From little things big things grow – Giselle Lapitan

Anne Lanyon, Coordinator of the Centre for Peace Ecology and Justice, had been running the formation program Growing a Culture of Peace for about seven years when Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment was published. ‘I’ll tell you what it felt like,’ said Anne of the moment when Laudato Si’ was unveiled. ‘It felt like pushing a barrel of bricks for years, and then suddenly you’ve got someone helping you push it.’

With the encyclical launch, the centre’s hard work promoting a call to ecological conversion, non-violence, justice and compassion finally found its greatest advocate. The vision of integral ecology in Laudato Si’ also reaffirmed the centre’s approach of looking at both the human and social dimension in responding to the ‘cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’. The formation program has since been renamed Bringing Laudato Si’ to Life but has stayed true to its roots: a two-day workshop directed at school leaders, teachers and coordinators to connect peace, ecology and justice and integrate it into the life of their school communities.

It taps into people in schools who are passionate about social justice, and who work with young people who also share this passion and commitment. Workshop participants look at their schools through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching, guiding them through an assessment of the bigger global picture, and then applying their social justice analysis and understanding of ecological spirituality back into the life of the school.

‘We try not to do something that creates extra work for people, but to bring about a way of seeing that allows them to implement this in the school,’ Anne said. ‘We can’t cover everything, but we can look at attitudes that enable people to see things and make the connections between peace, ecology and justice. Most of what we’re doing in the program is in Laudato Si’ and that’s why we changed the title of the workshop to Bringing Laudato Si’ to Life.’

Over time, Anne observed that schools seem to have allocated more resources for highlighting social justice. ‘I think the focus on ecology is stronger and Laudato Si’ is the tool that animates this emphasis,’ she said. ‘But we also need to work on growing a culture of peace. Increasing pressure on the planet will lead to conflicts and we need to encourage non-violent, creative ways to deal with conflict.’ Effects of climate change already highlight mass movement of people and scarcity of resources that will only intensify. Wildfires in Canada; drought in India with millions of people rushing to urban centres seeking food and water; Pacific Islanders moving to neighbouring countries as their homes disappear under sea.

Anne points out a culture of violence that persists in Australian society and connects it to the violence we are doing to the earth.

‘In our program, we ask educators, “What is celebrated in the school?” And it concerns me that in the Catholic system, some aspects of ANZAC day lead to a rise in militarism,’ she said.

‘There are very good programs on restorative justice in schools, for instance. But this is not happening in society – in our prisons, in our policy of mandatory indefinite refugee detention, in how we justify the violence to asylum seekers by creating a culture of fear about invasion of migrants.’

Anne believes that Catholic schools and organisations offer the potential to grow a culture of peace and enrich the teaching on non-violence and ecology. She gives a recent example in her work as a member of the planning committee of the landmark conference on non-violence recently held in Rome entitled, ‘Non-violence and Just Peace Conference: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Non-violence’. For the conference’s prayer gathering, Anne helped provide an image of the crucifixion by Aboriginal artist Richard Campbell, who overcame the trauma of separation and abuse experienced by the Stolen Generations. ‘We had a very strong Aboriginal influence in that conference which depicted the suffering not only of Aboriginal people, but of Indigenous people everywhere because of the lack of awareness of the connection to country and connection to land,’ Anne said.

‘Growing this culture of peace goes hand in hand with our care and justice for each other – between Christ, the poor and the earth.’

Responding to the call of Laudato Si’ is to see the earth as a prophet speaking to us and re-learning the gospel of non-violence, which are key elements of the PEJ Centre’s formation program.

‘I think that Catholic schools have a place for teaching that violence never works,’ Anne said. ‘With Jesus as our model of non-violence, we celebrate his way of peace every time in the Eucharist.’