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Today, more than ever before, we need people like Nano Nagle. We need people of courage who are prepared, if necessary, to ‘spend themselves’ for love of the poor and of the planet. This is what it means to carry ‘Nano’s Lantern’ in the often dark and challenging times of the 21st century.

“How do we ‘carry Nano’s Lantern’ and ‘hear the cry of the Earth and those kept poor'”?

This year’s North East Province Justice Day hosted by the Province’s Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Commission took place on Tuesday 26th November 2019 in Mount St. Anne’s Retreat & Conference Centre, Killenard, Portarlington Co. Laois, welcoming in excess of 70 participants countrywide.

A Justice Day update

Sr. Veronica Casey from the NEP JPIC Commission opened the day helping those present call to mind the qualities of Nano Nagle (founder of the Presentation Congregation) – those qualities that inspired her,  and that are admirable qualities to be respected in anyone at any time, and not just at the time of Nano (16th century Penal Ireland). Veronica pointed to the fact that these are not only qualities that endure, but that they are qualities that are even more necessary in the increasingly challenging times we witness today.

Veronica also reminded us of Nano’s courage, her ability to notice, her capacity for collaboration and the urgency with which she took up her work.   These present were asked to consider ‘our wounded planet’ in the light of the quotation from the last verse of the poem by the poet 14th Century Persian poet Hafiz   “I have come into this world to see this: the sword drop from men’s hands even at the height of their arc of rage, because we have finally realised there is just one flesh we can wound”.  Veronica she followed on from this to say:

“There is only one flesh we can wound and that is His – the Christ’s, Our Beloved’s”.

The opening presentation was by Jane Mellett – Laudato Sí Officer at Trócaire on the theme: “‘I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full’ (Jn 10:10): Living a full Christian Life in an era of Ecological Breakdown”.

About Jane Mellett

Jane Mellett is a native of Carlow and a proud past pupil of Presentation primary and secondary schools. Jane has a background in International Development and Theology (specialising in New Testament scripture); she is a qualified spiritual director and yoga teacher.  Jane spent the past eight years as a pastoral worker for Dublin Archdiocese and coordinated the Laudato Sí project of the World Meeting of Families 2018 (WMOF2018).

This led her on a climate journey, quite literally, as she walked last Winter (2018) the 1,000 km journey from Italy to Poland with a group of pilgrims carrying the message of Laudato Sí to the UN Climate Conference in Katowice. Her current role is as Trócaire’s Laudato Sí Officer, working alongside Lorna Gold, striving to mobilise the Irish Church in the spirit of Laudato Sí. One of her more infamous actions is that she has tweeted the entire Laudato Sí document to Donald Trump.

Jane shared her input in three sections, as follows:

Section 1 

Earthrise – (image courtesy of NASA)

‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full’ (or a more abundant life), is Jesus’ response to accusations against him after he restores the sight of the man born blind in John 9. God’s abundance is all around us, in the Book of Creation, and we are being called into a restoration and re-connection with the natural world. She suggested that we have lost our sight through a theology of domination. Jane went on to explore with those present, what is means to live in real abundance.

She encouraged us to consider what it means to have abundance and to be at your happiest or most content. She reminded us of that well known quotation in the creation narrative: “God saw what He created and it was good”. And reminded in doing so she put before us the very first colour picture of our Earth, when it was first broadcast by the astronauts during the first Moon Landing, whilst reading Genesis 1 – 10 in December 1968.  This is still the most watched television event to date, and what an image it is! We were asked to take a moment to consider what comes to us when we reflect on this image?

Some of the things that occurred to Jane Mellett that she shared with those present are:  Steward-ship, sharing our world, inter-connectedness, abundant life, hope, enough, Creation.

All of these are themes that are explored in Laudato Sí, published by Pope Francis in 2015.  We are reminded that perhaps the way forward for a struggling planet might be a route “back to creation”.

“There is enough for all but why is it that so many have not got enough”.

Those present then broke for discussion with guided questions to aid their reflection.

What fills us with abundant life?  Some considered that it was when they walk or garden or when they take in beautiful views. That which inspires, invigorates, energises and is essentially grounded in nature.

Before Jane moved on to a darker section of her talk she asked those present to consider the following from text Laudato Si #34

“But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves”.

Section 2

Why has Pope Francis Declared a Climate Emergency?

“What kind of world do you want to leave to the next generation, to children who are now growing up?” (Laudato Sí #160).

Those present explored briefly what is happening to our world  ‘…  the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’.

