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‘Caring for our common home’ webinar

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice (JCFJ) organised a webinar on environmental justice and integral ecology on 2 December, 2020. Entitled ‘Caring for Our Common Home’, it was informed by Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si’ and the Jesuit centre’s recently published Manifesto for a Green New Deal. The webinar was hosted by Niall Leahy SJ who was an early contributor to the manifesto that offers a distinct vision within Irish environmentalism and aims to influence and inspire others.

The Jesuit Centre states:

Although we are all preoccupied by the disruption and challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, climate breakdown is the real global crisis of our times. It is a complex problem for which there are no easy solutions.

But the Irish Jesuit Province takes its lead from one of the four Universal Apostolic Preferences (the roadmap of the global Jesuit network for the next decade) and has ‘Caring for our Common Home’ as a key priority throughout its works.

Environmental justice and integral ecology comprise one of the main areas of JCFJ’s strategy which involves the whole team and is led by Dr Ciara Murphy, its Environmental Justice Advocate. She was the main contributor to the publication of a Manifesto for a Green New Deal which draws on the Pope’s encyclical and the centre’s longstanding commitment to social justice for marginalised groups in Irish society.

Host Niall Leahy SJ is a recently-ordained Irish Jesuit who is currently residing in Paris where he studies at the Centre Sévres. He is well informed and enthusiastic on the subject of integral ecology and was a natural choice to open the event and welcome his Jesuit companions. He wished to support JCFJ’s aim to engage with the Irish Province and as a starting point for future events to be broadcast to a wider audience.

The first speaker was Dr Steve Makungwa – the Executive Director of the Jesuit Centre for Ecology and Development (JCED) in Malawi. Steve spoke about the work JCED does with groups of small-scale farmers and their families in rural Kasungu District to help them become resilient in the face of climate change.

He explained the initiative funded by Irish Jesuits International and Misean Cara:

“The Tasintha programme provides the farmer groups with knowledge about climate-smart technologies to enable them to plant and harvest native crops at optimum times, so they will not be so vulnerable to loss when weather patterns cannot be relied on.

The JCED team in Kasungu also distributes energy efficient ceramic stoves to households in the region, which use significantly less firewood, which helps to protect the tree population.

These simple traditional stoves also emit less toxic smoke so that women and children are less likely to have respiratory problems – even more important since the Covid-19 pandemic arrived.”

In Malawi, just one in ten people has access to electricity and the mains supply is erratic, being shut down for hours on an almost daily basis to stop the system being overloaded. Steve was a victim of this unreliability, when the power failed in the university he lectures at, shortly before the webinar went live. Despite the challenges this posed for him, it was thought he delivered an informative and interesting talk about the ways in which JCED promotes environmental integrity and sustainable livelihoods among rural people in the country.

The next speaker was Elisabeth Clarke, Director of Ignatian Formation at Gonzaga College SJ, Dublin. She said:

“As illustrated by the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, young people are engaged and ardent about the need for climate action.

The schools strikes on Fridays have shown that students’ awareness of the destruction wrought on the planet by carbon emissions and unbridled capitalism is matched by their enthusiasm to take our leaders to task about it.

With this in mind, it was vital to hear about the inspiration and education on the environment that is happening in Irish Jesuit schools.”

Elisabeth has a connection to the work of Irish Jesuits International and JCED in Malawi as she was a key advocate for a campaign in Lent 2020 to raise money for eco stoves to be distributed to rural households in Kasungu, which linked the presentations of the two first speakers together.

The webinar was concluded by Dr Kevin Hargaden, Director of JCFJ, who outlined the main points and the thinking behind the centre’s Manifesto for a Green New Deal. He commented:

“We need to begin at a grassroots level and involve local groups in dialogue to successfully engage people in meaningful environmental action.

Also, integral ecology is not just concerned with ‘the environment’ but involves housing, transport, schools and all aspects of our society.”

Kevin also faced his own challenges during the webinar – he had electricity but no childcare. Like many working parents during the Covid-19 lockdowns, he was forced to juggle his responsibilities and it was thought he managed to inform and inspire the audience to think anew about climate action while simultaneously parenting his toddler son, Eamonn.

Webinars are a new tool for engagement within the Irish Jesuit community and Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice hopes to build on it and deliver several more as the new year progresses. As it appears that meetings will continue to be virtual and interactions to remain mostly online, technologies like Zoom will remain crucial to enable the community to stay connected.

If you would like to be informed about the next webinar, please email [email protected]