In May of this year, the Australian Jesuit Province’s Young Adult Ministry piloted a program revolving around environmental issues and faith and spirituality for senior high school students. Caring for God’s Creation: A Program for Ecological Conversion, was spear-headed by Jesuit priest, Fr Sacha Bermudez-Goldman SJ, along with three young adult presenters from Newman College in Melbourne: Nieve Powell, Dana Jepsen and Matthew O’Beirne.
Many others contributed to the development of the program, but getting it underway was not an easy feat, having to overcome several challenges throughout the pandemic, especially the various lockdowns in the state of Victoria. What resulted was a program that was well received by the students and teachers of Xavier College Kew and Loyola College Watsonia.
One teacher expressed that the “program was very well prepared and does a great job of linking faith to contemporary issues. It also helps students to see faith from a perspective that makes it integral to life and a world view and not something separate”.
Based on Pope Francis’ main themes in his encyclical Laudato Si’, the program consists of four 2-hour sessions, introducing first (1) the concept of global citizenship, and then moving onto topics dealing with (2) ecological justice, (3) ecological conversion and (4) ecological action.
Recognising the importance of beginning with the students’ personal experiences, each session starts out with prayer and is followed by an activity which allows students to share their own experiences, insights and concerns as related to each session’s topic. In one of the sessions, one student, for example, expressed his passion for surfing and how he would want his future children to continue that passion. By the end of that session, he had identified a desire to do his part to advocate initiatives and practices that care for our oceans and marine life.
An important part of the Program is its practical dimension. Based on the learnings from the input received as well as other activities, the students are expected to develop two short presentations, choosing environmental issues of personal concern, which they then present in small groups to the rest of the participants during sessions three and four. The suggested audience for the second presentation is primary school students, which adds the challenge of finding appropriate language which will be relevant to children and still deliver the desired message.
The Jesuit Australian Province has been encouraged to incorporate ‘reconciliation with creation’ initiatives in all our ministries. The most recent Jesuit Universal Apostolic Preferences and the Society of Jesus Australia Priorities include ‘Caring for our Common Home’ and ‘Healing humanity and our world’ as issues of concern. Pope Francis has stressed in his encyclical, Laudato Si’ that “the urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.” Involving youth and young adults in these initiatives through our young adult ministry is integral to making a change for our future.
Several Catholic secondary schools in Melbourne had shown much interest in the program, and after several Covid-related delays, bringing students from Xavier and Loyola Colleges finally provided the opportunity to pilot this initiative. The program was offered after school hours to avoid impeding students from their school assessments. A key factor to keeping these sessions engaging was the strategy to have them presented by young people. As Fr Sacha describes it, “Young people tend to listen a bit more to other young people, in particular if they are close in age to them.”
Fr Sacha had undertaken a lot of research in the developmental stage and consulted with Jesuit Social Services as they had already had a similar framework in place with their offered initiatives. Academics from a couple of Melbourne universities were also consulted for many aspects of the program. “The biggest challenge was condensing all the information and research into a workable program that is easy for the students to process and digest”, said Fr Sacha. What resulted was a well-rounded program with scientific research that addressed environmental issues from a faith-based perspective.
The delivery of the ‘pilot’ for the program also provided an opportunity to get important feedback from the students themselves. One student who appreciated the presence of students from another school expressed that, “it would be even better if more schools were involved, to get a more diverse group of people, to share a more diverse view on this matter.”
Based on the feedback from students and teachers, the program is now undergoing a review stage as organisers look to make more refinements. The hope is that many other schools – including in other states – will want to adopt this program and make it their own with a possibility of implementing it into their own curriculum.
In summary, the aim of this program is to raise awareness of the environmental issues we face in our world today, addressing them from a faith-based perspective and ensuring the program’s continuity into the future through using peer-to-peer formation. As Fr Sacha mentioned, “the hope is that students who participate in the Program will be passionate about spreading this awareness with other young people in their networks and so a ‘multiplying effect’ will take place”.
For more information on sustainability and environmental issues within our Australian Jesuit Province, please contact Sue Martin, the Reconciliation with Creation Project Officer: email@example.com
Feature photo: Fr Sacha with the Loyola College students presenting.