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St Beuno’s ecology conference

Over 90 people participated in the online conference entitled Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor: Ignatian Spirituality and Our Common Home at St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre in Wales from 25 to 27 March, 2021. Run in partnership with Campion Hall, Oxford University, and the new Laudato Si’ Research Institute, it included talks by practitioners of Ignatian Spirituality and theologians working at the interface of integral ecology and practice. Participants engaged the day’s topics through discussions, workshops, personal reflection, and guided meditations.

Mr Joe Greenan, Human Resources Director of the Irish Jesuit Province, was delighted to be one of over 15 Irish participants at the conference. He appreciated the excellent presenters, respondents, facilitators, guided meditators and those who chaired sessions. The main speakers were Dr Carmody Grey, Assistant Professor of Catholic Theology at Durham University; Dr Séverine Deneulin, Associate Professor in International Development at the University of Bath; Prof Peter Scott, Professor of Applied Theology at the University of Manchester; and Rev Dr Liz Hoare, Tutor for Spiritual Formation in Wycliffe Hall at the University of Oxford.

Regarding the deeply relational experience of the conference, Mr Greenan says:

It’s not just about recycling our waste and driving electric cars. It’s more about how I see the world and my part in it. How does God see or relate to the world?, was a recurring theme for me. The world is a living entity and it is comprised of many living creatures, humans being one kind.

In the conference, we were encouraged to prayerfully discern how God loves all of creation and how God is merciful to every living entity – animals, plants, the earth, oceans, planets, the cosmos.

Participants were presented with the view of a broken earth and a broken people. The question was asked: “Are we too late to respond?” They were also presented with the hope that God is in charge and that they need to discern what God is doing. Mr Greenan remembers tuning into early morning TV many years ago to hear an evangelist pray, “God, what are you up to today and can I be part of it?” He suggests that this might be a good place to start.

Mr Greenan notes that the presenters encouraged participants to see how they were supporting structural injustices by the way they live. He says:

We were challenged to see how our eco choices can be destructive to people in Northern Chile and Madagascar when we support the extraction of lithium (a key active material in batteries for electric cars and bikes) in the Atacama Desert (Northern Chile) and Ilmenite (used in toothpaste and paint) in the Anosy region in Southern Madagascar.

We were then asked how can we relate to people and other living systems rather than dominate and control them? Can the insights of rewilding be conveyed to our politics?

Rewilding is about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. Through rewilding, wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats.

We were reminded that the wilderness is not a desert – the wilderness is a place of teeming growth.”

Participants were invited to reflect on a deeply interconnected world. They were asked:

How can we learn how animals, plants and other living systems live together? We as humans are one living system and we are being challenged to respectfully relate to all other living systems. We are all connected and we are part of a complex and interdependent universe. Everything is alive.

Mr Greenan refers to how presenters drew from Ignatian Spirituality to promote care for our common home. He says:

We can easily react and make choices that cause damage – we were encouraged to pray for the grace of confusion, as it can open up closed thinking so that we move to new possibilities. Confusion can lead to change.

Discernment was strongly proposed as our way to consider how to relate – to the earth, to others, to all living beings, to the cosmos. This starts with inaction – refraining from action in order to listen to something deeper.

Overall, Mr Greenan found the ecology conference to be “truly very worthwhile”. He reflected on how God’s covenant was brought to our attention but not only as a covenant to humans. God’s covenant is with all of creation and we are called to tune into this.

Mr Greenan says:

“We were encouraged to see God’s invitation to us as an opportunity – as a possibility, not as a fact. We are invited to a radical invitation to love, not just to tolerate.

The way of living in love incorporates the way of the crucifix, letting our ego and our wish to dominate and control die.

To relate to the poor, to relate to the earth with respect and love, we need to undergo conversion again and again.”

Mr Greenan concludes that the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor are not easily heard. These cries need to be listened to – they may need to be translated so that we hear them. It’s not good enough to just focus on recycling and electric cars. It is in line with the Ignatian magis (Latin for ‘more’) that is best understood as a growth in love with Jesus through deeds more than through words.

The conference was promoted and supported by the Irish Jesuit Province and the Joint Apostolic Planning Commission (JAPC) of the British and Irish Provinces. The main presentations will be further developed in an upcoming special issue of The Way, the international journal of contemporary Christian spirituality published by the British Jesuits.