Three Jesuits at the 4th UN Environment Assembly

Three Jesuits along with one lay collaborator participated in the 4th Assembly of the United Nations for the environment recently held in Nairobi –  James Kayanda SJ (Eastern Africa Province), Adrian Makasa Chikwamo SJ (Zambia-Malawi) and Ghislain Tshikendwa Matadi SJ (Africa Centr.) and Miss Elizabeth Auma, a lay collaborator in the Communications Department of the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network.

The theme of the environment was scrutinized with rigour and realism. The organizers had carefully prepared it for the doubts and fears raised by the changes made to our “common home”, especially the lives of the poor and vulnerable.

The range and complexity of different commitments to the safeguarding of our planet have obliged the organizers to pay particular attention to the churches so that, through their work with the communities, they share their expertise. It is obvious that the religious and cultural aspect is one of the major assets in the fight for the safeguarding of the environment.

"I found myself thinking a great deal about Pope Francis's Laudato Si'," said Ghislain Tshikendwa Matadi SJ, Director of the Center for Research and Communication in Sustainable Development at the Loyola University of RD Congo. "This was due in no small part the the papal representative, who was invited to this 4th Assembly, where he spoke with mastery and simplicity. I also thought of Father General, the four apostolic priorities of the Society of Jesus for the next 10 years. I thought of the Democratic Republic of Congo, my country, which is part of the Congo Basin. Laudato Si' describes the region, with the Amazon, as lungs rich in biodiversity for the good of humanity, but also how the same humanity may not take still very seriously the threat of climate change to people’s lives."

Some paragraphs of the letter of invitation addressed to Father Chilufya, Social Apostolate Coordinator of Africa and Madagascar Assistance, by the organisers of the 4th United Nations Environmental Assembly deserve mention. They give the reason for choosing the Jesuit Network for Justice and Ecology (JENA) and explain the nature of the expected contribution. “Recognizing the work of your esteemed organization in promoting sustainable development, I am pleased to invite you to take part in the 4th United Nations Environment Assembly …”. The signatory of the invitation is the main coordinator of the group to which the representatives belonged as a religious organization: “Faith for the Earth”. 51 religious organizations, including the Society of Jesus, took part in this assembly and affirmed the importance of religion and faith in God in the preservation of the common home.

"We brought the experience of the Church to this forum, highlighting, among other things, the beautiful and invaluable work of many religious leaders among the poor and the marginalized," Fr Ghislain Tshikendwa Matadi SJ further commented on the event. Ghislain Tshikendwa Matadi SJ in his Campus in RD Congo

Religious organizations have this common characteristic of working with those who suffer, sometimes tragically, the adverse effects of climate change. Fr Ghislain articulated his experience during this meeting in three main sections:

1. Ancestral knowledge and the need to safeguard it

The Center for Research and Communication in Sustainable Development (CERED) of the Loyola University of Congo in Mongata has direct experience of 4 villages, namely: Lundu, Nkiela, Mulosi and Kintswanga. It has helped with the planting of trees, thus enabling agricultural development without necessarily destroying the forest. Farmers around Mongata can see a forest growing. They can see students doing a Masters degree in Agroforestry Master conducting studies to identify trees that are useful for food and medicine in order to recreate forests that are useful for life.

2. The urgent need to involve young people in the struggle for the safeguarding of our Common Home;

During the various sessions which Fr Ghislain took part in, he felt the need to involve young people in the safeguarding of our common home. The notion of sustainable development refers to future generations who themselves will play an important role in safeguarding the environment. An intuition was born during this assembly: the creation in Congo of the “Congolese Youth Network for the Environment” (RJECE).

3. Religious and cultural aspects as a basis for respect for the environment.

Faith in God and in the cultural significance of the forest are necessary assets in the struggle for the protection of the environment. The Bible and religious traditions are full of intuition that can help us think about the realistic and sometimes inexpensive ways of involving the world in taking seriously the threat that climate change poses to the lives of our generation and those to come.

Fr Ghislain said: "I will conclude by mentioning a sad event that accompanied not only the delegates to the 4th United Nations Assembly on the environment but also the whole world: the plane crash of the Ethiopian Airlines Company. Many delegates lost their lives. We thought of them. Their death reminds us that our sincere commitment to safeguarding our common home requires sacrifices. The supreme sacrifice is not excluded. This is what reminds us of our faith in God, suffering and conqueror, creator of heaven and earth, the very one who, today more than yesterday, asks us to protect the creation he has entrusted to us and to preserve its intrinsic beauty."

This article was first published on Jesuit European Social Centre's website.