Celebrating the Laudato Si' anniversary in Malawi: June 15, 2017

waterweekFr. Rigobert Minani SJ, reflects on the commitment of Jesuits in Africa on climate change

One year ago, on June 18th 2015, Pope Francis released his historic encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home. The Laudato Si' Week (June 12-19) is a major international celebration of the encyclical's anniversary to reflect on the Laudato Si' message and express our gratitude to Pope Francis by taking action to bring the encyclical to life.

The reconciliation with creation has been at the forefront of the Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar since 2011. Encouraged by the publication of Healing a Broken World by then Father General, Adolfo Nicolás SJ, which called for renewal of relations, challenging intellectual and spiritual commitment and contemporary formation, to profess a deep engagement with creation and learn from the book of nature to be co-creators sharing in the fullness of life (11).

Fr. Adolfo in Healing of a Broken World emphasizes the need 'to engage with lay and social movements, locally, regionally and universally, connecting and participating in the broader search for respect, responsibility and accountability for the environment. A call to all ministries in Conferences and Provinces in sectors of: theological, spiritual, pastoral, social, educational, intellectual and scientific to dialogue with the world, with all religions and with those committed to environmental justice. This is a crucial dialogue at the very frontier of the ecological sustainability of all life (11).

In light of this call, the JESAM Social Apostolate carried out a survey all over Africa on the steps towards combating climate change, then set up a 'JESAM Ecology' working group (JECO) in 2014. The taskforce of JECO comprises of a member from each Province or Region. In 2014, a training of the Ecology working group was conducted by an international expert from the Philippines (Pedro Wolpe S.J.). JECO regularly publishes a "state of Ecology in Africa," indicating various initiatives within Africa, the achievements, challenges and difficulties encountered, etc.

In 2015, we enthusiastically welcomed Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato si, appreciating the attention he drew to the urgent need for reconciliation with creation. Quoting Pope Francis, on climate change, there is a clear, definitive and ineluctable ethical imperative to act. The Laudato Si' message could not be clearer. Pope Francis notably, firmly acknowledges the reality of climate change and appeals to action by all towards caring for the environment: "The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change...Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home...Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world's poorest. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded" (13).

In light of this, the JESAM social Apostolate developed 4 key areas in the working groups.
1. Sustainable agriculture
2. Access to clean water
3. Deforestation
4. Renewable energy
5. Forest management

While reflecting on Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato si' and the contribution of the Catholic Church in Africa towards protecting the environment, in March 2015, in Windhoek, Namibia, the Regional and National Justice and Peace Commissions of the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) with support from the JESAM social Apostolate, and in collaboration with Caritas Congo launched the idea of the creation of the Ecclesial Network for the Congo River Basin (REBAC) an 'African church network on the management of the Equatorial Forest', following the example of the Pan-Amazonia Church Network (REPAM).

The initiative at its early stage had targeted the 6 countries of Equatorial forests (Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, DR Congo). A concern for this "biodiverse lungs" has the encouragement of Pope Francis, "let us mention...those richly biodiverse lungs of our planet which are the Amazon and the Congo basins..." (Laudato si n.38)

In July 2016, the Plenary Assembly of SECAM in Luanda confirmed the REBAC program, whose vision "An emerging Congo Basin in which all (north-south, indigenous peoples and local communities, present and future generations) have access to a life of better quality through responsible and sustainable management of the natural resources and especially energy, fisheries, biological, forest and animal resources available.

REBAC now through its members assumes the responsibility and seeks to fulfil the role of the Church in searching for solutions in Africa and committing to act within the Church in a concerted and coordinated manner to protect the forests in the Congo Basin. They also disseminate Laudato si' in different church structures (regional, diocesan, parish, grassroots communities) in the different countries. Members are committed to work with local communities, civil society organizations, governments, parliamentarians, partners, to support actions for the protection of the planet.

Father Rigobert Minani, SJ, JESAM Social Apostolate coordinator and Director, will be attending the launch of Interfaith Rainforest Initiative in Norway on 19 June 2017, followed by a two-day roundtable to develop the initiative's concrete goals, action plans and milestones. This process is expected to lead to a global interfaith rainforest summit to be convened in Brazil in the second half of 2018. This initiative has been being designed to mobilize leaders from all religions, faiths and spiritual traditions – including indigenous peoples and forest communities – to forge a united action plan to protect, restore and sustainably manage tropical rainforests across the planet.


by Anastasia Makunu | JESAM Communications Officer

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