A Passionist International workshop seminal on Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation was held at our mother house in Rome from the 13th to the 19th of April this year. Fr. Kevin Dance CP of our Australian Province, and a member of our local JPIC committee attended. I asked him to write a report on the workshop for our blog. His report reads as follows:
On a cool spring morning over 90 Passionists, women and men, vowed and lay members of the Passionist Family from 24 countries gathered at Sts. John and Paul in Rome for a week of sharing, listening, learning, laughing, praying and discovering.
We were all people who take an active interest in Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC). The theme was “Passion of Christ, Passion for life and for the earth.”
The aim of our time together was to get to know others involved in issues of JPIC; to be challenged by people with experience and insight and, above all, to learn from each other’s experiences, vision and passion.
Each of the 3 components of JPIC received attention. If you want peace, work for justice, but make sure that you walk gently upon the earth! There were presentations by experts, Passionists sharing their work and vision from each of the countries represented. Following each presentation we gathered to tease out the ideas in one of 4 language groups. We prayed together and shared Eucharist which was celebrated in a mixture of tongues English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian.
There was a rather rushed attempt at the end to distill from the rich variety of the week, an agreed Statement of Intention. I think the more important intention comes from the renewed commitment of all the participants to keep living and loving out of our core vision as Passionists committed to enlarge life for all.
The first presentation was a bucket of cold water in the face! Giovanni La Manna, S.J., member of the Apostolic Asylum in Rome and President of the Astalli Foundation, borrowing a phrase from Pope Francis, reminded us that “Refugees are the flesh of Christ.” He challenged us about our use of language as we speak of refugees and people seeking asylum. He spoke of the power of media to distort reality in reporting about them. People seeking asylum are not illegal. They are people without documents. We try to make them invisible. Then what “news” there is tends to victimise those who are already victims and to demonise them. What is needed from us is welcome not because of charity, but from justice. He claimed that millions of people are on the move as refugees because of the hegemony of capital and the uncontrolled behaviour of multinational corporations. He asked us to consider “does my lifestyle have any relevance to the issue of displacement of these people?” Do I want ‘solutions’, but ones that don’t intrude on my comfort zone? Our true poverty is cultural, not economic! The hospitality that the present world crisis of refugees demands must change me.
Mons. Marco Gnavi of the San Egidio Community introduced us to the poor. “The poor are missing from our local churches, for they live in the shadows and at the periphery”. He threw out a challenge: there are 27,000 religious living in Rome and there are about 600 General Headquarters. There are 6,000 homeless people in Rome. Will we open ourselves to the poor? Of course there is a cost to standing with the poor. San Egidio has had some martyrs. In the process of a person becoming ‘poor’ he said “they take away your name and give you a number and you become a category – the poor.” The reality of poverty calls for an integral response – giving to the poor is restitution and it takes heart as well as hand!
The present globalisation of fear must be replaced by a globalisation of solidarity and welcome. We need new skills for a new world of mega-cities. The great gift of resurrection and of the Spirit is openness, daring, imagination, risk-taking to find a live-giving response to new realities and challenges. It’s time to return to St. Basil’s question: “who owns what’s lying unused in my closet?” But this time we must answer it on a global scale.
Fr. Alex Zanotelli, Comboni missionary reflected on how to work with projects for development. He began with a confession: “I am a converted person. I was baptised and converted by the poor.” He suggested that no other generation has lived in such dangerous times as ours are now. A basic principle of development work is that God does not want us on the Cross! So how do we transform a system of death into a system of life? His starting point was challenging: it is the Word of God.
But God’s first word is not the bible. It is creation. St. Augustine bids us look with eyes of wonder at the smallest leaf. We have become prisoners of a theology which has us exploit rather than venerate creation. So we’ve tended in our missionary past to dismiss and despise traditional religions as ‘animism’.
God’s second word is the Bible. But theological ideologies have caused us to misread the written word of God. He did a lovely exposition of Exodus as God’s call: “Come out my people!” God is the liberator God bringing the people out of the heart of empire. He suggested ’empire’ comes from the same root as ’emporium’ – a place where things are stored, not shared. God’s intervention always begins with a dream. Jesus was born, lived and died in an empire of extreme oppression and exploitation. The dream enunciated by Jesus was: bread and sharing – an economy of sharing and participation.
“We Christians too often use the gospel as if we have no money and we use money as if we have no gospel!” So Jesus takes the walk of resistance from Galilee to Jerusalem, where the Temple represents everything that is fused to the empire that destroys, defrauds and oppresses. Jesus’ response is a radical, non-violent rejection of the Empire. Our formation must help us grow into another theology. The modern Empire is not founded on guns, but on finances. Economics has given way to financial speculation which crucifies the many so that a tiny minority will have even more wealth. By 2016 one percent of the world will have more wealth than the other 99%. And 92 individuals, because of financial speculation, will have more than another 3 billion people combined!
It’s time for a change. The church has lost its nerve to challenge. We must take the trouble to learn how the system works, because the system knows all about us. Jesus tells us another world is possible! The transforming power will come from small groups and communities who take charge of their lives once more and challenge the totalitarian systems of death.
Martin Newell, a young Passionist from the UK talked of his experience as a member of the Catholic Worker movement and his growth into the knowledge and practice of non-violent resistance. His motivation comes from the Gospel and Jesus’ word “Put away your sword.” He has been arrested 15 or more times and spent 8 months in gaol all told. He told us “I live on the edge of empire.” Non-violent resistance must move onto the front foot and challenge the corporation.
