Spirituality of Sustainability
During long summer days when plentiful sunshine, fresh tomatoes and ripe peaches are easy to come by it’s not a difficult task to talk about God’s presence in nature. As the days shorten and the harvest is collected, it is still easy to connect the abundance offered from Earth with the Divine.
But what does ecological sustainability really mean through all of the seasons? Is it possible to live like St. Francis of Assisi, as Pope Francis urges us in Laudato Si’? “St. Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he … shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace.” (Laudato Si’, 10)
This past May, thanks to Loretto’s Finance Committee, Loretto Women’s Network and Loretto Outreach, I had a fascinating opportunity to explore answers to these questions at the 2018 Rome/Assisi Conference on Spirituality and Sustainability, which was co-sponsored by St. Thomas University in Miami and Forum 21 in New York City. The conference started in Rome with an audience with Cardinal Peter Turkson, who has been charged by Pope Francis to put Laudato Si’ into action. There was lively dialogue, which included a few points of disagreement regarding the Doctrine of Discovery and gender yet was overwhelmingly positive because of our shared passions for solving the challenges of climate change and overconsumption.
The conference then moved northwards to Assisi, where we collectively experienced the still-present spirits of Sts. Clare and Francis even amidst the many tourist shops in the small city. Mornings were time for prayer and presentations by nearly all of the participants, who came from a wide range of ecological-spiritual perspectives, centers and movements in the United States, Japan and Europe. Afternoons were spent walking and touring, and that, of course, worked up an appetite for the fabulous meals served with fresh, local ingredients.
It was a wonderful way to learn from my own religious tradition and a way to learn more about the Earth Charter, indigenous spiritualities and Thomas Berry’s vision of the “New Story” of the universe. My own presentation was as part of a panel on the U.N.’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) as part of its Agenda 2030. The presentation focused on teaching tools for the SDGs and some of the tools being used to create curriculum for the students from Loretto and BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary) high schools who come to the Commission on the Status of Women each year.
Although there was deeply appreciated opportunity to dialogue about potential transformative global change, I could not help but notice that I was one of the younger people there, and the focus was more on thinking and talking than doing. I walked away affirmed that Loretto is on a positive pathway with developing educational tools, our green burial work and other Loretto Earth Network-connected efforts to support sustainable human development for all in a flourishing Earth community.
In terms of next steps, it will be important to continue to support and push governments of the world to abide by the Paris Climate Agreement, in addition to having had a presence at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco in September 2018. We look forward to doing our part!