CARING FOR OUR COMMON HOME
The abiding commitment to be “respectful to our home planet” underpins any conversation with Cristina Molina. As she prepares to embark on her Jesuit-funded place in the Integral Ecology Fellowship Program 2023, she says, “I am interested in learning more about the connection between ecology on the one hand and spirituality, theology and sustainability on the other.”
Adding perspective to her passion for the subject are multiple layers of current regional and global context. One prime example is the recent call by Oceania’s Catholic bishops for ‘deeper ecological conversion’ and the need to meet the challenge of “integral ecology”. Another is the growing awareness that when sustainability is built into a company’s operations, profitability is strengthened.
Cristina is from Ecuador but says Melbourne is her second home. She first arrived in Australia in 2014 and lived at Newman College while doing a Masters degree in International Relations on a scholarship at the University of Melbourne. Even though English is not her primary language, she completed her course with flying colours.
“When I first came here in 2014,” she said, “my parents were thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is the first time she’s going to live abroad on her own’. I come from a very close-knit family. I have two brothers and we always did everything with our parents, so the move was a very big step for me. My home city, Cuenca, is quite small, with a population of only 500,000 people. But when I was preparing to move to Melbourne, such a huge city, my family were really concerned about how I would adapt.
“A friend of mine who was living in Melbourne at the time recommended Newman College. I checked on the internet and I really liked it, especially because of the sense of community and the spiritual aspect as well. Added to the fact that it was very close to the university, the idea of living in a community really appealed to me. Even though I was so far from my home and my family, I never had time to feel lonely.”
After completing her course, she returned to Cuenca, where she spent five years working on sustainable development projects with the city council. After the easing of international pandemic restrictions, she returned to Melbourne in July 2022 and the following month she was delighted to take on the role of Assistant to the Dean of Studies at Newman College.
“I feel as if I have two homes, one in Ecuador and one in Australia. I’ve always felt like Newman is my home. There is a deep sense of spirituality and community here and that is very important to me. Because I’m motivated by using ecology to improve the lives of people, participating in the Fellowship program as the Jesuit Integral Ecology fellow is very important to me. We need faith and a collective effort to take care of our home by creating strategies to engage everyone in this mission.
“I found out just before Christmas 2022 that I had been successful in applying for this fellowship. I got an email and it was such a great moment. It was the same day as our Newman College Christmas lunch and everyone was so happy when I gave them the news. I then spent Christmas at home with my family, which had an added layer of meaning because it was a year since my mother had passed away. It was wonderful being back home with my father and my siblings because family is such an important component of our lives.
“The fellowship programme begins with a session on 23 February but the official start will be at the end of March. I am very passionate about sustainability and learning about the correlation between spirituality and sustainability. To me, this means honouring your surroundings and being aware of how you live while making every effort to take care of your home and honouring all God’s creation. But I would like to go more deeply into this and to understand the connexion at every possible level.
“If someone were to contact me and ask me whether they should apply for the next fellowship programme, my advice would be: definitely! I would tell them to be open to any new information, new perspectives, new understanding and new awareness, especially because all these aspects are likely to be different from what anyone initially expects. I would also tell them that the learning curve is just one aspect but that sharing it is the key to giving it more value. Spreading this message is what really drives me.”
By David McMahon, Communications Manager, The Society of Jesus in Australia.