I was privileged yesterday to spend the day participating in a retreat for staff of Catholic Earthcare Australia (and also some from other agencies such as Catholic Mission) at a newly-opened retreat centre up here in the Blue Mountains. The retreat itself was led by Fr Eugene Stockton and covered territory that should be familiar to regular Catholica readers from his commentaries on Deep consciousness [See this series in particular: LINK but also look at his other commentaries HERE.]. What follows is not so much a report on the retreat but an attempt to explore other territory that is the core business of Catholic Earthcare Australia that should be of wider interest to our readership.
Our responsibilities towards our environment...
Catholic Earthcare Australia is the peak body supported by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference which seeks to give priority to the missionary and educational work of the Church in the care of our earth and environment. As many readers of Catholica would be aware, Pope Francis is scheduled to deliver a major encyclical this year on the issues that form the core business of Catholic Earthcare's mandate and brief. Given the scepticism about climate change, environmental and sustainability concerns in the conservative and exploitative sectors of society who seem to believe God gave us this planet to mine and exploit to our hearts' content, there is considerable interest evident in the world, even in the secular media, as to what Pope Francis might have to say when his encyclical is finally released.
Yesterday it was my pleasure to spend a few hours with the small staff that makes up Catholic Earthcare Australia. They have a small office staff of our four people in Sydney and representatives based in each State. Yesterday was an annual retreat and reflection day for the staff relatively close to Sydney plus a few others from other agencies who work in the office building they occupy in North Sydney. I was there thanks largely to the urging of Fr Eugene Stockton who has been urging me for some time to take greater interest in the work of Catholic Earthcare. Eugene was facilitating their retreat with a focus on his recent work in the realms of deep consciousness. The day was divided into three major sessions with breaks in between for refreshments, lunch and socialising. The first session was presented by Eugene covering the territory he's covered in some details in his commentaries for Catholica [See links in the introduction above] and in his books, The Aboriginal Gift: spirituality for a nation [now out-of-print but the interest shown yesterday suggests to me it will be soon back in print], The Deep Within: Towards an Archetypal Theology and Landmarks: A Spiritual Search in a Southern Land.
The second session was altogether more practical and sought to urge the participants to put into practice what Eugene had been discussing in the first session. Simply "letting go" and entering into a time of "deeper consciousness" and becoming aware of your environment. Eugene had chosen a magnificent environment in which the participants could engage in this. This was the first retreat held at a new retreat facility being built in the Blue Mountains at Woodford by Donna Mulhearn and Martin Reusch. Many readers may be familiar with Donna as she has been featured on the ABC's Australian Story for her work as a peace activist and for many years she has been speaking internationally on social justice and peace issues. There's more information about Donna on her website at: donnamulhearn.com, or you can read the story broadcast on Australian Story at: www.abc.net.au/austory/content/2005/s1406667.htm. The Blue Labyrinth Bush Retreat is her latest venture. It already incorporates nature walks, a spiritual labyrinth, and on-site vans for accommodation, plus the spectacularly-situated main hall which we occupied yesterday for the first time in its still incomplete final form.
Here are a few pics from the video I shot during the day...
The major work of Catholic Earthcare Australia...
Under it's mandate from the Australian Bishops, Catholic Earthcare is charged with the following four major Tasks and Responsibilities:
Catholic Earthcare Australia will act as an advisory agency to the BCJED on ecological matters, including the safeguarding of the integrity of creation, environmental justice and ecological sustainability.
Its tasks will include:
It's biggest project is a national initiative, the National Energy Efficiency Network (NEEN) which promotes open learning and collaboration amongst faith-based and not-for-profit community organisations around energy efficiency and sustainability. Through increased efficiency we aim to reduce the energy intensity and consumption of the community sector, in turn reducing emissions and freeing up funding for delivery of core programs that support a more positive future for all. Supported with funding from the Federal Department of Industry as part of the Energy Efficiency Information Grants Program, NEEN church and not-for-profit agencies (and not just Catholic ones) free access to specialist energy efficiency information. They operate in conjunction with a number of other agencies, including the huge Church Resources buying agency and have been able to deliver huge savings to schools, parishes, church and not-for-profit agencies in their energy usage.
This national initiative is headed by Gareth Johnston who, together with Katie McSweeney, Marketing and Communications Manager at Catholic Earthcare, spent some time yesterday explaining their work to me. You can find out more information yourself on the NEEN website at: neen.org.au.
A Covenant Prayer for the Earth...
To end this commentary, I've prepared a video of the prayer the retreat participants jointly recited yesterday at the end of the Discussion Session which was the third and concluding part of the event. This is a moving prayer that might be taken on board by all of us and the resource I've endeavoured to provide here might be used at meetings at school and parish level for joint recitation of the prayer covenant...
Brian Coyne, 26 Feb 2015
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