Christopher Gleeson, SJ
Nearly 100 participants from nine countries gathered last 8 to 12 July in Sydney, Australia at Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview for the 2014 Jesuit Conference Asia Pacific (JCAP) Education Colloquium with the theme The Planet is Our Home.
Fr José Mesa, Secretary of Primary and Secondary Education at the Jesuit curia in Rome, opened the colloquium, followed by eminent Australian theologian, Fr Denis Edwards, and Dr Pat Fox, a Mercy Sister and specialist in Ignatian spirituality. Their theological and spiritual inspiration underpinned the whole colloquium for us and provided what Saint Ignatius would call an excellent composition of place.
Fr Benny Juliawan from Indonesia and JCAP Social Apostolate Coordinator provoked us with questions about teaching justice to today’s generation, and led us to hear a young Riverview alumnus, David Lukas, who shared his story about leaving the law and financial sector to begin his own company helping businesses to manage their energy. David’s enthusiasm and optimism was a splendid platform for another engaging speaker, Mrs Jacqui Remond, Director of Catholic Earthcare Australia (http://www.catholicearthcare.org.au/).
By the third day, it was time to examine and share resources in best practice. Fr Pedro Walpole, a passionate JCAP Coordinator for Reconciliation with Creation, opened proceedings with some powerful reflections on the importance of living a simple life. Award-winning Ann Austin, with great vigour and humour, then spoke to us about best practice in building construction and management, providing some thought-provoking advice for those in the audience contemplating new school buildings. Finally, Ms Maria Tiimon, from the island nation of Kiribati and Pacific Outreach Officer of the Pacific Calling Partnership, shared her own moving story about the devastating effects of climate change on her family home in the low-lying islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu. It was very powerful.
Each afternoon was devoted to two sessions of workshops and there was ample variety for participants to enjoy. The diverse topics included: ecological conversion and the Ecological Examen, an environmental walk around the scenic Riverview campus, First Nations spirituality, Ignatian listening to God in nature, teaching justice, energy audits and lowering one’s energy bills, sustainability in the Australian curriculum, bringing higher education to camp-based refugees, stimulating growth in low-income countries, visiting a coal loader sustainability centre, a Healing Earth Coordinators’ course, environmental best practice in building, climate justice, empowering students to solve our waste crisis, widening the classroom boundaries, an open art workshop, and a night-time star-gazing experience at the famous Riverview Observatory.
Clearly, it was a very packed program, but participants had sprinklings of time for Ignatian reflection on their experiences. During the final night dinner, we celebrated the International Year of Family Farming, with all the produce on our tables donated by farming families around Riverview.
There were a number of suggestions for the actions at a personal, communal, organisational and conference level. Ideas that emerged from participants included recycling where one can, promoting staff development opportunities in environment education, ensuring staff who are working on the grounds of our organisations become more aware of the need to be more green with the way they do things.
The most exciting one is the request for all schools to appoint a Healing Earth Coordinator. These people are asked to participate in the Healing Earth Coordinators Training Course that will commence in September. The active participation, interest, and contributions from all were a clear testimony to the JCAP’s rich diversity and their commitment to working both collaboratively and for Reconciliation with Creation.
Christopher “Chris” Gleeson, SJ is the Provincial Delegate for Education and Mission Formation in the Australian Province of the Society of Jesus and also serves as the Secretary for Secondary Education in the Jesuit Conference Asia Pacific.