Jane shared her experience of her Climate Pilgrimage to COP 24 in Poland in 2018, journeying with survivors from climate disasters in Philippines. She gave some of her personal testimony, sharing on this experience.  This Climate Pilgrimage was part financed by the six largest coal producers in Poland. This wrankled hugely with Jane,  but was a frightening insult to Joanna Sustento who had survived typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and who is a climate activist  joining a global movement in taking legal action against the world’s biggest climate polluters. (See her story in the video clip below).

Section 3 

Greta Thunberg meets Pope Francis is St. Peter’s Square – April 2019

‘When Greta Thunberg  met Pope Francis ~ The abundant life of the Youth Climate Movement’.

The youth of the world are now calling out to us. Let us explore the power of this grassroots movement. Why should faith communities become involved? Where do we go from here? An ecological conversion  ~ is our hope from action.

In this section of Jane’s input she inspired hope when she spoke of her impression that Greta Thunberg could be described as a modern day prophet. She felt that the connection that Greta makes underlines the importance of an inter-generational response to the Climate Emergency.

Laudato Sí calls upon all of us to be protectors of the Earth and to be responsible for the stewardship of our Earth for the generations to come.  This is eminently possible “with a burst of love”,  but not possible with a “business as usual” approach.   There must be a radical change and this calls for an “ecological conversion”.

All of this Jane said, must “begin with ourselves”.  She urged those present  “not to feel old but to feel connected”.

Pádraic Fogarty followed on from Jane Mellet (for the mid-morning session) presenting on the theme: “Beauty in the Wild”

About Pádraic Fogarty

Pádraic is an ecologist and scientist, and currently serves as Campaign Officer for the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT). Pádraic was chair of the Irish Wildlife Trust from 2008-2012, editor of the magazine ‘Irish Wildlife’ from 2009-2018. He is also author of the 2017 book: “Whittled Away – Ireland’s Vanishing Nature”.

Pádraic began with the idea that firstly “we have to engage with the dark space to find our way out of it”.  The beginning of Pádraic’s talk was a comment on all that we have lost, and are losing at an alarming rate, that has given rise to the declaration of a “Biodiversity Emergency” in Ireland. His description of his work set the scene rather starkly, when he told us that his job is very much about looking for what is absent or gone from our countryside,and that this is rather disheartening.  He went on to paint the bleak picture.

Ireland’s biological diversity is under pressure like never before. The ongoing programme of conservation assessments conclude that on average 20% of the species that have been assessed are considered to be at risk of extinction in Ireland. Extinction is not a new phenomenon as Ireland has already lost many species. Among the species that are already considered extinct in Ireland are the Grey Wolf, Corn bunting, the Hornet Moth, Solitary bee, the Great Auk and the Brown Bear,

Pádraic is hugely concerned about:

  • the destruction of our sea the over-fishing and the culture catch and throwback that is a feature of bottom trawling that destroys sea habitats.
  • our centuries of turf cutting were not a problem until we began to machine cut and extract turf in huge amounts destroying habitats in the process and releasing carbon into our overheating atmosphere.
  • the decimation of our natural oak forests was obvious when he showed us a map of oak forests remaining in Ireland. Those sacred places are now barely visible on the map.

The way out of this inevitable demise? 

Pádraic outlined the following pathways towards change:

  • We need to reassess how we are farming and the over-dependence on EC or other subsidies promotes some types of dysfunctional or harmful farming. We are farming with pesticides, clearing land and overproducing. The net effect is such that ecosystems are being destroyed with permission and without care, as if there is a Plan B. There is no Planet B.
  • We must learn about our systems, species, our environment, our seas, rivers, forests, bogs and climate. From this learning will come a transformation.  We need to re-remember our dependence upon nature.
  • We need to reconnect with our natural environment and the transformation that comes from this will be the beginnings of a recovery. However, time is of the essence and emergencies demand priority.
  • We must remember that we are all only a generation or two from working the land, but yet this connection is well and truly broken and this is obvious to all.
  • Economic growth as we know it exacts a profit from the natural environment. Increasing wealth has been directly linked to the continuing extraction of fossil fuels. We must look closely at the link between economic progress and the destruction of our natural environment, and somehow we must re-balance and perhaps even overcompensate to ensure that our natural environment has a decent chance of a noticeable and sustaining recovery.

Looking at the SDG’s

When we look at the SDGs and the three pillars Social, Economic & Environmental, we need to be concerned with an equality of progress that assures all three pillars are strategically developed in an effort to restore the natural balance. The figure(right) shows the optimum relationship that will yield lasting results for a sustainable planet.

