It would hardly be helpful to describe symptoms without acknowledging the human origins of the ecological crisis. A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us. Should we not pause and consider this? (Laudato Si’ [LS] 101)
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.(Genesis 1:31) I could feel this deep in my heart, after living in simplicity and fraternity with a small community of 30 people coming from different countries of Asia and welcomed in Balay Laudato Si’, Bendum in Mindanao, Philippines.
It is strange. I was so far away from Casa Velha, a family house and an Ignatian Center of Ecology and Spirituality in Portugal, but I felt that I was there. It was not only because of the veranda facing the mountain and where we could just stand in contemplation. It was not only because the way I was welcomed and immediately sensed that I was home. It was not only…but also.
I heard about Bendum many years ago. After a recent visit to Casa Velha by Pedro Walpole SJ, Director of Research at the Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) in the Philippines and Coordinator of Ecojesuit, I received an invitation to come to Bendum to attend the 3rd Laudato Si’ Spirituality for Action Workshop, a three-day initiative promoted by the Jesuit Conference Asia Pacific-Reconciliation with Creation, ESSC , Ecojesuit, and the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center (APC).
It was a special time to deepen our common roots and our conscience of being together as part of the Whole. “We need to sink our roots deeper into the fertile soil and history of our native place, which is a gift of God. We can work on a small scale, in our own neighbourhood, but with a larger perspective.”(Evangelii Gaudium [EG] 235). This was a time to give thanks to God for these two places that open Windows to the Common Home, like a good land where we can grow a deeper gratitude and sense of belonging to God’s Creation.
How is it possible to reach a “Discernment, Depth, Action and Mission” experience with such a diverse group of people (Jesuits, Jesuit collaborators, civil society organizations, diocesan seminarians, teachers from the APC school) from different countries (Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia) and facing distinct social and environmental challenges?
Following the recent framework from the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) of the Society of Jesus, the objectives of the workshop were focused in sharing experiences and providing opportunities to jointly discuss and understand social and ecological concerns with greater hope and collaboration. It was a time to go beyond learning about climate change and human rights, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or integral ecology. It was a time to go beyond finding solutions to problems, getting answers and plan ahead.
It was instead time to engage in a deeper process guided by an Ignatian spiritual map: “Ignatian spirituality helps us: is attentive to the inner world, favours the growth of people in freedom and gratuity, is compassionate with reality, allows us to confront the dynamics of exclusion without despair, is admired with creation, raises an attitude of reverence for all realities.” (From Por la inclusion y la sostenibilidad: Pautas de espiritualidad ignaciana [For inclusion and sustainability: Contributions of Ignatian spirituality], by Patxi Álvarez de los Mozos SJ, Ediciones Mensajero, 2015)
We only care about what we know. When we love, we care. Our love is an answer to a previous Love. The process of change must be rooted in Love, in our own history of Love, that is part of God’s Love revealed in Creation.
In the first day, we started by getting to know how our House is – A House marked by secularism, consumerism, professionalism. Then we went a step back and climbed the mountain to watch the House from above and look into the horizon. We let ourselves to be filled in withthe gratitude and the trust in this Love that care for us and all creatures always. A Love that is calling us for this mission ever since God called us to come to this world. “The Creator can say to each one of us: ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you’(Jer 1:5). We were conceived in the heart of God, and for this reason ‘each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.’” (LS 65) “What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts?”(LS 160)
After a time for individual reflection, we had our first sharing moment. We were divided into two groups and we talked about our memories of being loved and what each of us do have and what each of us is carrying for this process from each one’s context. We were celebrating Transfiguration, and somehow we were living it at that moment, trusting each other with our sharings, regardless of our differences.
During the afternoon, we had a conversation with Jason, a young leader, about the meaning of culture and integrity in his life and community. It was again a moment of contemplation, forcing each of us to look inward to our own roots, culture and conscience of its integration (or fragmentation) in our mission.
On the second day, it was time to descend the mountain together with Jesus, answering to His call for the Kingdom, deepening our sense of compassion. We were invited to go through the day in the same attitude of listening, following, accompanying, attentive to the inner movements that could sound like an echo, reflecting what each of us was living in our own contexts.
As with the first day, the second day also arrived with a special gift: a conversation with the youth from the community, students at the APC high school. We talked about the importance of education in their lives, especially culture-based education as they have in Bendum. It was so beautiful! Each of them expressing themselves in half-English, half their own language (Tagalog, Bisaya), with such a commitment.
