It is so important for humans, whether secondary school students, adults or toddlers, to have opportunities to be deeply connected to the sacred earth where we encounter everything that sustains us and all living species.
In the weeks leading up to Easter, a group of young men from Riverview College in Sydney made a city-based pilgrimage through parts of the inner city. They camped out on Cockatoo Island, taking time apart from social media to be affected first hand by the beauty of the Harbour and the closeness of the earth on which the city is built.
The boys spent time reflecting on the tracks and roads built over the original soil and the effect our lifestyle is having on earth’s eco-systems. They were invited to process their responses through journaling and sharing with each other, as they linked the stunningly beautiful Sydney landscape with the film I’ll Push You, about the celebrated nature pilgrimage, the Camino Di Santiago.
You could see it in their eyes, a moment of recognition, when the young men became aware of the vibrant beauty of the natural world all around, teeming with life, rather than the more immediate concerns of their busy school day.
I know one young mother who plans every day for her two-year-old to have as much time as possible outdoors … sniffing the wind, smelling the flowers, fingering the leaves, running up small hills, cultivating the inner-city community garden, and relishing the gifts of life. It is a principle of all good education that reflection on lived experiences enriches what we used to call ‘bookish’ learning and is now so often ‘digital’, or ‘virtual’ rather than ‘first-hand’ learning. ‘Fresh is best, naturally’ as they say!
“Pope John Paul II called ‘ecological conversion’, that is, a change of heart, a newness of mind, in understanding and respecting the earth as God’s Creation and the source of all life,” says Sue Martin, Jesuit Sustainability Centre Co-Ordinator for Riverview College.
Sue is a shining example of the extensive Catholic Earthcare Australia (CEA) network, an organisation which was founded by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in 2001.
In the years since 2001, CEA has worked tirelessly with schools, parishes and dioceses, linking with global and local environmental agencies, informed and energised by sound science and first-class theology. South Australian, Fr Denis Edwards, was one of the original members of the CEA Reference Group. Denis walked the Flinders Ranges, wrote, lectured and lived out of his love for God’s Creation, becoming an internationally recognised authority in eco-theology. He is now experiencing the fullness of life with his Creator God.
The Psalms and other sacred writings, through the integral relationship of faith and science have in understanding the Cosmic Story of evolution; through the life of St Francis of Assisi, the church teaches us tenderness for all creatures, and through the 2015 gift to the world of Pope Francis’ great ecological encyclical, Laudato Si, gives the message ‘amore’ for our mother earth.
Bernard Holland, the Director of Catholic Earthcare Australia says that it’s the expertise and hands-on realism of educators like Sue Martin which is always needed in our Church and its agencies so that our focus is kept on the young people whose future is threatened by human neglect of our earth.
On August the 30th this year, Catholic Earthcare Australia is planning, in collaboration with NSW Catholic educators, a student led and designed eco-summit to explore and celebrate the wonder of creation and our human responsibility to care for the earth and live more sustainably.
Just as Pope Francis has spoken of the importance of an integral ecology in Church life which ‘hears the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor,’ (Laudato Si’ Signore, 2014) so too did the young men involved with the pilgrimage make this realisation by visiting Jesuit community outreach café, the Two Wolves Mexican Café in Broadway. No doubt they were as hungry as a pack of wolves after their walking and wandering!
The vibrant social enterprise cantina offers food at an affordable price, ‘welcomes all who walk through the doors to experience their food and warm atmosphere.’
No doubt Pope Francis would be proud of the way good simple food and warm hospitality welcome all comers to the cantina, providing a place of nourishment that models a world characterised by love, moderation, service, joy and inclusion.