 

 

Noel Buckley from Presentation Secondary School, Clonmel shared the experience of being present with students at the Cork Inter-generational Climate Conference in early November (2019). Noel referred to the students whom he accompanied to Cork as being active in the Green Schools initiative. 

Mr Noel Buckely with students from Presentation Clonmel who attended the Cork Inter-generational Climate Conference on November 13th 2019.

As the students were unable to be present themselves due to exams, Noel had asked them what they would like him to say about their experience of the Inter-generational Conference.  The first impression that they shared was that they hadn’t realised that so many people cared enough to act. This has not been their experience. In terms of gaining information on the Climate Crisis it was also clear from what they said, that young people don’t engage with television these days.

Noel shared his belief that there is too much focus on consumerism and profit, and that this is the system into which the students are being educated. Another key takeaway from talking to the students was that blaming another generation for the current state of our climate is utterly counterproductive and mitigates against healthy inclusive progressive solutions. Lorna Gold had spoken directly to all who attended the Cork conference.  The students from Presentation Clonmel were most impressed by her story, her enthusiasm and her message of hope that is designed to include all who were listening to her. (See Climate Generation – Lorna Gold )

They strongly feel that there needs to be a grassroots response that can drive change, and that makes a difference. Noel commented that there are already advanced plans to run a ‘Fridays for Future’ march in Clonmel on November 29th with “System Change not Climate Change” being the anthem for all.

Sharing an ‘inter-generational experience

Noel mentioned that when they all arrived at the Cork Inter-generational Climate Conference the first move by the organisers was to separate attendees into different groups, “a good move”. Noel explained.  At Noel’s table was an 83 year old Sister in the mix of about 9 or 10 at the table. On the face of it the students at the table would be forgiven if they glossed over the odd contribution as there was a lot to take on board. However, when this Sister spoke, she brought to the conversation her experience in Africa working in Tropical Medicines for 20 years. She spoke of her involvement with the efforts that began on what we now know to be the “Great Green Wall”,  as a means of halting desertification. This illustrated the strength of the inter-generational approach and such was the conversation of this 83 year old that she became the esteemed elder at their table, the “cool” Sister.

The students were also learning that there needs to be a refocusing of the lens on power, equality and justice.

Changes can be small and can come from humble beginnings

Noel gave the example of an action in his school around the the exorbitant number plastic bottles that arrive into the school daily. There needed to be a change. So he estimated the number of plastic bottles that would be used over a period of school time, and gathered them all together, and at a prayer service at St. Patrick’s Well in Clonmel he put them all in a net and threw them onto the lake to show the effect of so much plastic in a place of beauty. The sheer size of what could be seen, was enough for all to get the message, and so now plastic bottle usage is banned in the school. He also flagged two potential reactions to all this Climate Crisis information:

  • a danger of a narrative of despair overwhelming all, adding to a sense of powerlessness.
  • people thinking, “I care about all this in my head, but it doesn’t affect me enough to make a lifestyle change”.

He spoke about the need to normalise the necessary behaviours that prompt change, and of there being a very definite felt need for actions and not words.  Armed with facts and knowledge we can take reasoned and reasonable action that will bring about change.

Creating the narrative of hope

Noel concluded by saying that we need to create the narrative of hope, reminding those in the room of the fact that it is they who carry the precious memory of sustainability. They all grew up in a time when nothing was wasted. This could be their gift to the inter-generational network.  He also spoke about the importance of questioning ‘the statistics’ as we have also been urged to do by President Higgins, when he spoke at the Inter-generational Conference. Knowledge can empower, as action takes courage.

However, he said, change will happen when we disrupt the system and that there is a known formula (that has been proven all over the world again and again) to bring about effective change it is: “When 2% – 3 % of the people of a nation come out in protest, change happens”.

A ‘Sustainable Living’ Resource 

Prior to leaving for home we were introduced to the revised and revamped “Sustainability Booklet” produced by the North East Province entitled: “Making a Commitment to Sustainable Living at Personal, family and community level”.   See link Sustainable Living Booklet – NEP Justice Day 2019 to download a copy.

(To read a copy on line below – if using your mobile you will need to orientate to landscape view).

This Justice Day ended positively with everyone feeling energised and hopeful having benefited from the information content and shared discussion. Now to action!

Note:  The material for this article was edited from copy shared by Brian O’Toole, Director  of  Presentation Sisters Justice Desk for Ireland and England.  See section on our website  HERE

     

 

 

 

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