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Thomas Berry Forum Addresses "Spirituality and Sustainability” Conference

By: Br. Kevin Cawley

The Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College responded to a special invitation from the sponsors of a conference on “Spirituality and Sustainability” that was held in Rome and Assisi during June/July 2017.* Brother Kevin Cawley, CFC, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Thomas Berry Forum at Iona, and Sister Kathleen Deignan, CND, Ph.D., Berry Forum Co-Convener offered presentations on the deepening legacy of Thomas Berry, who was the geologian around whom the Assisi Conferences gathered during eight years of his life.  To mark the second anniversary of the papal encyclical, “Laudato Si:’ On the Care of Our Common Home,” the sixty conferees attended an audience with Pope Francis, who acknowledged and thanked them for their work to protect our endangered Earth.

On the first day of the conference in Assisi, The Berry Forum anchored the opening panel in the enduring vision of Saints Francis and Clare, followed by other presentations on Berry’s summons to “The Great Work” of our time. The remaining 12 panels over the five-day conference expanded the spirituality and sustainability theme with presentations by 60 participants from Europe, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Asia and North America. The convergence of such visionary people from a range of ecological-spiritual perspectives, centers and movements made for rich dialogue about transformative global change based on spirituality and sustainability. Lively engagement continued during common meals and throughout the various group excursions to important sites in the life of St. Francis and St. Clare.  Deep connections were formed, and The Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College has now cemented partnerships with several important allies to network for transformative global change. 

The goals of the conference were to network centers and movements seeking transformative global change based on spirituality and sustainability, identify key recommendations for transformative global change based on spirituality and sustainability, and support young ecological leaders seeking transformative global change based on spirituality and sustainability.

The Conference focused on worldviews (our guiding stories) grounded in ecological spiritualities, on transformative paths for education, policies, movements, lifestyles and communities, on current expressions of ecological spirituality and their indigenous roots, and on the great transition toward ecological civilizations with new paradigms of science, economics and law. There was a particular concern regarding the Doctrine of Discovery. The issue has been gaining attention recently with many indigenous spiritual leaders calling for the Holy See to engage more completely in a deeper discussion of the damage still accruing from these 16th century proclamations of the Church regarding the rights of indigenous persons.

Participants also explored strategies to deepen and to implement the United Nations new development agenda – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and ways to protect and to nurture sacred places. Several sessions were dedicated to key recommendations for creating a viable and spiritually vital global future, with particular reliance on the Earth Charter which became the basis of common ground and language for the leaders.

Finally, the Conference fostered deep dialogue on how we can work together on the way forward toward a just, sustainable and peaceful future that will support human development for all in a flourishing Earth community.

Energized by this remarkable meeting, The Berry Forum will continue to plan our own convergences on campus in the spirit of Laudato Si and the vision of Thomas Berry, now with additional global partners as an outcome of our participation in this significant conference of exceptional environmental thinkers and leaders.

Center for Earth Ethics Union Theological Seminary, New York
Center for Ethics Saint Thomas University, Miami Gardens, Fla.

Center for Environmental & Sustainability Education At Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, Fla.
Earth Charter International, San Jose, Costa Rica
Forum on Religion & Ecology at Yale, New Haven, Connecticut
Franciscan Action Network, Washington, D.C.
Geoversiv Foundation, Minneapolis
Glenmary Home Missioners, Cincinnati
Institute Of Noetic Sciences, Petaluma, Calif.
Pax Romana Catholic Movement For Intellectual & Cultural Affairs Usa, Washington, D.C.
Saint Thomas University, Miami Gardens, Fla.
Sukyo Mahikari Europe, Luxembourg
Thomas Berry Forum For Ecological Dialogue At Iona College, New Rochelle N.Y.
Tommy E. Short Charitable Foundation, San Diego