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By Jesuit Asia Pacific Conference
May 17th, 2016

Chuuk MassThere are things happening in small and distant places around the world that speak out for a more sustainable world.  They go unheard in a globalised world, but does that mean they failed?  Like the “ooze of oil”*, activities of the youth are slowly and imperceptibly drawing people and nature together.

One such place is Micronesia where a special visitor prompted Xavier High School in Chuuk to hold its first Earth Week from February 6 to 12. The 180 boys and girls in this Jesuit secondary school in the western Pacific Ocean hail from the island nations of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau, and this diversity of cultures was reflected in the activities organised by the Xavier Earth Council.

“For a drought-stricken community already focused on water conservation, it was very well timed,” Fr Thomas Benz SJ, Superior of the Jesuits in Micronesia, remarks.

Fr Pedro Walpole SJ with ashes on his forehead at Ash Wednesday lunch with students. They had a meal of breadfruit in coconut milk, taro, banana, watermelon, fish, and octopus on tree leaf plates.

P. Walpole Ash WedPhoto: Fr Pedro Walpole SJ with ashes on his forehead at Ash Wednesday lunch with students. They had a meal of breadfruit in coconut milk, taro, banana, watermelon, fish, and octopus on tree leaf plates.

The special visitor was Fr Pedro Walpole SJ, Coordinator for Reconciliation with Creation for the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific.  Looking back, Fr Walpole says, “It was an amazing week filled with a night under the stars and environmental reflection, environmental rap battle, songs, poetry, Earth Man, Stations of the Earth, guest speakers, Trash Apocalypse, and a sustainable local lunch.”

Earth Week began on Saturday night when students and staff gathered under the stars for “Lights Out.”  In near silence, they engaged in an extended reflection on the Genesis story of creation and on God’s invitation to Abram to “count the stars, if you can.”  (Gen. 15:5)  They were asked to consider words of both Saint Francis and Pope Francis, and ponder on their own place in the vast and beautiful universe.

The students also highlighted a quote from Ishmael, a book by Daniel Quinn:  “There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people.  Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world.  But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world.  Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world.  And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.”

Ash Wednesday was celebrated with a mass and a beautiful sustainable local lunch of locally grown and harvested vegetables, fruits, and seafood. No plastic or styrofoam was used.  Instead leaves were used as the plates and containers. The staff coming from the community helped draw in all the great food, served on coconut and banana trays.  “This pride in local foods needs to be sustained,” says Fr Walpole. The resulting garbage was reduced, segregated, composted, and recycled.

Stations of the earth chuukPhoto: “Stations of the Earth” – Station 6 sign: Water

The students also organised ecological stations up the hill and down to the shore, illustrating all aspects of the different ecosystems and what we are dependent upon and so easily assume, like water and electricity.

“In this way, there is a better understanding of the ecosystem services of provisioning (food production and water), regulating (climate and disease control), supporting (nutrient cycling and crop pollination that maintain life conditions on earth), and cultural (the spiritual, recreational, and aesthetic enjoyment),” says Fr Walpole. “In recognizing these natural dependencies, life is also celebrated.  May this grow!”

Like a broad view of the night sky, Earth Week expanded the horizon of many at Xavier Chuuk with both humility and hope.  One student remarked:  “Earth Week made me realize just how much our Micronesian islands are suffering.”  Since most of the world is unaware of the islands’ situation or is unprepared to help, she concluded, “Expecting a change starts with us!”

Note: Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, is a graduate of Xavier High School.  His outspoken call for a High Ambition Coalition at COP21 Paris put the Marshall Islands and the needs of the Pacific Islands on the world map.  COP21 is the United Nations conference on climate change held in Paris from November 30 to December 12, 2015. 

*From the poem “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

First photo caption: Ash Wednesday Mass at Xavier High School in Chuuk celebrated by Fr Pedro Walpole SJ