A call to ecological conversion was the focus of the International Ignatian Ecospiritual Conference, listening to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. The Conference, which ran online with 170 participants from 17 countries from 15 to 30 April 2022, gave further depth to the 2015 encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato Si’.
Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, the Superior General of the Jesuits, welcomed participants to the Conference and a process of prayer and deep listening that would also be practical. “The Conference is an opportunity to explore our deep interconnectedness with all creation… which will also inspire structures, policies and ways of proceeding that honour and nourish the web of relationships in which we all work,” he said. He went on to suggest the beginnings of this call to conversion can be found in St Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, which invite the retreatant to see anew the creation of God in all living beings. Fr Quyen Vu SJ, the Provincial of the Jesuits in Australia, noted that an authentic spiritual experience, before God, was the way to move beyond a mere “talk fest” and to something deeper and more sustained.
A strong invitation of the Conference was what we might learn from the First Nations people of Australia. In her welcome to country Vicki Clark, a Mutthi Mutthi Wemba Wamba woman who has worked to increase understanding of Aboriginal spirituality and to embody Aboriginal culture within the Catholic Church, noted the sophisticated way first peoples continue to care for land. This connection to country was picked up on the third day in a keynote address by Sherry Balcombe, the co-ordinator of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Sherry has this to say: First Nations peoples consider the land to be alive, and it “carries a deep sacredness for us all; it is holy land.”
Fr Xavier Jeyaraj SJ, the global Jesuit Secretary for Social Justice and Ecology, noted how much we can learn from the indigenous people around the world who are so close to nature. He suggested the need to begin by seeing ‘the other’, in persons as well as in all creation – something he learnt from watching his father, a farmer, care for land. Fr Jeyaraj returned to St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises to reinforce the importance of engaging in prayer with all our senses. “I strongly believe that Jesus spent a lot of time in silence, seeing, observing, listening, feeling the natural world, praying with nature,” said Fr Jeyaraj.
Each day of the conference began with prayer led by Fr Iain Radvan SJ, an Australian Jesuit spiritual director and giver of the Spiritual Exercises. These prayers drew strongly on a sense of gratitude and connected with the invitation for participants from all over the world to spend some time each day in nature, becoming more aware of that experience. Then, later in the days of the Conference, in small group hubs participants had the opportunity to share their experience of the day.
For Dr Peter Saunders, founder of Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia’s ‘Being with God in Nature’ program, walking through the forest is his time of prayer. “It is here that I witness the unfolding of God in creation in front of me, and with me,” he said. Drawing on Laudato Si’, Dr Saunders noted how creation is the expression of God’s love, the moving force that allows creation to unfold.
The need to act practically on the threat of climate change was addressed at the Conference by Dr Leslie Hughes, Professor of Biology and Pro Vice-Chancellor at Macquarie University. She noted the unequivocal evidentiary basis that human action has caused a scale and pace of change in global temperatures without precedent. “These impacts are accelerating,” she said.
Practical action to address this acceleration was addressed by Tony Rinaudo, the Principal Natural Resources adviser for World Vision Australia, who spoke about the way farmer-managed natural regeneration can alleviate climate impacts and conserve the beauty of creation in a way sustainable for the environment and people.
Fr Pedro Walpole SJ, the global coordinator of Ecojesuit, suggested we need to find ways to engage authentically the mystical meaning in all creation and so participate in the mission of Jesus, who walked amongst a community of people connected to their land. Fr Walpole suggested we must not lose faith in God’s care for creation, even as we doubt and find frustration in the current situation. We need to feel anew as a community, and so live anew in a way that responds to, and alleviates, the suffering of the land, of people and the human spirit.
Julian Butler SJ
Feature photo by Antoine Beauvillain on Unsplash