Neighbors and communities come together to Live Laudato Si’

June 16, 2017

From La Croix, June 2017

The group of families established a Christian “oasis” in August 2016 when they moved into several neighboring houses in the village of La Bénisson-Dieu in the Loire region in France.

It was the “rather crazy” challenge of living the vision of Laudato Si’ that led a group of families to move into three neighboring buildings in this community of 450 inhabitants about fifteen kilometers from Roanne in the Loire.

One sunny June day, the two founding families of this “eco-hamlet” are having lunch together. The Scherrers and the Nollés are seated around the table with their children, a summer salad set before them. Every now and then, they glance over at the different grains being dried in a corner of the dining room, all of which have therapeutic properties.

They enthusiastically describe their first projects in “the renewal of their way of life” in the countryside. They tell about the ecological renovation of their houses, taking up permaculture, participating in the cultural and parochial life of the Cistercian Abbey in the village, learning about naturopathy, and growing their own herbs and vegetables.

The principles of their new way of life are inscribed on a chart that they have created and imbue all aspects of their day-to-day lives. 

They live a communal and spiritual life by encouraging positive communication among the members of the “eco-hamlet”, gathering together for prayer on Friday evenings, and observing Sunday as a day of rest. 

“We wanted to come back to living life on a smaller scale,” explains François Nollé. “This is possible in a village that is conducive to a communal life and a sound economy. We wanted our children to grow up in a natural environment that would allow them to flourish in every way.”

Nollé, a 29 year-old who has a PhD, is married to Blandine, a naturopath, with whom he has three children. He first visualized this plan two years ago. A few months later, he wrote to the Bishops of France to inform them of his project.  Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the Archbishop of Lyon, then agreed to offer four houses in the diocese of La Bénisson-Dieu in exchange for service to the Church.

“This true return to the land is life-saving,” says Odile Scherrer, a teacher and mother of two, who has found her “second vocation” in cultivating her vegetable gardens.  Her husband Antoine’s diagnosis with Lyme Disease, after years of medical uncertainty, was a significant factor in their decision to move to the country, where they would be able to “regain control of their health”.

They all admit that this new life hasn’t always been easy. When they first arrived, some of the villagers were quite suspicious.  “They quickly realized, however, that we weren’t some kind of sect,” says François Nollé, “but rather a flexible, open and welcoming Christian collective.”   Stépahnie Jamain is a singer and mother of two. Her husband, Pierre-Alban, works as a tradesman a few kilometers from the village.   “We don’t judge those who live differently. We simply want to live ecologically, with humility,” she explains.

Many projects are being planned: agroforestry, the establishment of a Montessori school, and the opening of a “Welcome and Information Center” dedicated to the wisdom of integral ecology.  They all share the same deep conviction: fundamental thesis of Laudato Si’ that “everything is interrelated” – faith, agriculture, the economy, education, politics….

According to Antoine Scherrer, the Pope’s encyclical “raises issues that must be addressed”.

“For us, it is an exhortation to demonstrate the richness – both theoretical and practical – of Christian wisdom in the face of the global ecological crisis.”

Sisters living Laudato Si’ – The story of a Myanmar fish farm and how commitment experimentation, flexibility, a small $9,000 grant became a sustainable enterprise

Srs. Mary Than Htay and Christina are surprised and happy to get the snakehead fish for cooking. (Courtesy of Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions)

Pyay, Myanmar Resilience and passion characterize women religious the world over but in some countries, such as Myanmar, they have had to endure particularly difficult challenges: war, repression and confiscation of property. The Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions in Myanmar, whom I first met in 2001 and again in March of this year, exemplify this perseverance over adversity.

The first Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions (known as RNDM — Religieuses De Notre Dame des Missions) arrived in Burma in 1897 when they began working with women and children, particularly through opening English-language schools.

Life was never easy in Burma as the first European sisters found the hot, tropical climate very difficult. But it was to get much worse in the country run as a British colony. In 1942, Japan invaded Burma, and 13 sisters were imprisoned, although the six of Burmese sisters were released in a few months. The other sisters — from Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and India — remained in prison until 1945. The Japanese were ultimately defeated, but the country did not recover from the war quickly. British agreed to give the country independence in 1947 in negotiations with nationalist leader Aung San, who was assassinated just months later.

