Sacred Environment: Asia-Oceania Meeting of Religious Inspires Eco-Citizens

By Degeorge, Gail | National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2017 | Go to article overview

Sacred Environment: Asia-Oceania Meeting of Religious Inspires Eco-Citizens


Degeorge, Gail, National Catholic Reporter


YANGON, MYANMAR * As the Asia-Oceania Meeting of Religious XVII wrapped up March 3 in Yangon, Myanmar, participants said they would carry with them a renewed commitment to their responsibility as eco-citizens, the message of environmental care to their congregations and beyond, and an affirmation of the meeting's importance in strengthening the work of religious in the region.

The conference's theme, "A Call for Global Ecological Conversion," used Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home" and his papal bull, Misericordia Vultus, which introduced the Holy Year of Mercy, as spiritual frameworks in exploring issues related to the environment and climate change.

Participants said the message of caring for the Earth, countering climate change and helping communities that global warming affects most will continue beyond the five-day Asia-Oceania Meeting of Religious, known by its acronym, AMOR.

"By doing this, we have done something for the whole Catholic church and the church in Myanmar," Sr. Margaret Maung, president of the Catholic Religious Conference of Myanmar, a Sister of Our Lady of the Missions and chairwoman of the 19-member working committee, said in an interview. "By the presentations and the table sharing and interacting, we came to know each other and the reality of the church, and that we are one with the Earth and the strengths and weaknesses of the environment and climate change."

A keynote address by Yangon Cardinal Charles Bo on the first day set the tone (See Page 6) for the gathering of 132 participants from 21 countries. Country reports from Bangladesh, India, Korea, New Zealand and others showed the effects of climate change and pollution, as well as specific concerns, such as use of nuclear power in Japan in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

In subsequent days, participants explored more deeply the meaning of ecospirituality and the inherent Asian spirituality that celebrates "contemplative consciousness" and "ecological consciousness understood as awareness and sensitivity to the interconnectedness of all beings and things on Earth," as Claretian Fr. Samuel Canilang, director of the Institute for Consecrated Life in Asia, said in his presentation.

"Asians don't need anyone to tell us the environment is sacred," he said. "It is natural to us."

Not long ago, Canilang said, Asians may have felt self-conscious focusing such attention on the spirituality of the natural world, lest others accuse them of being pantheistic. But Laudato Si' is liberating Asians to speak of their relationship with nature, he said.

Moreover, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in its document "Contemplate" reminds consecrated men and women of the call to ecological conversion, he said.

"The new relationship with the natural environment, which the congregation describes as 'relational circularity,' calls for a new spirituality, one that is ecological and contemplative," Canilang said.

Among other presentations, participants listened to best-selling Myanmar author Sayama Ju, whose novels and writings often focus on ecological themes. They heard from Caritas Myanmar about its work with ethnic populations and small farmers in encouraging sustainable crops and agricultural methods, as well as the organization's continued recovery work for the thousands affected by a 2008 tropical cyclone.

They visited a government-run agricultural research center that focuses in part on the development and use of organic fertilizers and seeds.

In his homily during the closing Mass, Bo said participants should not fear taking on corporate giants and governments that would harm the environment.

"You are like David," he said. "You face the Goliath of governments, cronies, business interests who would like to mutilate our Earth, our mother, our sister. …

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