Last summer and into the Season of Creation I was able to visit schools but mostly run activities outside. This led to eco-retreats that took place rain or shine – and in Britain that often means rain. In the days before the pandemic these would have used the grounds, hall and chapel at St Columban’s, but this has not been possible for a good while now. Instead I was taking young people to their local parks or gardens in their schools, finishing days with prayer outside and participation in online ‘virtual’ protests and climate strikes.
Our second lockdown led to things moving online. Our zoom account was put to good use as I organized JPIC encounters for many groups of educators and youth ministers – meeting with activists, missionaries, Religious and people impacted by climate change. Another iteration of the same idea involved recording these. Some examples that might be of interest to readers include sessions with Liam O’Callaghan in Pakistan, AG Sano in the Philippines and Anna Marshall (a previous winner of our Columban media competition) in the UK and with young people about climate strikes.
Note in both the ‘new reality’, me working from my daughter’s bedroom!
More recently work is face to face again, including retreat days for teachers exploring Laudato Si’ in the hills (one day, pouring with rain, and a teacher slipping in the mud; a second with perfect sunshine).
This year’s Season of Creation seems to have already started for me, with schools eager to explore see-judge-act, Laudato Si’ and care for our common home in advance of COP26. The model has evolved into a hybrid, with zoom encounters with Marj in Fiji (she continued heroically even while suffering with COVID – I reassured the school the virus protection on their computer would keep students safe!), prayer stations outside reflecting on the cry of earth and what we’d heard from Marj about increasing frequency and intensity of typhoons/cyclones, and then political action aimed at our politicians before COP.
Looking ahead, I’m working with a group of 13 schools to put on a programme for the Season of Creation. COVID-allowing it will culminate with a mass for the feast of St. Francis of Assisi at the cathedral in which the final blessing and dismissal leads directly to the young people processing with banners and symbols made from recycled materials to meet with politicians in the city centre – prayer, pilgrimage and protest!
Plans for COP26 are slowly falling into place. Hopefully I will be in Glasgow with around 8 young adults to learn, campaign and pray. The dream is to bring messages from around the Columban world including those gathered via the online Columban International Youth Encounters, and to live stream from there. That’s if the pandemic allows!