The country was granted independence in 1948, but after many years of civil unrest, a military coup in 1962 brought about a dictatorship that lasted almost 50 years.

Left: U Pho Toake and Bolay prepare to pump out water from the farmed fish pond; Right: U San Phyo is pumping out the mud. (Courtesy of Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions)

Each remaining group of sisters was given a small piece of the property on which to build a house for those left behind. The RNDM sisters struggled to discern what their new ministries would be because they were not allowed to teach in the government-controlled schools, even though they were qualified teachers. Gradually, through prayer and searching, most decided to reach out to the most neglected and suffering, particularly women and children. They started informal programs for orphans and skills training for women and girls so they could generate income for their families.

The sisters struggled to keep afloat without their schools and clinics, as pastoral and social ministries generated barely sufficient income. They made clothes and grew vegetables to sell on street markets. They began small-scale farming to keep food on the table. They lived in solidarity with the people they were serving, sharing the same struggles and sufferings.

In 2001, I met the sisters of Our Lady of the Missions because the Hilton Fund for Sisters* had awarded a grant to start a unique project that I found very interesting — fish farming. The sisters had purchased some land in Pyay in 1997, nearly 300 kilometers north of Yangon, where they began their project dream. This was something new for the Hilton Fund, but we thought it very creative because it would provide food and income for the sisters and training of the people they lived among.

Sister Josepha tells the story to the preschool children. (Courtesy of Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions)

Sixteen years later, I again traveled to Myanmar to attend the AMOR (Asia Meeting of Religious) gathering. Two RNDM sisters met me at the airport and took me to their Yangon convent for a cup of tea. To my amazement, waiting at the door was Sr. Noreen Htun, a RNDM who is Burmese, though I had met her in Taiwan in 2003 and a few times since at other meetings. I was so surprised because in recent years I had learned she was very ill and probably dying. Seeing her standing at the door was like a miracle!

Reflecting my first visit to Myanmar and the most recent, I see a variety of changes. Sisters have become more involved in development projects for women: Farming, training of young women in computer skills, tailoring and other income generation skills. I spent a lot of time in remote areas on my first visit, where I saw extreme poverty and the beginning recognition of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. A few years later, sisters became involved with families affected by the disease, and now, it seems much attention is being given to education and prevention of it. I noticed also that the atmosphere of Myanmar is very different this time. In spite of some caution and concerns about the conflicts with particular ethnic groups in the north, the atmosphere feels freer and more hopeful and excited about the future.

This summary by Sister Noreen about the RNDMs, particularly their development of the fish farm, gives a good picture of the hardships the country and women religious communities endured, but also some of the positive changes occurring:

Noreen Htun belongs to the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions from Myanmar. She first met the Sisters when she was 14 while a pupil at St. Anne’s Convent, Sittwe, Myanmar. She later joined the Congregation in 1964. (Courtesy of Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions)


Sr. Noreen Htun: In 1997, we Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions bought 15 acres of land. Our dream was to begin a leadership course for young women who would then work with the sisters in distant villages and perhaps want to join us. The plan was to begin various income generating projects: fish farming, gardening and chicken rearing. We hoped to earn enough to finance a new education center. We began this project to address the poverty of the people among whom we lived and worked. They needed to make a living and to educate their children.

We strongly believed that agriculture in general, but especially cultivation of the land, would help support these communities. The cost of basic commodities had been rising, and families, like us, could not afford to buy even essentials like rice, sugar, oil and soap. We had to find ways to support ourselves. We also wanted to use farming methods that would not degrade the land as was happening around us. We decided that fish farming would provide food, provide some natural fertilizer and generate income.

We started realizing our dream but found many challenges. There were oozing, underground streams that made it nearly impossible to clean the fish ponds once we had harvested the fish. We continue to face this difficulty, but we have persevered. The other downside is that the deep mud hampers growth in both size and weight of the fish, making it difficult to meet the market price at the proper time. Even though we do not yet have a great volume for sale, we are able to generate enough money to educate many children in the area. The ponds provide income and jobs for our neighbors.

