Soil, sunlight, water and patience

Clapham Community retreat in Birmingham
Clapham Community retreat in Birmingham

On the edge of Clapham Common, the Jesuit house there is now dedicated to welcoming young adults and helping them to engage in caring for our common home, following the teaching of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’. It is a fairly new project, since the house became available only last summer, and the community was completed only mid-September 2018 with the arrival of Ruth Holgate to join Fr Jim Conway SJ and Fr Dushan Croos SJ. It is like a germinating seed: at the moment it is only a little sprout, but the hope is that it will grow steadily into a larger plant. That involves good soil, sunlight, the right amount of water and patience.

The team has been preparing the soil by getting to know the young adults in and around London with whom Jesuits are already in contact. The have done that through the Young Adult Sunday Mass at Farm Street, through the Faith in Politics internship of the Bishops’ Conference, and through those who seek the Jesuits out because they are alumni of colleges or chaplaincies. As Rith, Fr Jim and Fr Dushan meet them, a community is formed, which can pray and reflect on the action that is called from us.

The sunlight is provided by familiarising ourselves with the pope’s letter, and by developing a background understanding of the spiritual ecology, human ecology and natural ecology which he outlines, by inviting reconciliation with God, with our neighbour and with our common home. They have done this through ‘Exploring Laudato Si’’ days at Clapham. Among the speakers so far have been Professor Celia Deane-Drummond, Jesuits, religious and young adults already engaged in this work. The community has also greatly profited from reading ‘The Ten Green Commandments of Laudato Si’’ by Fr Joshtrom Kureethadam SDB, a theologian at the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development.

The water is provided by the conversations about this topic that arise through the various meetings. For example, Fr Jim’s experience at Lethem, Guyana, in the Amazon, has helped the community to engage with this autumn’s Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, particularly through the visit to London of Mr Mauricio López of REPAM, the PanAmazonian Ecclesial Network. The team has met young adults, whose desire to engage others has incited them to form an Ecological Conversion Group (, which speaks to parishes and confirmation groups about the pope’s call to ecological conversion. It is known that overwatering plants can kill them, so th also need to filter the information about ecology we receive so that we are not drowned by it.

These are only beginnings, sproutings, which we are trying to cultivate patiently, by providing a structure on which this plant can grow and bear fruit. Forced cultivation of crops using artificial fertilizer in greenhouses produces weak, tasteless fruit, incapable of reproducing and spreading naturally. "Instead, we hope to produce fruit that renews the experience of eating homegrown tomatoes in a salad during a Sicilian holiday, which left me thinking I’d never before tasted a real tomato!" Fr Dushan comments.

This article was first published on Jesuits and Friends 103