Living with Earth: Q&A about this year’s International Ignatian Ecospiritual Conference

by | Apr 13, 2022 | Blog, News and Updates | 0 comments

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The Australian Jesuit Province is hosting the International Ignatian Ecospiritual Conference (IIEC2022) online from April 25-30th, as part of the 500th anniversary of the conversion of St Ignatius. Dr. Peter Saunders, from the conference’s Organizing Committee, answers our key questions:

The theme of the conference is “Living with Earth: Our Ecological Conversion through being with God in Nature.” What does that mean?

Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ is calling for a conversion of our hearts – an ecological conversion – whereby people will encounter God in ALL creation. This conference is an immersion experience where participants will be invited to spend some contemplative time in Nature for each of the five days of the conference. We believe that it is participants’ experience out in Nature that will open their hearts to the Presence that is God there with them. Here is a short video link to introduce the conference: Welcome to IIEC 2022.

But this is hardly a “conference” as we typically think of them. This event has the potential to unite people in prayer and action all over the world, right? How will that work and how can people participate?

In a usual conference, there are keynote speakers each day and then lots of workshops, the aim being to acquire new knowledge and understanding of particular topics. This conference is an immersion experience, and there will be a keynote speaker each morning touching on different themes related to Laudato Sii, including:

  • Laudato Si’ and Ecological Conversion
  • Climate Change
  • Aboriginal Spirituality
  • Action Projects – Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration in Africa
  • Laudato Si’ Action Platform

After the keynote speeches, participants will share their response to the speaker’s topic in small group hubs. Then, they will be invited to spend some time in nature each day. We will give them some spiritual exercises in nature each day to take with them. Later in the day, they will return to their hub group to share their experience of that day. 

Participants will also be invited to share some of this at the IIEC2022 facebook group with other participants from around the world. We will record the morning sessions and put them up on the IIEC2022 youtube channel, so those who are gathering in different time zones around the world will watch them together at their local time. Presently, we have participants from 13 countries from around the world, including: Kenya, Ireland, India, Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, Timor Leste, New Zealand, Canada, and USA. Here is a small video link that explains how the conference works: IIEC2022 – What is it?

Why focus on eco-spirituality overall? 

During my lifetime, the Catholic theology that I received was focused on my human relationship with God. I was told that I was born in the image of God. I wasn’t told that God is present in ALL creation: in every river, in every mountain, in the oceans, in every plant, in every animal, in every bird, in every insect, in every fish.  Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit, paleontologist, and theologian invited us into a new appreciation of God in all matter, in evolution, in life. “By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, when in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.” In the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, he invites the one making the exercises into that encounter with Jesus, who loves us in intimate friendship. This brings about a conversion of the person’s heart which brings forth great desires to live their life differently. That makes a difference.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis, also a Jesuit, invites us into another conversion – an ecological conversion – where we encounter the intimacy of the Cosmic Christ in all of Earth. I believe this encounter with the Cosmic Christ in every aspect of our Mother Earth will transform people’s hearts leading to great desires to care for her in new ways. 

How would you describe St. Ignatius’ relationship with God’s creation?

The Society of Jesus is currently celebrating the 500th anniversary of the conversion of St Ignatius of Loyola. The Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arturo Sosa SJ will open the conference. Our conference is about inviting participants into a new conversion – an ecological conversion. Ignatius was a man of the land who grew up in the rural area of Loyola in the Basque country of northern Spain. He was in touch with nature all his life. After his conversion in 1521/2, he only ever traveled on foot. He walked across Europe on a number of occasions, when there were no well-made roads and no electricity, hence no lighting along the way. He took his connection with nature for granted, as it was part of his life in the 16C. An early biography of Ignatius by one who knew him well, Ribadeneira, explains: “We frequently saw him taking the occasion of little things to lift his mind to God, who even in the smallest things is great. From seeing a plant, foliage, a leaf, a flower, any fruit, from the consideration of a little worm or any other animal, he raised himself above the heavens and penetrated the deepest thought.”

What would St. Ignatius be doing now, in the midst of the climate emergency and ecological crisis?

Ignatius today would be greatly concerned about how we are treating God’s creation. According to Nadal, a close friend of Ignatius, he noticed, “I shall not fail to recall that grace which he had in all circumstances, while at work or in conversation, of feeling the presence of God and of tasting spiritual things, of being contemplative even in the midst of action; he used to interpret this as seeking God in all things.” If we are to find God in all things, then we have a responsibility to care for all things, particularly Mother Earth. He would be greatly concerned about the damage we are doing to Earth. For Ignatius, the Jesuits are called to be Contemplatives in Action. So as our hearts are transformed through ecological conversion, we are called into action to care for our common home.

“The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dew drop, in a poor person’s face” (LS 233 ). 

Join The International Ignatian Ecospiritual Conference, held online April 25-30th.

Laudato Si’ Movement
Laudato Si’ Movement

Stories and statements written by Laudato Si’ Movement represent the work of the organization and/or more than one staff member of the movement.

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