Religious leaders commit to ecological sustainability


Fr Denis Edwards
Fr Denis Edwards.
Leaders of religious orders from across Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea immersed themselves in the topic of ecology and the following of Jesus at Catholic Religious Australia’s (CRA) national assembly in Hobart.

During the three-and-half-day assembly (28 June to 2 July), the 120 nuns, priests and brothers considered the importance that a commitment to ecology and sustainability places upon followers of Jesus.

The assembly was challenged, informed and inspired by a range of speakers including Father Denis Edwards, Adelaide Archdiocesan priest and Senior Lecturer in Systemic Theology at Flinders University, who spoke on ecological conversion and faith in Jesus Christ.

In his keynote address, Fr Edwards said this conversion would 'see the world with a loving eye not an arrogant eye', as described by American theologian Sallie McFague.

"The arrogant eye objectifies, manipulates, uses and exploits. The loving eye requires detachment to see the difference, distinctiveness and the uniqueness of the other," Fr Edwards said.

Fr Edwards said that like the Wisdom teachers of Israel, Jesus is remembered as someone who sees the natural world as the place of God.

"Following Jesus means following the way of Wisdom, seeing all things as loved by God, and as revelatory of God."

Solidarity with those suffering

Fr Edwards also spoke about the inter-connection of the Eucharist with care for the Earth.

"All creation comes to the altar in the bread and wine when Christian people give thanks to God through the Eucharist," Fr Edwards said. "The sharing of the bread and wine is ground in the Earth and its fruits. Crops and vineyards, sunshine and rain, the Earth’s bounty and its living creatures are represented in bread and wine and forever linked to Christ as the signs through which he bestows himself."

Fr Edwards said that in Eucharist we are also in solidarity with those suffering, including those caught up in ecological disaster.

"The Eucharist, as a living memory of all those who suffer, calls Christians to solidarity with human victims and with animals and plants that are destroyed or threatened."

Other speakers at the assembly included Elizabeth Pike from the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in Melbourne, who spoke about her deep connection to the land. Senator Christine Milne, Greens’ spokesperson on climate change, discussed the critical role that values play in securing a safe climate. Senator Milne said religious leaders were central to helping communities talk about values and climate change as at its core, climate change was an equity and justice issue.

Sister Anne Derwin rsj, who was elected the new president of Catholic Religious Australia at the assembly, said all the leaders were very nourished as a result of the time together, interaction and the presentations.

"The theme of ecology and the following of Jesus was really appreciated by the group.  I personally, have been challenged by our speakers, workshop presenters and by my fellow delegates," she said.

"I leave Hobart feeling renewed and energised to take up the ecological challenge. One of the ways CRA will be doing this is by providing information on our website and in our e-newsletter Pathways on ecological and sustainable initiatives by religious orders and others, as well as practical ways of caring for our earth.

"Over the coming months CRA’s council will also be investigating other ways we can take action on climate change and share what we have learnt on the theology and spirituality of ecology."

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