The SMA Justice Committee has, since the beginning of 2015, been committed to promoting Climate Justice. Subsequently, the SMA Irish Province has adopted an Ecology Policy to promote more ecologically sound practices in SMA houses and communities. Both are in response to the needs of the poorest parts of wider society, with the recognition that pollution in Europe and other western countries increases the burden which climate change imposes on Africa in particular.
From an SMA perspective, the impact of Climate Change has a particular resonance given the founder’s concern for the most abandoned. This takes on increased significance with Pope Francis’ recognition in his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si [LS], that “the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor” (LS 2).
Thumbprint Campaign for Climate Justice
Early in 2015 the province initiated the Thumbprint Campaign for Climate Justice. The Thumbprint Campaign raises awareness of the connection between our lifestyles, the pollution we produce, and the increased climate change which we are experiencing. It asks each individual to see their actions as connected to both climate change and the impact it has on the poorest people in the world, and then to respond in a just and Christian way, in a way that makes us each personally responsible.
The presence and visibility of the Thumbprint Campaign in SMA houses, parishes and at SMA and other national events created a momentum for SMAs and the people with whom they are engaged to explore other ways of responding to the issue of Climate Change which is of universal concern.
One practical response to the Campaign’s call for action can be seen in the groups within SMA parishes who have committed to creating an Eco-compliant parish. Through the Eco-Congregation scheme in Ireland and the CAFOD scheme in England, groups of lay people are now working, with the support of their priests, to raise awareness across their parishes of the need to live more harmoniously with creation. Closely linked to these activities is the establishment of Community Garden projects which is being encouraged in the SMA houses.
Our Lady and St. Patrick’s, Walthamstow, London
Following a very positive response to the Thumbprint Campaign in the parish of Our Lady and St. Patrick’s in Walthamstow, London, run by SMA priests, a group gathered and agreed to embark on the CAFOD livesimply parish award. A further development has been the initiation of a gardening project in the land adjacent to the Presbytery and Church. Here parishioners have assumed responsibility for planting and growing a range of vegetables, including peppers, tomatoes and herbs. Not only are they making great use of the limited space but they are contributing to the overall effort by the parish to secure the award, as well as taking the ideas in Laudato Si’ and creating a reality.
SMA House, Wilton, Cork
The SMA House in Wilton, Cork was the first of the Irish Province communities to undertake the establishment of a community garden in the middle of 2015. Since then there has been steady progress in the sourcing of materials, the production of compost, preparation of the ground and the creation of raised beds. Potatoes, peas, onions, garlic, cabbages, raspberries, salad leaves and a variety of herbs are growing with the potential for year round growing now that a poly tunnel has been erected.
Given the close proximity of the garden to the Wilton parish Church and Centre, there is real potential for engagement with various groups of people. Leading the initiative, Fr Tom Kearney has already had expressions of interest in the garden and the potential for their involvement from a local gaelscoil, various community groups and some of the local parishioners. The Wilton Justice group have maintained a strong interest in the garden’s development, in part due to their commitment to the call to action in Laudato Si’.
SMA Community, Ranelagh, Dublin
Although limited by space and their urban location, the SMA Community in Ranelagh has taken a creative approach to establishing a garden. The edges of the garden have been planted with a variety of fruit and berry bushes. Herbs are growing around the edges of the beds and potted tomato plants line the windows of the conservatory. The acquisition of waist height growing troughs has permitted the growing of beetroot, potatoes, onions, radishes and lettuce in a sheltered courtyard at the end of the garden, and a water butt has been placed in the corner to catch the rain for watering the beds.
Ranelagh is an example of what can be done in a very limited space, and while lack of access currently precludes the involvement of others beyond the SMA community, nonetheless the gardening activity is a positive initiative in caring for creation, and in striving to become a more Eco-compliant environment.
Dromantine Summer Camps
The Thumbprint Campaign for Climate Justice has also been present at the 2016 Dromantine Summer Camps for the first time. In addition this year’s camps have seen the initiation of the first ever “Dromantine Camps Eco-Garden” where the various countries (or teams) have had the opportunity to plant and care for a range of flowers and plants during the course of the week. The young people have responded with great enthusiasm and interest, demonstrating a real awareness of the issues of climate change and a willingness to accept their responsibility to live in greater harmony with creation.
It is hoped that all the SMA communities will, in due course, explore the potential to develop some gardening initiative and what potential it may have as a means of engaging with a wide cross section of people. Community gardens have become popular right across Ireland. Such projects offer real scope for relationship building such as: better communication at interfaith and cross community level; more integration of those who are new to the area; greater care for creation; a connection with, and understanding of, the whole web of created life.
In an SMA context community gardens also create opportunities: for people to learn new skills; develop a deeper spirituality and personal relationship with God; and to become engaged with, and committed to, the SMA mission.
Dympna Mallon, Laity Coordinator, Society of African Missions