EARTH DAY FOR THE SOCIETY OF JESUS – CARING FOR OUR COMMON HOME
In the 70’s, a movement of like-minded people wanted to address the negative effects that human activity was having on the planet. Backed by 20 million US citizens, Earth Day was born, heralded by the passing of a series of landmark laws that set the first standards for clean air and water. In the 90’s, Earth Day became a global event, celebrated in 141 countries by more than 200 million people. Today, Earth Day is celebrated by more than a billion people in 193 countries.
Though Earth Day is always about the protection of the environment, each year sees a new theme. This year the theme is “Invest in our Planet”, a sentiment that was part of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato si’. In the encyclical, the Holy Father made “ecological economics” one of the seven goals: a challenge to all Catholic Institutions to divest any assets that benefited from “ecological injustice”, and to invest only in sustainable practices.
It’s no surprise then that in his 2019 Universal Apostolic Preferences, or UAPs, the Bishop of Rome made “ecological economics” part of his mission to the Society of Jesus. Specifically, Pope Francis made sustainability and fighting ecological injustice part of the UAP “Caring for our Common Home”, in which Jesuits and Jesuit institutions around the world were asked to minister in such a way as to promote stewardship of the planet and its resources.
In the years since Laudato si’, the Society of Jesus and her ministries have found novel ways to act on Pope Francis’ call to protect not just the environment, but the people who are most vulnerable to the environmental consequences of unsustainable business practices. In 2016, the Jesuits in English Canada joined a handful of other Catholic institutions to announce their divestment from fossil fuel assets. In 2017, the Italian Jesuits, joined by a group of Catholic orders, made the samecommitment. In 2018, Seattle University became the first Jesuit Universityto announce fossil fuel divestment in its entirety.
The 2019 UAPs only redoubled the Society’s commitment to answering the Holy Father’s call, with Creighton, Georgetown and a smattering of other Jesuit Universities around the world announcing or completing their fossil fuel divestment. In 2021, the Jesuit in Britain completed the divestiturefrom fossil fuels across a $500m portfolio that supports Jesuit ministries across the UK.
The commitment of the Society to follow Laudato si’ and the UAPs does not end with fossil fuel assets. Several ministries of the Society have started educational programs to educate the next generation about ecological concerns while also listening to them about the world THEY envision. The Ateneo de Manila, in the Philippines, dedicated a 16 acre campus of forests and wildlife to ecoEducation and conservation, while Santa Clara University has developed programs to directlyaddress ecological damage, including research into bacteria that could break down micro plastics in our oceans.
This is just a small sampling of what Jesuit institutions will be reflecting upon come this Earth Day. There is much work remaining, but if a large worldwide organization like the Society of Jesus can find ways to bring Earth Day to its local communities, perhaps the future CAN be one where we all care for our common home.