This event on 12 April 2019 was hosted by the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs (NICCOSA) and the Council for Justice and Peace, both initiatives of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. A wide range of speakers presented, including those from the Council for Justice and Peace, the Laudato Si’ Group of the Council for Catechetics of the Bishops’ Conference, the SMA laity officer and those involved with Eco-Congregation Ireland in the North who could speak about the practical experience of incorporating Laudato Si’ into the life of their community.
The event was open to parishioners from dioceses across the North and the aim was to inspire attendees to take up the message of Laudato Si’ in their own homes, communities and parishes. In advance of the day 118 people registered to attend. On the day over 133 people attended illustrating the great interest in this topic.
The event aimed to be both a conference-style day, as well as something of a retreat and a spiritual and uplifting experience. While much about environmental news is not positive at present, the aim was to ensure that the day was challenging, but also hope-filled as we are people of faith.
The room was ‘greened’ in preparation for the day and to make it a beautiful space, including an entrance arch of greenery, flowers on every table, the SMA ‘skins’ of their Laudato Tree Project on the wall and the large tree for their SMA thumbprint campaign. In addition, it was ensured that no plastic bottles were used for water on the day, recycled post-its were used etc.
For the day, the organisers requested the use of the Climate Justice Candle from Eco-Congregation Ireland which was brought from a school in Cabra, Co. Dublin to Dromantine for the occasion. It was placed at the top of the room beside the speaking podium and Bishop Alan McGuckian, Chair of NICCOSA and the Council for Justice and Peace, invited one of the schoolgirls present, from St Mary’s Grammar School Newry, to light the candle while the following was said:
This candle has travelled the length and breadth of the country. The light of this candle symbolises our desire to come to know more deeply the God of all Creation. This light symbolises our desire to love our wonderful Creator God with greater and greater passion. This light symbolises our desire to make manifest our love of God through how we treat all of God’s creation. It symbolises the love we are called to bring to one another as God’s sons and daughters and the care we are called to give to the weakest among us; those who are marginalised and made poor because of the injustices in our world.
As we reflected on the lighted candle, the opening hymn was sung to begin the day together.
The Schedule for the day was built around progressing in a meaningful way from an introduction to the topic of Laudato Si’ and Care for Our Common Home and a foundational understanding of the current context and implications, to a focus on two of the key issues raised by the encyclical followed, in the afternoon session, by examples of communities in the North who are already trying to put Laudato Si’ into practical effect in their communities. There were also moderated panel discussions and group discussions, as well as space for prayer, song and reflection.
Each participant was given a ‘pack’ at the registration desk which contained a copy of Laudato Si’, a schedule for the day, speakers’ biographies, a Trócaire resource on 100 ideas for how to Live Laudato Si’ in a parish, information on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, a Laudato Si’ Pledge and a feedback form.
All of the conference sessions and panel discussions were live streamed on the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference Facebook page. Those watching live were in the hundreds. People tuned in from across Ireland (North and South) as well as from Scotland and other parts of the UK, Germany, Italy, Canada, Mexico and USA.
All the live streams were posted to the Facebook page of the ICBC as they concluded and the views of the videos since the event on 12 April have amounted to over two thousand. The videos have amassed an online reach of over 5,500 on Facebook alone. These videos can still be accessed if people wish to use them as a resource. There was also a short highlights video shared of the day and this has been viewed several thousand times. The event had an official photographer and reporters from the Irish Catholic and Irish News attended the day.
Feedback has been received from a large number of participants by email and through the feedback form distributed in conference packs. The feedback has been overwhelmingly incredibly positive to the entire day. Some of the overall impressions are captured in the photo on the left.
Attendees were also asked on the form if they were inspired to take new initiatives as a result of attending the day. All respondents said yes. One hundred percent of those who provided feedback would also be interested in attending another event on this theme.
Overall, people felt that it was a hugely valuable and inspiring day. They appreciated the breadth of the talks and the opportunity to get together for the day and exchange ideas and speak the same language. They also appreciated the professional organisation of the day. They felt encouraged, inspired and validated in their work.
The Council for Justice and Peace and the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs are discussing how to build on these issues and reflect and learn from them in order to inform the future work of the Councils. Numerous groups and individuals gave generously of their time to make this day a success including the SMAs, Eco-Congregation Ireland and Living Church (Down and Connor).