford beaches through different eyes.
During college at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, I came to know community members working together to clean up the Bronx River and improve the access of neighbors to recreational spaces through parks along the watershed. Working alongside middle and high school students, life-long Bronx residents and immigrants in the community, I saw the vitality of this green space in a dense, urban area in a different way; the river offered a space to connect with nature, to exercise, to picnic, and to play.
As I listened to Sonia reflect on the interconnectedness of social and ecological issues seen through her years living in poor and marginalized communities in Chile, people and experiences from the Bronx River flooded into my memory.
How can we come to see the climate crisis differently and respond with the required urgency?
The most recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (AR6 Synthesis Report-Climate Change 2023) warns us that we need global cooperation, billions of dollars, and big changes in our fossil fuel use by 2030, and even further work by 2050, to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C since the Industrial Revolution.
If we don’t take immediate, significant steps (slash global fossil fuel emissions; transition to clean energy and net zero economies; provide financial resources to communities from lower income areas in the US and other countries adapt and transition to clean energy), we can expect to see an increase in the severity of extreme weather, food shortages, water scarcity, and dangerous heat waves.
We face urgent food crises due to drought that is exacerbated by war, making it incredibly difficult to focus on the underlying climate issues. We see government leaders responding to global geopolitical pressures and turning to coal for energy and heat, sliding backward on climate commitments at a time when we need to be sprinting toward clean energy solutions.
This experience affirmed for me that being in conversation and community with others whose lived reality and experiences are different from my own, anchors this work in hope. It could be a person who has lived in other parts of my community (along the Bronx River), city (the Upper West Side of Manhattan), state (organizing religious communities along the Hudson River), or world (Kenya and the Amazon region).
We might come to see differently by talking to someone whose work vocation is different from ours. Our world view can change from a film that centers the voices of Pacific Islanders or indigenous Amazonian leaders or Native American water protectors or from a talk given by an Audubon Society leader who through the migration of birds helps us see the interconnectedness of our world and actions.
We find hope in realizing that ecological conversion is an ongoing process happening among individuals, communities, and institutions. We find hope in small initiatives, grounded in our faith. We are inspired by Indigenous Peoples and other prophetic leaders. We see greater possibilities when we coordinate across institutions and geographies, responding as a network.
I heard hope in the voices of students from Fordham Prep and Regis who were grateful to enter into community with ecology leaders from around New York City and the world, and who were buoyed by the passion, commitment, and faith of those gathered.
Let us pray that this hope gives us the courage to respond with depth and clear purpose to God’s call to care for our common home.
Nicholas “Nick” Napolitano is the Provincial Assistant for Justice and Ecology at the USA East Province of the Society of Jesus and he can be reached through his email email@example.com.