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Initiative from a Retired Moral Theologian

A few weeks ago, Father Bernhard Kieser SJ visited me in my office at the Faculty. Because he has retired from teaching, he is rarely seen on campus. But once in a while he comes to the campus to meet some of his former colleagues and talks about some topics which he concerns. After taking a seat, he told me that he was recently on vacation going to his hometown, Germany. Besides meeting his relatives and family, this German-born Jesuit priest who had been an Indonesian citizen since the 1970s also met his old colleagues. From them he got a new document, published by the German Bishops’ Conference. This document is titled: “Schöpfungsverantwortung als kirchlicher Auftrag. Handlungsempfehlungen zu Ökologie und nachhaltiger Entwicklung für die deutschen (Erz-)Diözesen.” (eng. Responsibility for Creation as a Mission for the Church. Recommendations for action on ecology and sustainable development for the German (Arch-)Dioceses).

“We need such a document like this,” he said eagerly. “We need recommendations for practical ways of action.”

The document as the result of a general assembly of German bishops in November 2018, comprises ten briefings or recommendations. The ten recommendations for action concern some issues of pastoral care, diocesan administrative action and socio-political commitment. They contain concrete demands and at the same time have the necessary breadth to take into account the different realities of the 27 German (arch-)dioceses. The bishops, for example, suggest that ecological spirituality be placed even more consciously in the proclamation and liturgy, that new church traditions such as fasting with regard to the responsibility for creation be fertilized, sustainable management in church institutions and church land, environmentally friendly mobility and socio-political responsibility for the poor and for the endangered creation.

Fully I agree with my former lecturer and my mentor’s proposal. We, the Indonesian Church, do not yet have a document that gives concrete direction to all people, how they can build an ecologically oriented church life, according to the advice of Pope Francis in Laudato Si‘ chapter 5 and 6. Even before Laudato Si‘ was published in 2015, the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference had ever published a pastoral note on ecology entitled “Church Involvement in Preserving the Integrity of Creation” at the end of 2013. This document which is then called “Nota Pastoral 2013” or “NP 2013” was the result of bishops’ study on “ecopastoral” on 5-7 November 2012. The concern raised in the document is that environmental damage in Indonesia is increasingly worrisome.

The NP 2013 began with a discussion of the facts of the natural damage, such as mining, plantations, forestry, land pollution, air pollution, water pollution, garbage, and climate change. After these facts are presented, we see them in the light of the Word of God and Tradition (Gaudium et spes 69, Populorum progressio 34, Sollicitudo rei socialis 34, KWI Pastoral Letter 1989, Nota Pastoral 2004). From the light of the Word and Tradition, responses were formulated, namely “ecological conversion” (NP 2013, no. 21) and “ecopastoral” (no. 23). Furthermore, some practical advice is appealed to: 1) those in public policy-making positions, 2) those engaged in the business world, 3) all people (no. 25). As I read this document again, it seems to me that the ideas and frameworks for reflection in the NP 2013 are exactly the same as the ideas and framework of Laudato Si’. But when I read the recommendations formulated by the German bishops, I realized that the NP 2013 has not covered recommendations that could help the people to implement ecological awareness in their daily life.

“We moral theologians must talk to the bishops that we should discuss the theme of the environment again,” Father Kieser said more enthusiastically.

Then I began to contact several other moral theologians throughout Indonesia. Our numbers are not large, but spread throughout the islands. I informed them that we need to meet and to discuss this matter. They responded positively. I realized that I had just started a network of Indonesian Catholic moral theologians. This has never happened before. Only a few of us had ever met and knew each other while participating CTEWC conferences. So I said to myself: “Better late than never.”

In the following discussions with 3 other colleagues coming from nearby city, we began to formulate something to convey to the Indonesian bishops. They met in a general assembly at the end of October. In that session, Father Peter Aman OFM, a moral theology professor at “Driyarkara” School of Philosophy Jakarta, and I explained the reasons why the issue of preserving the integrity of creation life needs to be discussed again. The main reason is that natural damage is faster than our responses and government initiatives.

Therefore, the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference needs to publish in the 2020 general assembly a document that contains a program. This document should not start from the conceptual thinking, but from praxis (what is being made or will be made) which is dialogical-ecumenical action (involving other religious communities and social groups that respond to the same issue; in responding to the environmental problems, we cannot act alone). What has been raised in NP 2013 requires a continuation which is a practical direction, guidelines for action (ger. “Handlungsempfehlung”).

While planning and organizing events for Indonesian moral theologians in the following months, I read again Just Sustainability, one of the Catholic Theological Ethics Series, I attempt to find some insights from our CTEWC authors. Hopefully I am able to involve them in discussions to formulate recommendations for Indonesian Catholics.

But now I have to thank Father Kieser, my elder moral theologian colleague, for initiating this project. This should be an enriching process of learning.