He told of the Catholic Worker movement founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. They operate houses of hospitality, practice the works of mercy and are faithful to Jesus’ words: “what you do to the least of my brothers and sisters…”
They aim to change the system and not just clean up after the mess. Martin said he would love other Passionists to learn some of the lessons he has learned in Catholic Worker. They are the power of intentional communities, the power of a more radical following of Jesus and simplicity, directness and authenticity are more powerful than success. His witness was powerful and he warned us to beware of donors and of the challenge of plenty and an attitude of ‘having’ versus solidarity. “We must repent of our privilege and discover active non-violence.”
He ended: “We Passionists, in solidarity with the crucified of today, open ourselves to the force of the Cross to confront injustice prophetically and to announce the God of Life in a credible way. Another world is possible…another Church is possible…another way of being Passionist is possible.”
Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Laureate, came in by Skype from Buenos Aires in Argentina. He told us that we need new pathways to peace. We’re not meant to be exploiters, but servants. We need to disarm the culture of violence and, if this is to happen, we need to learn critical analysis. Love is the only truly transformative catalyst. The genocides of Rwanda, Armenia etc., have not stopped us from searching for a better path to peace. The greatest challenge is the journey from me to us. Human rights are safeguards that make it possible for us to live safely in community.
Father Joe Mitchell from the Passionist Earth and Spirit Center in Louisville, Kentucky gave a brilliant exposition of the new cosmology and its implications for our lives. He wove all this around the story of Passionist Thomas Berry and his call for us to learn the New Story, which is also the very old story, and to enter into the Great Story and to reconnect everything that has been disconnected.
‘Where did we come from?’ And ‘what’s out there?’ are fundamental questions that shape our lives, our way of thinking and understanding ourselves, our relationships and our actions. A cosmology or the way we describe and understand the world is foundational to every culture. With the thinking of great minds, the discovery of new technologies like telescopes and with the benefit of space travel that enabled us to see things we had never seen before, we have had to reconsider our basic cosmologies. This in turn has a deep effect on the way we express our theology and our place in the overall scheme of things.
As self-awareness developed we’ve moved from seeing the earth as the unmoving centre of the universe, to learning that our universe is constantly expanding. Change is the norm. The universe has a story because it is living. These insights are at once exciting and perhaps a little frightening because we must recast our language and out theology and our spirituality to respond to this continuing revelation.
Sr. Antonietta Potente offered some pointers to an ecological spirituality.
“Those who have been dispossessed are those most qualified to speak of nature. We’ve not recognised till lately in theology, the relationship of mystery to the body. Anthropocentrism has silenced the voice of nature, of the earth.
What does interest in cosmic diversity say/offer to people devoted to the Passion and Soteriology? Where is the Body of Christin all of this? The trees and the earth beat us there. We are the late arrivals to this magnificent construction – biodiversity. We’re estranged, dislocated, alienated from our bodies, as we become distanced from the divine – we’ve become disembodied and so inauthentic. If we don’t find a way to live in a biodiverse universe, we’ll be incapable of healing all the other injustices that surround us.
She asks why Passionists would be interested in the wisdom of creation. We must begin to speak of the mystery of the ecosystem. Christ accepted his essential relationship with nature. The ecosystem is our home; all others homes are to be found within this house.
- We are called to a new sense of mysticism. The earth is “charged with the grandeur of God”
- We are called to a renewed, radical integration of Religious Life – ecological vow of being reimplanted. We must come out of ourselves by connecting with the greater creation. She invited us to refresh our passion for humanity –and learn how to live on the periphery and look for and help to create beauty.
- We must retranslate the central symbols of our spirituality: Cross and Heart. The Cross is the tree of life, sign of abundance. We must link the theology of the Cross and the abundance of God. The Heart becomes our existential energy and power which are cultivated in prayer, study, and action.
- We need to do all these things in company with others. “Mystical kinship” Never do alone what we can do together!
- Abundance belongs to nature, to creation, to God. But we must remove the accumulation of the ages. That way lies death. The greatest abundance of God is found in mercy.
The story of Fr. Roberto Dal Corso from Tanzania, captured many of the qualities that were echoed in one after another of the projects, plans and ministries shared by workshop participants. They started small agricultural projects to meet future needs of Passionists. But it quickly became clear that the local people must be included. So now they cultivate various crops, breed dairy cattle and give skills to the local people to become more effective farmers. The principles shaping their work are: local, for the benefit of locals, that generates local employment and shares life.
Against the backdrop of the challenges offered by our presenters we shared stories of the wonderful variety in the work of Passionist men and women around the world. Whether it was working with the gangs in San Salvador or Sisters with the “neither/nors” in Buenos Aires – young people, neither in school nor in work and who are social problems; whether it is work to protect and advocate for justice for indigenous people in the Philippines or in the Peruvian Amazon; whether it is education through the Earth and Spirit Center in the US; or in the presence and friendship of young Passionist volunteers among the desperately poor in Jamaica West Indies or in the children’s hospital and slum schools in Haiti and the small development projects; whether it is the work of health centres, schools or development projects in many parishes in Latin America; work for the protection of girls and women at risk of violence; the cattle projects of Tanzania or the advocacy work of Passionists International at the United Nations; whether it is presence to local communities helping them learn how to care for their disabled children in Papua New Guinea or fair-trade projects linking Spain and Latin America.
There were common threads running through these stories shared by our Passionist brothers and sisters.
- Doing with the people and not just doing for them
- To be present in such a way that the local people are empowered rather given handouts.
- Efforts to link all 3 dimensions of JPIC leading to a more integral development, and seeking sustainable responses to problems or crises.
- Our efforts in JPIC are educative for ourselves and for the people who are served.
- The great variety of our work and projects spring from understanding the needs of the people and are inspired or driven by our spirituality of passion and compassion.
It was good to discover that there is a wonderful web of Passionist sisters and brothers round the world who share a passion for life in all its dimensions and who now have names and faces.
Kevin Dance, C.P.