“We are not alone in this struggle to build a better world”

16 02 2009

by Xavier Jeyaraj SJ

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An experience of the Pre-Forum and the WSF that many of my 28 companions from South Asia and I keep reminiscing about is our encounter and interaction with the indigenous people of Amazon. During the Pre-Forum inauguration we had mentioned that the call “Indigenous People Unite” was our purpose for coming to Belém, and this was fulfilled to a large extent. It was a unique experience not only to recognize and share the similarities of culture and values that exist between the indigenous people of South Asia and Amazon and mutually enrich one another, but also to look at the problems faced by both groups despite their geographical separation. The chord that held us together as one body was not merely the similarity of culture, not merely the struggle for life, but also faith – faith in a God who calls for the defence of the life of the marginalized, particularly the indigenous; it is a faith that calls for a deeper social commitment, networking and political action. Sharing the common mission and purpose with Jesuits and others involved all over the world has made us feel that we are not alone in this struggle to build a better world.

Before coming to Belém, I personally critiqued the WSF itself, wondering whether this was turning out to be a world forum of cultural extravaganza. In the light of the so-called economic crisis (though I prefer to call it the collapse of the capitalist model of development) I was puzzled about how the WSF would respond. Would WSF continue to remain a mere platform for exchange of ideas and sharing of experiences or would it change the ‘Crisis’ into an ‘Opportunity’ for evolving an alternative? Though the inaugural march was more like a carnival, I am glad that the WSF in Belém has come out of its shell and has, for the first time, taken certain concrete political stands to seize the opportunity for political action. The plans for campaigns, awareness raising, mobilization and demonstration against the world’s political powers and institutions in the coming months gives us a hope that WSF is no longer only a cultural extravaganza but a real political force to reckon with. It is indeed a joy that we have been part of this process.

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Reflection on the World Social Forum

10 02 2009

Interview with Sergio Sala SJ

Sergio Sala SJ

Sergio Sala SJ

As mentioned in our previous Bulletin [Electronic News Service, Curia SJ], the ninth edition of the World Social Forum (WSF), took place in Belém do Pará (Brazil) from January 27 to February 1, with a total of 130,000 participants from 142 countries. They were representatives of social unions, associations, churches and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). After six days of meetings and discussions the Forum ended with a call for the 20 richest countries of the planet to reform the economic system that is shared with the poorest countries. We asked Fr. Sergio Sala, a student of theology in Belo Horizonte and who was at the WSF, to offer us some insights on the meeting.

First of all, which was the role of the Jesuits in this Forum?

In total 120 Jesuits, friends and collaborators, from 28 different countries, participated in the Forum; they took a very active role. On January 30th they held an “Ignatian Day” filled with many working sessions. Father Fernando Franco, Secretary for Social Justice, explained the evolution of Jesuit and their collaborators’ participation in the WSF; Father Roberto Jaramillo, Regional Superior, described the presence and mission of the Jesuits in Amazonia; this was followed by a period of exchange and discernment on the theme Reconciliation with Creation (GC 35, Decree 3, no. 31-35). In the afternoon we had a session on the theme Religious Faiths and Defense of Life in Amazonia (January 24-27); we prepared a message to the Society of Jesus, and the day ended with a fascinating Eucharistic celebration organized by indigenous groups of India and Amazonia.

How can the final message of the Forum be summarized?

The delegates’ conclusions can be summarized in three points: faith pushes us to social commitment and to political participation: this requires formation and militancy; faith contributes to a new model of development for the world; our network has to be improved because it shown to be indispensable for a critical analysis of reality and for a more effective strategy. Among the many proposals emerging from working groups, the assembly highlighted the following: 1) increase collaboration among universities and indigenous cultures; the hope is the creation of a new indigenous university of Amazonia, or at least the opening of new degree programs on environment and sustainable development in existing universities; 2) to strengthen the équipe, a group of lay and religious visiting indigenous populations via boats; 3) to cultivate a new creation spirituality which will bring to life the “ecobionomy”, as Frei Betto called the good administration of our life, of our world, of our relationship with God.

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The protection of indigenous people has to be considered a commitment for everyone, first of all because a person should have his rights respected and secondly because the preservation of the rain forest is linked to their continuation. These folks have lived symbiotically with nature for centuries, while the rest of humanity preferred to react against nature and create a physical and cultural rift with the environment. We have to learn from them to respect and take care of Amazonia. Jesuits are understood to have an important insight: they have ministered to the indigenous people of Amazonia for a long time, and therefore have an important role to play in their defense. But this is something one cannot do all at once. From the novitiate onward, young Jesuits should be educated according to the new “ecobionomic” paradigm and our educational institutions should consider seriously the protection of Amazonia, which has become an apostolic priority both for the Society of Jesus and for the universal Church. It is not only a question of sending Jesuits to work there. It is necessary to work as advocates at various levels. To this end, the Social Justice Secretariate, together with Ocipe, have organized a meeting among experts to draw up a declaration to prepare for this year’s UN Summit on environment in Copenhagen.

S.J. ELECTRONIC INFORMATION SERVICE
PRESS AND INFORMATION OFFICE – ROME
Vol. XIII, N. 3, February 9, 2009