The environmental challenges of GC36

GC36 is to put the environment at the heart of its deliberations
Ecojesuit calls on Jesuits to put environmental challenges at the heart of GC36

Jesuits involved in ecology and the environment are calling for a “renewed imagination”, as they prepare for their 36th General Congregation (GC36). Writing on the Ecojesuit website, they urge delegates at the meeting that will take place in Rome from 3 October to offer “new prospects so the Society of Jesus can respond – as a body – to the environmental and poverty challenges our world is facing”.

In an article posted on 31 July – the Feast of the founder of the Society of Jesus, St Ignatius Loyola - José Ignacio Garcia SJ traces the development of the Jesuits’ environmental initiatives over recent General Congregations, and links it with Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato ‘si. In it, Fr Garcia acknowledges that the Catholic Church has sometimes been slow in responding to environmental concerns, but says that there is the growing awareness in the Society of Jesus of the importance of environmental challenges of our times.

A ministry of reconciliation

The article links concerns for the environment with the Decree at the 32nd General Congregation in 1975, that defined the mission of the Society as “the service to … a faith that does justice”. However, Fr Garcia admits that it has rarely been easy or obvious how Jesuits should carry out this vocation.  “The world has put us in totally conflicting contexts,” he writes.  “While some Jesuits lived in affluent and consumerist societies, others remained under totalitarian regimes that denied basic freedoms such as religious freedom.  Other companions lived the call to promote justice in societies where a small elite, through the use of violence, kept the majority of the population in extreme poverty.”

This mission was confirmed in subsequent General Congregations, until GC35 (2008) noted that this mission is a ministry of reconciliation – with God, with others, and with creation. “For the first time, the Society of Jesus acknowledged in one of its official documents the fundamental place of its institutional environmental responsibility,” Fr Garcia explains, adding that this statement by the General Congregation would be strengthened with the document Healing a Broken World (2011) by the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat, which provided a far broader awareness among Jesuits and collaborators.

Social and environmental sustainability

Reflecting on how Pope Francis insists that the solution requires “a deep and radical response”, Fr Garcia writes that “we need a new way of producing and consuming if we want to put God’s creation at the centre: that is, people and nature.” He goes on to list several areas in which the Society of Jesus needs to take positive action. These include personal and community lifestyles, responsible management of investments and the development of their educational institutions as leaders in promoting social and environmental sustainability.

Earlier this year, Brother Stephen Power SJ, Treasurer for the Jesuits in Britain and Chair of the Jesuit Missions Management Board, was among the signatories of an open letter published in the Financial Times addressed to the heads of the world’s largest publicly listed fossil fuel companies. Jesuit Missions actively promotes the issue of climate change following Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato ‘si, and is part of the Jesuits in Mining advocacy network. The letter, signed by leading members of civil society from around the world, calls on these firms to support the COP21 Paris Agreement, and to put limiting climate change at the heart of their business plans for the future.

Read the full article by Fr José Ignacio Garcia SJ on the Ecojesuit website.