An Ecology Journey in Cambodia

Ando Isamu SJ(Tokyo Jesuit Social Center)

  Although I have been to Cambodia before, this was my first time there to attend a workshop on ecological issues. Fr Koyama from Sophia University, Ms Kawachi and myself from the Jesuit Social Center joined a group of 31 Jesuits and 16 lay partners who had gathered in Kompong Cham (Cambodia) from several Asian countries.
  The location of the workshop was along the Mekong River, a living symbol of the environmental issues we were to deal with. Most participants, myself included, were mere amateurs in ecological issues and not sure about what was going to happen. I certainly wanted to learn from those already engaged and find ways for cooperating in the future. In fact, the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP) had organized and sponsored the workshop in collaboration with the Jesuit Cambodian team, expecting some further follow up.
  The workshop took place shortly after the triple Japanese disaster of earthquakes, tsunami, and nuclear radiation. Our three-member Japanese delegation brought a clear message with regard to nuclear energy plants: “They are unsafe and costly. Human technology cannot defy nature.” The Fukushima incident has renewed the nuclear debate. Though decisions are limited to energy officials, the incident’s impact affects everyone.
  The title of the workshop was “Reconciliation with Creation,” and the approach was to start with gratitude and to experience something of the environment and life of the people along the Mekong River. But, frankly speaking, the overwhelming power of nature was everywhere present. Nevertheless, it was a learning process simply to observe the vastness and flow of the Mekong and to think about its characteristically seasonal rhythm and the 60 million people along its shores.

Workshop Report: 11-15 July 2011
  It was the first time for Jesuit people in Asia Pacific to meet on ecology. The workshop, held at the Bishop’s House in Kompong Cham (Cambodia) from 11-15 July 2011, was programmed as an experiential workshop, with the Mekong as the learning environment.
  The approach was to start with gratitude and to experience something of this environment and life of the people, rather than immediately look at the environmental issues of today. It was a challenging approach because often we are trained to start by looking for problems. Our immediate response was to come to know the issues.
  Some people asked if environment is a Jesuit issue. If we go back to GC35, we find that, yes it pertains closely to our mission. In commitment to GC35, JCAP focused on two main areas: Migration and Reconciliation with Creation.
In August 2010 the meeting in Klaten (Indonesia) dealt with the realities of migration in the JCAP region and provided the venue for dealing with shared ecological programs.
  Pedro Walpole, Philippine Jesuit, was asked, along with the ecology group, to come up with a draft document that would articulate our Jesuit approach to ecological issues. This year’s workshop was an occasion to reflect, discuss, and question, and to sharpen our strategy as it emerges. In our Jesuit dynamic, we have to root all things within our spirituality:

1. We acknowledge God as Creator of life and find some quiet moment each day to appreciate this with gratitude. Our lifestyle allows us to find quiet time even if the world around us is not quiet. We recognize that we have burdened the next generation with many environmental problems, so we also need to also give them some basic hope. Many youth struggle within this world, yet they do not have enough experience of the world. In one sense, young people can be very deeply engaged, and in another sense they can become greatly distracted.
2. We seek to reach out in hope to the poor who are increasingly losing their livelihood and ecological sustainability. They are the most vulnerable to climate change.
3. In many ways, indigenous peoples and rural life can tell us how to relate with the landscape, as their language and culture are rooted in creation and the seasonal cycle.
4.We accept the challenge of contributing to a more sustainable world.

  The Mekong River, which has its origin in China, waters several countries, and flows into the sea south of Vietnam, was a suitable site for the workshop. Within the transition zone of the Mekong, many dams have been built for hydroelectric power generation and irrigation. These dams pose questions for many: have these water works affected flood levels along the Mekong? Lower flood levels mean that less land is inundated and possibly less fish is produced.
  Among our guests was Fr Patxi Alvarez SJ, actual General Secretary of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Jesuit headquarters in Rome. He acknowledged that it took several years before the Society reached this level of commitment to reconciliation with creation. International collaboration among social centers is deemed important. Advocacy is a common field for collaboration He said that “GC35 (d.3 n.28) has been the basis of Jesuit commitment to promote networking among Jesuits and their apostolic works. The complexity of the problems we face and the richness of the opportunities offered demand that we engage in building bridges between rich and poor and establishing advocacy links of mutual support between those who hold political power and those who find it difficult to voice their interests. Our intellectual apostolate provides an inestimable help in setting up these bridges, offering us new ways of understanding in depth the mechanisms and links among our present problems…”
  After the 2008 Jesuit Coordinators’ meeting in Rome five thematic areas for networking were identified: (1) the right to education, (2) peace and human rights, (3) ecology, (4) migration, and (5) governance of natural and mineral resources.
These offer a challenge to learn how to collaborate. Jesuits have been very strong at the local level or at their own workplace but have been very weak in collaboration. These common themes provided us with a common vision and a basis to work together for understanding towards common mission. Although social concerns are not always the concern of all Jesuits, the number of Jesuits working directly in social action is decreasing. We need centers where we can provide venues for learning, reflection, and action.
  How can we involve young Jesuits (scholastics, regents) in our mission?
Most important was the recognition that we needed to “get our own house in order.” Internal advocacy within the Jesuit community emerged as a key focus. There is need for greater change in attitudes, lifestyle, formation and engagement, and we hope to have the major superiors on board in this regard.
  On the other hand, natural and human disasters, be they wars or uncontrolled economic development schemes like nuclear energy wake us up to face insurmountable realities.

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