We had a second moment of sharing in discernment, putting the focus not in the technicalities of the process, but in the value and attitudes that can help us engage in the process with compassion, being first of all with the people, knowing their reality, joining them in their own pathway. Always connected to the personal dimension, some engagement at the communal side starts to rise, in parallel with concrete fears.
And it came that on the third and last day, planning expectations started to emerge.
In the notice board set in the veranda, to help along the three days, some passages of Laudato Si’ and Evangelii Gaudium were written: “Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programmes of promotion and assistance. This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances.” (Evangelii Gaudium [EG] 199)
Guided by Pedro, we went down to visit the community and the center that is organically integrated in the landscape, sustained by a huge diversity of trees, each one playing a specific and collaborative role, and so well-presented by the youth in our conversation the previous day. It was difficult to imagine that originally a major part of the area did not have trees at all when Pedro started the work with a small team and together they started to establish the center.
During the visit, I realized that the drawings and diagrams that were presented as the spiritual map became alive. We were joining Pedro, the Pulangiyen, the ESSC and APC team in their own pathway of conversion.
The personal history was/is the driving force of the process of change, revealed in so many communal, institutional, and global fruits. Pedro led us through the memory of the place and the “institution,” challenging us to question ourselves: Why do we care/change?
In each corner there was something to share. Step by step, we were able to read the inner history of the Kingdom of God rising there in the last almost 30 years. We could read the UAPs and there were so many precious dimensions to feed our own engagement.
There was no strategic plan, although today we can see it. There was a dance, a beautiful, humble and silent one, with the indigenous families, the land, the river, the culture. Guided by the Spirit, in a deep strategic intuition focused in God’s Love project, a new living space was created.
Mission needs time and space simply to be with, to risk becoming marginalized with the margins. Is not Jesus our own story? The One that calls us to be and come with Him, the One who opens us the Way, reaching out for us there wherever we are and calling us to engage and serve crossing tensions or fears – living together, listening and accompanying the indigenous families in their own reality, wills and rhythms, allowing an attentive and incarnated conversation.
The first common will that was presented was a school. After opening this window, the Wind never ceased to inspire the dance, fulfilling the Promised Land, the Kingdom of justice and peace. Much has been done but much has yet to be achieved. The more we trust, the more we learn this language of Love, always with the mark of fragility that opens us to each other´s dependence, revealing God’s strength.
That is how Peace can grow inside of us to help welcome Jesus’ life and mission so that we do not leave no one behind as set in the UN Agenda 2030 and that all can “have a more abundant life.” (John 10, 10)
We ended the visit in Pedro’s bamboo house on the top of all the area, and with our energy restored after eating the delicious local doughnuts that Grace baked. Afterwards, we climbed the hill again, following Pedro who was wearing a Casa Velha T-shirt. I felt tiny and at the same time big.
That was also my own story, the story of Casa Velha. The tale of two houses, living a common mission, one in the West and the other in the East of the Eurasian continent, living and feeding a capillarity (the hidden rhizome interlinked system in the soil, supporting life above) that sustains and inspire the Care of the Common Home.
As we came to the end of the last day, in order to return home with some few solid, small and possible actions, we gathered in five groups with a specific mission each. Using the framework of the SDGs and the calendar of the global actions expected for the month of September, we worked on one or two stories that could tell future actions, presented after in plenary. There was so much energy, joy and trust in all presentations. A special award was given to APC United, the group name that the young volunteer teachers chose for themselves.
The celebration moment came in the evening, with after dinner cultural dances. The salt of the Earth just gained even more flavour! The sky was clear for the first time, giving us light to return our life and mission, now more focused and accompanied.
So much to be thankful: for the common window that has opened, for feeling with others and part of the same Body, for deepening the understanding of what we already live, and that as we read together, we can grow and spread at different levels (communal, institutional, global) in the different contexts, nourishing the Common Good as the way to love and cross this complex world and present we are living in.
Ms Margarida Alvim is the co-founder of Casa Velha, a family home transformed into an Ecology and Spirituality center in Ourém, Portugal and she was invited to facilitate the spirituality and ecology process for the JCAP-RwC workshop with Pedro Walpole SJ, and also share her experiences.
Watch the video of the workshop here.
Ecojesuit featured Casa Velha and its activities: Casa Velha: When spirituality and ecology come together (2019), Laudato Si’ in action in Casa Velha (2017), and Casa Velha: Ecology and spirituality, an Ignatian collaboration (2015).