Labour and Laudato Si

Denzil Fernandes front left with group from Symposium
Denzil Fernandes front left with group from Symposium

Eddy Bermingham SJ discovers how principles of Laudato Si are being implemented by Jesuit Social Centres around the world, through a chance encounter in Brussels.






You never quite know who you will meet when you stay at the Jesuit Community of St Benedict in Brussels. As the name of the patron saint of the house suggests, this is a community of Jesuits each of whom works with some aspect of “Europe”, from the President of the Jesuit Conference of European Provincials, to the Jesuit European Social Centre, to the Director of Jesuit Refugee Service – Europe, to the Director of the Chapel for Europe. The community’s two small guest rooms have a constant flow of guests.  

This time my fellow guest was Fr Denzil Fernandes SJ, Director of the Indian Social Institute in New Delhi.

Spending time with Denzil gave me an insight into some of the work of the Jesuit Social Centres around the globe.

Denzil’s itinerary included Paris, Brussels, Bruges, Aachen and one or two other meetings.  I asked him whether he didn’t find this type of trip exhausting.  His reply took me off guard. “Eddy,” he said “it’s just so nice to be able to walk along a street with almost no air pollution; in New Delhi I must wear a mask all the time.” 

This was the beginnings of an ongoing conversation which had an underlying theme - how the impact of Laudato Si differs enormously depending on how immediate the environmental issues are that you have to face.  Denzil’s reality was one where it wasn’t safe to breath the air on the street.  Not surprisingly the impression Laudato Si made upon him was much more direct than it was for me.  A striking characteristic of the Indian Social Institute, is that the way into the issues always starts with people - whether it be the Dhalits or the tribal peoples or Indian women in the workplace. Issues addressed in the pope’s encyclical are neve far away if you are faithful to the experience of the poor and marginalised in India.

It is the knowledge that arises out of this commitment to starting life stories that informed and shaped the contributions that Denzil had made to the Symposium he had just attended in Paris which was structured around three themes:

Day one considered: why ecological and societal realities call for a redesign of tomorrow’s work?
Day two focused on: rethinking work so that it is respectful of the planet and the ecological transition – down to work
The final day deliberated: towards a work respectful of people and the planet.

Whilst the Symposium was important in and of itself what was more impressive was the degree of collaboration that had been undertaken prior to the Symposium as its final Manifesto (to which all delegates signed up) states:
“For two years, an international group of about thirty social actors (NGOs,  associations, social centers, unions, church movements) worked together in a  research-action process. The members of this group, collectively dreaming of  the future of work as an integral part of the ecological transition, arrived at  several common observations and collective recommendations, and that this  collaboration was only one of six different research themes.”

This was the first time that Jesuit Social Centres from around the world collaborated together in such a sustained manner- not simply collaborating with each other but rather engaging with a wide range of partners all contributing to a larger research project entitled: The Future of Work, Labour After Laudato Sì.  The symposium formed only one element of this wider global project which
“aims at providing Catholic inspired organizations in association with other  faith based organizations with the capacity to contribute jointly to the  promotion and implementation of Laudato Sì in areas related to work and to  dialogue with employers and workers organizations on this matter. The project  will bring together, in particular, Christian business associations, international  movements, local communities, Conferences of Catholic Bishops, Jesuit  Social Centres and universities, and organizations from other religious  traditions. This proposal is the continuation of five years of collaboration at the  global level related to the Sustainable Development Goals. It will also aim at  contributing to the ILO Centenary and the Future of Work Initiative.”

The overall programme has six research tracks.
1. Jobs, ecology and environmental crisis – led by the French Social Ethics Centre CERAS.
2. Jobs, violence, and the link between social justice and peace led jointly by the Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla (Mexico) and the Laboratory for Social and Economic Innovation (LAINES).
3. Jobs, demography and migration – led by the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC)
4. Jobs, robotisation and technology changes - placed under the leadership of Peter Warrian, Professor of Economics and Chair of the Lupina Foundation
5. The future of enterprise and entrepreneurship after Laudato Sì - led by UNIAPAC (International Christian Union of Business Executives) under the direct supervision of Dr. Rodrigo Whitelaw and Professor Paul Dembinski and his team from the Observatoire de la Finance and University of Fribourg (Switzerland).
6. Jobs creation innovations and changes in the context of Laudato Sì - led by Aggiornamenti Sociali and CeSPI – Centro Studi di Politica Internazionale, both based in Italy.

The whole enterprise is a classic example of what Pope Francis envisages when he talks about the need to be a listening church. The Church discovers how the Spirit is leading when, and only when, the Church listens attentively to the voices of many people and NGOs talking about their experiences.

The Jesuits in Britain are endeavouring to “listen” in a variety of different ways to what is being said to it in the light of Laudato Si.   It is establishing a Laudato Si Research Institute based in Oxford and is also co-creating an MA Theology, Ecology and Ethics with the University of Roehampton.  In support of this MA the Jesuits in Britain are offering a small number of bursaries (up to the equivalent of full tuition at UK rates) more information is available at