A reflection on the International Ignatian Eco-spiritual Conference

500 years ago, Iñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola, the vain, hedonistic and ambitious son of a minor feudal Lord was injured in a regional conflict. His long recovery from this injury was also the start of a complete reorientation of his life.

During his conversion, Iñigo “found God in all things”. He developed a spirituality that helped others encounter God’s abundant love and to experience Jesus as their companion who invites them to join him in a life of loving service. Some of those who found life in this spirituality joined him in founding the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

Ignatian spirituality provides the dynamism for Jesuits today (including Pope Francis), the other Religious Orders that draw on this spirituality, and many other Christians who find it a fruitful way of prayer. Over 2021- 2022 there are many events to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the conversion of St Ignatius of Loyola.

Three years ago, I was part of a group of Australians who set out to hold an experiential eco-spiritual conference as part of the Ignatian Year. Initially, this was to take place in Cairns with prayer experiences in a rainforest, a coral island, a sea turtle hatchery, and learning from Indigenous people. Along came COVID-19, making it unlikely that people, especially those outside Australia, could travel or commit to traveling to Cairns. COVID-19 also provided many of us with positive experiences of engaging with others online. We re-imagined the International Ignatian Eco-spiritual Conference (IIEC) as an online experience that the Jesuits included as an Ignatian Year event.

This 2022 online conference was held last week between 25-30 April and provided an opportunity for participants to share with others who have a commitment to caring for our common home. The conference allowed attendees a time to contemplate our connection with the Presence that is God in Nature, which fills us with desire to recommit our lives to reconciliation with Creation.

IIEC had 170 participants from many countries in Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Americas, Europe, Africa, Oceania, and Australia. There were two participants from the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, and our Diocese was also one of the conference's sponsors.

The IIEC was no ordinary ‘talkfest’ type conference. Each day started with beautiful video presentations of the Australian environment and an extended Welcome to Country from an Indigenous Elder. The theme for the day was presented in a gentle morning prayer. A guest speaker then provided a 30-minute presentation on the day’s theme. These were:

Day 1. Laudato si’ – eco-spirituality

Day 2. The state of the environment

Day 3. Indigenous spirituality

Day 4. Examples of environmental regeneration

Day 5. Our own hope-filled action.

After the morning presentation, we then shared our emotional, spiritual and intellectual responses to the presentation in a small group of up to seven people. The small morning group lasted for 45-60 minutes, depending on discussion.

Each participant was also given one or two spiritual activities to complete in our own time in our local area. Each day, I had my 30-45 minute contemplation time at a different location: the beach, a bush reserve, a local park, a tidal creek, and my backyard. Through this individual contemplation time, God directly addressed the day's theme with each of us through nature. We joined our small group for about an hour online in the late afternoon to share our prayer experience.

The pattern of each conference day meant that participants were learning from guest speakers, our private reflection, the sharing of others in our small group, and from God. This pattern invited us to explore each theme more deeply and from different perspectives: emotional, spiritual, physical, and social. As we stayed with the same small group over the five days, these people became supportive companions.

For those who couldn’t attend and are interested, a legacy of the IIEC is that all of the videos, including Welcome to Country, prayers and presentations, will be freely available online from June 2022.

More information is available at: https://iiec.org.au

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Lawrie Hallinan Image
Lawrie Hallinan

Lawrie is a parishioner at Tighes Hill.