MUMBAI, India – There are still areas in which the Jesuits can work to protect the environment in India, according to a member of the order.

On Feb. 19, Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, called on the order to give a pastoral priority to ecological issues, as a direct response to Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’.

Jesuit Father Luke Rodrigues said it was also a response “to the crisis we experience today in terms of environmental degradation.”

The Jesuits of the Bombay Province – based in Mumbai – took up this call, building on already existing programs to protect the environment.

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“In the rural areas, there are many ecological initiatives in the field of agriculture. Farmers working in dry regions – such as Nashik district – are encouraged to take up water harvesting schemes,” the priest said.

“This works on the principle of catching the water where it falls, thereby replenishing the groundwater table. This assures farmers of at least one good crop and at times the possibility of a second one too. Fruit plantations are now coming up, thanks to the enhanced supply of water,” he said.

Nashik is located about 120 miles north of Mumbai and has a large agricultural sector, most famous for its vineyards.

The Jesuits run a voluntary organization in Nashik called the M.P.S.M. (Maharashtra Prabodhan Seva Mandal), which works in rural and Tribal areas through community organization, educational initiatives, economic growth programs, and natural resource development. It focuses on community building through microfinance and economic initiatives, including creating agricultural infrastructure, community management of natural resources, organic farming and dairy development.

“Another important initiative is the organization of farmers’ cooperatives. We create the conditions for farmers to come together and take their produce directly to the market, thereby eliminating the middleman and ensuring a decent profit for the farmers. In Nandurbar and Raigad we have set up herbal gardens which promote the use of natural remedies for common ailments,” Rodrigues said.

The priest told Crux that urban areas pose a different set of ecological challenges which call for new responses.

“Our city schools have installed solar panels to generate electricity, thereby helping to cut down carbon emissions. Jesuit parishes in Bandra and Andheri have become collection centers for the recycling of plastic and tetra paks [a popular food packaging.] Plans are on to initiate two Butterfly Gardens where children can grow in their love for nature,” he said.

Rodrigues said two institutions have initiated the process of a Green Audit of the Jesuit province to examine its ecological footprint and introduce measures to reduce it.

“Shroud burial is the norm for all Bombay Jesuits and we hope that parishioners will be inspired to do the same. This practice not only saves on wood but is one way of identifying with Jesus. If my Lord could be buried in a cloth, why couldn’t I?” Rodrigues explained.

The Bombay Jesuits also run R.E.A.P., an extensive urban education program that brings education and life skills to literally hundreds of children and young adults in Mumbai’s suburbs.

In addition, the Jesuit-run Xavier Institute of Social Science and Research (XISSR) has been established to provide the analytical, reflective and intellectual dimension to their ministry.

Despite the work the Jesuits do in the greater Mumbai area for ecological and other social justice issues, Rodrigues is not satisfied.

“While continuing our commitment to these works mentioned above, I believe there are two other areas where greater attention is needed. The first is that of networking. There are many NGOs already active in ecological action and we need to build up a better partnership with them,” he explained.

“The second area is that of advocacy. This involves lobbying with the government and other decision makers to create a better and safer environment for us all,” the priest told Crux. “May the Lord who has given us to this mission of caring for creation, guide us along this difficult and exciting journey.”

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