On becoming stewards of the environment

'We come from different traditions, but to be committed to ecology and the good of our world we need to be rooted in some very particular motivations.' These were the introductory words spoken by Patxi Alvarez SJ (pictured right) at the start of his public lecture 'Ecology and Justice' at St Aloysius College on Thursday 24th May, and the motivations he referred to are to be found in the document, 'Healing a Broken World' which he presented to those in attendance.

The document 'Healing a Broken World' was drawn up by the task Force on Ecology, on behalf of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Rome. A summary can be found here. 'The purpose of the document,' said Fr Patxi,' was to share some of our concerns, common concerns on ecology and our world.' Patxi Alvarez SJ is the head of the Secretariat of Social Justice and Ecology of the Society of Jesus in Rome.

Ecology and justice has become one of the priorities of the Jesuits worldwide. 'Surely this responsibility is at the heart of the message of christianity and at the heart of all world religions. We believe that we must start change first within ourselves,' said Fr Edgar Busuttil SJ, Director of the Jesuit Centre for Faith & Justice in Malta, which organised the event.

Professor Paul Pace of the inter Diocesan Commission for the Environment grounded the main points raised during Fr Patxi's delivery to the Maltese context. He emphasised the need to first develop a sensitivity to environmental issues and then move on to understand the problem as fully as possible. 'Eventually,' said Prof Pace, 'this will lead to a set of values an attitudes that will prompt me to do something about it. We need to translate what we feel into action. We need to engage with the problem.'

Views of environmental problems, he said, range from the romantic to the fatalistic, with stereotyped solutions being too common (eg. turn off running taps, switch off lights) and difficulty found when it comes to looking at deeper solutions.

"The natural world,' said Prof Pace, 'does not need saving by us. We need to be saved from ourselves.'

'Take the issue of water,' he said. 'It is common knowledge that there are companies who draw water illegally and then sell it to you! Maltese people grumble, but when it comes to action we hold back.'

'There is a lot of illiteracy when it comes to the environment. Meat production, for example, consumes a huge amount of water - going for a 'vegetarian day' is just one way of  controlling the amount of water being lost.'

Professor Pace said that that the Church too needs to and is engaging with environmental problems, despite criticism saying that it should stick to spiritual concerns.

'Formation in educational settings like schools cannot simply remain on a 'knowledge level', because this does not necessarily translate into action,' he added.

'Committed Catholics should be 'stewards' of the environment, proactive in its conservation. This involves challenging our own faith and cannot remain just a mental exercise. We move from awareness of something bigger than myself, to discipleship, to the productive life where one starts doing things for God, a stage where most of us arrive.

Then comes 'The Wall', a stage in our faith development where we are challenged and things that made sense before lose meaning… this point requires a leap of faith which is in turn followed by more commitment. It involves looking at other people's interest first rather than mine, a stage where God is the motivating force,' said Prof Pace.

'Ecological awareness has not yet seeped into the mindset of most of the population. What is called for is deep reflection, or we run the risk of becoming desensitised to environmental issues.'

Prof Pace said that we are called to be involved and not simply stand as onlookers. We are called to look at our own contribution to environmental issues, e.g. our choice of purchases which somewhere down the line could be contributing to negative impact on the environment or unjust human treatment.

Related links:

Political action still lags behind need for change - timesofmalta.com 

Healing a Broken World 

Healing a Broken World - a summary


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