Awakening climate change concern in seminaries & formation houses to the consecrated life

Post-Novices Eco Club_The_Retreat

Global warming is real, and the response to it is imminent. Can the seminaries, and formation houses be out of it? Given such urgency, formation to priestly and consecrated life has no choice except to address the mounting crisis of climate chaos caused by global warming.

Sharing best practices and devising means would inculcate conviction that it is possible and assume responsibility for the care of Mother Earth among future pastors and educators.

The Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC) Office of Clergy and Office of the Human Development organized working sessions in the Salesian Centre of Spirituality, Hua Hin, Thailand in early November 2019. The topic, ‘Awakening climate change concern in Seminaries’ drew my attention. It was organized in view of giving great importance to the alarming state of our world’s changing climate and the threatening consequences especially for the poor, and acknowledging the grave responsibility of the Church to address this reality.

It drew up action plans to commit itself to introduce in seminary formation courses in the lines of Eco-Philosophy and Eco-theology combining the latest findings of science with Christian teaching and praxis. But at the same breadth, it deliberated that a course would have no impact if it were not integrated into the very fabric of seminary life. It also aimed to positively influence future pastors and educators that can help bring about necessary change in our attitude to global climate change. Both Laudato Si and the new Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis give an urgent call to this issue.

For the post–novitiate formation house at the Retreat, Yercaud in the Salesian Province of Tiruchy, the agenda of awakening to climate change commenced in 2017 with the call of Pope Francis to care for our common home. We decided not to stop with the Pope’s Day Seminar that happens every year in July. We desired to include the message of Laudato Si in the formation process.

Significance of eco concern education

We are familiar that the formation has its nucleus in the interior, the formation of the inner person. The Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis invites the seminaries to invest in positive formative experiences.

Laudato Si appeals to everyone to take up the bold challenges of Pope Francis. How does consecrated life contribute to an integral ecology? Is our formation of young religious prepare them for ‘ecological evangelization’?

Methodology of practice

Initiatives towards climate concern:

Joining hands with the youth: It was started with our seminarians joining hands with local youth in conservation of a lake that was turned into a huge dumping pit. Though it was purely the initiative of the youth, our seminarians joined hands wherever they needed to work in the lake. Against many odds, the work was completed. Our seminarians stood with local young people to preserve the environment, for creating a sustainable earth. Today, the lake is a drinking water source for around ten villages.

Field experience of Organic Farming: In the summer of 2018, a group of 10 post – novices chose to spend 10-days learning organic farming in a farm near Pondicherry under the guidance of an organic farming expert Mrs. Arthi Devi, a Bio Technologist and a CEO of Urban Farm Guide.

Model Kitchen Garden: The post – novices volunteered during the year to create a model kitchen garden and grow their own vegetables. The farm also became a model Organic Kitchen Garden for the tribal women to learn.

A unique tri-monthly Recollection: A two-day trimonthly recollection was organized with the theme ‘Love for the Forest’. An abridged version of Laudato si was given to all the post – novices. We set out in the morning of the first day to our estate forest. They read the documents personally and came together for a group discussion with their guides, later went for silent reflection. We also organized works, cooking, cleaning and adventurous games.

Confrontation to protect nature: The seminarians also got involved during an environmental crisis. They opposed the move of the local government when it created a garbage-dumping yard close to children’s home and water sources. They responded to the cries of people during natural disasters of Kerala Floods and Gaja Cyclone in Eastern districts of Tamil Nadu to support the affected people by sending basic amenities.

Tribal Children & Climate Change: There are several eco-clubs (also eco villages) formed with the children from after-school coaching centres and oratories. Once a year, we bring them together to celebrate nature and organize an eco rally to create awareness among the general public. This year, after the rally, we cleaned the Gandhi Public Park. The post – novices involve other formation houses in such initiatives.

Tribal Women & Climate Change: The post–novices are exposed to a few social and environmental programmes that happen in our campus. They involve directly or indirectly depending on what is expected of them.

Organic Kitchen Garden (OKG): It all started a year ago with an organic kitchen garden project for 200 women from the tribal community that hailed from nine panchayats. The women were trained in creating an organic kitchen garden. They were given seeds and tools. It was esteemed as the most successful and sustainable programme in the province.

NaSH (Nursery at Shevaroy Hills) is a pilot project aimed at nature preservation and income generation for the tribal women. Here is the conceptual model of the social impact among the people and formation impact among the young Salesians. Our campus boasts of the nursery that has hundreds of plants created from our own estate. The project was envisioned to generate livelihood at the loss of agricultural activities.

Joining hands with the youth
The Lake: What it was!
Joining hands with the youth
The Lake: What it is!
Field Experience of Organic Farming
Model Kitchen Garden
A Unique Tri-monthly Recollection
Confrontation to Protect Nature
Tribal Children & Climate Change
Tribal Women & Climate Change
Organic Kitchen Garden
NaSH (Nursery at Shevaroy Hills)

A way forward in awakening climate change:

We believe that formation initiative in awakening climate change concern will definitely bring those receiving formation to priestly and consecrated life to confront modern challenges and counter postmodern distractions. In this way, we should be hopeful of forming the ‘Sowers of Eco-Prophetic Hope’ who would become Shepherds and Stewards of creation.

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Fr. A. Raj Mariasusai SDB

Fr. A. Raj Mariasusai SDB

Fr. A. Raj is the Rector of Jnanodaya Salesian Institute of Philosophy, Yercaud & the Formation Delegate of Salesian Province of Tiruchy.