JCAM at the Fourth United Nations General Assembly on the Environment (UNEA 4)

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Faith at the heart of saving the common home

Thanks to the enthusiasm of Charles Chilufya , SJ, the current director the Justice and Ecology office of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM), three Jesuits participated in the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly, which has just been held in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, from March 4 to 15, 2019.

James Kayanda (AOR), Adrian Makasa Chikwamo (ZAM) and Ghislain Tshikendwa Matadi (ACE) took part in this great assembly where the theme of the environment was scrutinized in a rigorous and realistic way.  Along with these three Jesuits, Miss Elisabeth Auma, a lay collaborator in the Communications Department of the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network (JENA) also formed part of the delegation.

What impressed me, beyond the theme itself, was the way the conference was so well organized. Nothing was random; from the registration of the various delegates, Sustainable Innovation Expo tents, to the major working groups side events and to the evaluation of this fourth UN assembly on the environment. Everything was done with a professionalism characterizing the United Nations.

The organizers took time to prepare the event. They prepared it carefully bringing to light our doubts and fears that the changes we make weigh heavily on our “Common home”, especially on the lives of the poor and vulnerable. The vastness and complexity of each other’s commitment to the safeguarding of our planet surely obliged the organizers to pay particular attention to the role of faith and religions in protecting the accentuating work of religious bodies and individuals with the communities and giving the chance so that they may share their expertise. It has become obvious that religion and culture are one of the major assets in the struggle for the preservation of our “common home”.

It is understandable why, during all this time, I, for my part, thought of LAUDATO SI of which Pope Francis’ representative invited to this fourth assembly spoke with mastery and simplicity. I also thought of Father General and of the four apostolic priorities of the Society of Jesus for the next ten years, which were announced in February this year. I thought of the Democratic Republic of Congo, my country and of the Congo Basin that LAUDATO SI rightly describes, with the Amazon, as the lungs rich in biodiversity for the good of humanity, but which may have not taken yet very seriously the threat of climate change on people’s lives.

Some paragraphs of the invitation letter addressed to Father CHILUFYA at this fourth United Nations assembly on the environment are worth quoting, as they give the reason for choosing the Jesuit Network for Justice and Ecology (JENA) and the nature of the expected contribution.

“Recognizing the work of your esteemed organization in promoting sustainable development, I am pleased to invite you to take part in the Fourth United Nations General Assembly on the Environment…”. The invitation actually came from the main coordinator of the group to which we belonged as a religious organization: “Faith for the Earth”. Fifty-one religious organizations, including ours, took part in this assembly and affirmed the importance of religion and faith in God in the preservation of the common house.

We brought the experience of the Church to this forum, highlighting the beautiful and invaluable work of many religious leaders among the poor and the marginalized. Religious organizations have this common characteristic of working with those who suffer, sometimes tragically, the adverse effects of climate change. Allow me to share my experience as a delegate during the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA4):


  1. Ancestral knowledge and the need to safeguard it

I have shared here, with simplicity and enthusiasm, the experience of the Center for Research and Communication in Sustainable Development (CERED) of the Loyola University of Congo in Mongata, around four villages, namely: Lundu, Nkiela, Mulosi and Kintswanga. It is about the contribution to reforestation as one means toward enabling agricultural development without necessarily destroying the forest. Farmers around Mongata can see a forest growing. They help students in Agroforestry conducting studies to identify trees useful for food and medicine in order to recreate forests useful for life.

  1. The urgency to involve young people in the fight for the safeguarding of our Common House

During the various sessions I took part in, I felt the need to involve young people in the safeguarding of our “common home”. The notion of sustainable development implies future generations who themselves will play an important role in safeguarding our “common house”. An institution was born in the very course of this assembly: the very upcoming creation, in R.D. Congo, of the “Congolese Youth Network for the Environment” (RJECE).

  1. Religious and cultural aspects as a basis for respect for the environment

Faith in God and the cultural significance of the forest are necessary assets in the struggle for the protection of the environment. The Bible and religious traditions are full of institutions that can help us think about the realistic and sometimes inexpensive way to involve the world in taking seriously the threat that climate change poses to the lives of our generation and those to come.

What to conclude?

I will conclude by mentioning the very sad news that accompanied not only the delegates to the Fourth United Nations General Assembly on the Environment, but also the world: the plane crash of the Ethiopian Airlines Company. Many delegates lost their lives. We thought of them. Their death reminds us that our sincere commitment to safeguarding our “common home” requires sacrifices. The supreme sacrifice is not excluded. This is what reminds us of our faith in God, suffering and conqueror, creator of heaven and earth, the very one who, today more than yesterday, asks us to protect the creation he has entrusted to us and to preserve its intrinsic beauty.

Ghislain Tshikendwa Matadi, S.J

Director of the Center for Research and Communication in Sustainable Development

Loyola University of Congo/ D.R. Congo