People work together to sort the fish they have harvested from the farm pond. (Courtesy of Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions)

The project has been an education for all of us, too. With the help of experts, we learned how to care for the fish. We feed them, provide clean water for new batches and clean their ponds. We also learned new things from our co-workers. The entire project has made us much for aware that we are not self-sufficient beings, but interdependent.

Step-by-step we were able to develop this 15-acre property. We established the Euphrasie Formation Center, where besides teaching practical skills, we also offer English, Scripture, church history and morals/ethics programs. The course runs for three years and is open to Christian and non-Christian girls and women. The majority of the population of Myanmar is Buddhist, so they are our immediate neighbors.

Fifteen acres is a lot to supervise, so we employ and house three families to work with us. We eventually built a dormitory as a residence for 10 secondary school girls from outlying villages so they could attend school or the technical college in Pyay.

Srs. Annie Soe, left, and Angela Hnan Wai play with the preschool children. (Courtesy of Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions)

One of the greatest blessings and joys of 2017 is that the government has given permission for us to open a primary school at Pyay where our sisters had previously taught at primary and secondary levels until church schools were nationalized in 1965.

Our new dream is to offer an education unique in Myanmar. Instead of rote learning, we plan to offer an alternative methodology that encourages children to think and become active members of society. This type of education is vital to our country’s democratic growth after so many years of oppression. It is very exciting for us to dream new visions of freedom. We will continue our work of providing opportunities for women empowerment, education of RNDM staff and support programs for children. We are very excited about the future and grateful to so many people who have worked with us over the years.

*The Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters is part of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which funds Global Sisters Report.

[Joyce Meyer is a member of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is GSR’s liaison to women religious outside of the United States.]

Global network of “Fearless Cities” Meets

“This is an opportunity to take a drink from the wellspring of knowledge offered by people who are living a new normal.”-Charles Eisenstein, visionary and conference keynote speake

A recurring theme was “proximity” or going out, as Pope Francis says and “Direct contact with your neighbour. Find out their interests, hopes, desires, fears, then organise for what you want, and to not be subject to those fears. You will have to confront racism, sexism, xenophobia: you can overcome that at the local level and create a practice to open your neighbourhood to new people.”

Debbie Bookchin, daughter of the original municipalists, Beatrice and Murray Bookchin said:

All ecological problems are social problems. We can’t address ecological problems without resolving our addiction to domination and hierarchy. We need to fundamentally alter our social relations. How do we bring an egalitarian society into being? The municipality is a logical arena to start. […]  Social change won’t occur by voting for the candidate who promises a minimum wage, free education etc., only an activated citizen movement can transform society. […]

Local assemblies transform citizens. We are made new humans by participating. We grow beyond capitalist modernity.

Ritchie Torres from the NYC Council, opened with two questions about the US context:

  • How do we achieve progressive municipal governance in a world of federal divestment?
  • How do you bring participatory politics while so deeply entrenched in two-party politics?

They said their greatest achievement in NYC “is that we’ve brought into mainstream a new idea of municipal government.  It’s common sense now that local government is not just for filling potholes, it can be a force for equity. […] We’re not just a legislature, we’re a vehicle for community organising. Being merely a legislature, you will be undermined by legislative and financial activism from the right. But if you’re organising communities, you can make headway.”

Sinam Mohamad was greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd, inspired by stories from Rojava, the autonomous region in the north of Syria:

We in Rojava have built decentralised, democratic self-rule in an extremely difficult situation. Economic embargo, besieged, terrorist attacks, chauvinist mentalities… In spite of all this, we built our municipalism. […]

Kobanî faced an attack from ISIS; a city full of fear, everyone frightened by the attack. Fear means you are dying while you are alive. Turkish bombs in our cities, villages. Children sleeping with fear. Mothers afraid for their families. We struggled for peace, which we have achieved now. We built a democratic administration together. Not just Kurds but a mosaic of religions and nations: Turkmen, Arabs, Syrians, Assyrians, Muslim, Yezidi, Christian, and so on. All agree to coexist in this area. This is our aim, to live together without fear. All the people come together and agree to the social contract.

If you don’t have an organisation that is very well organised for equal gender, you won’t have a free society. Free women = free society. Constitutionally we have equal genders, 50–50 participation. Co-president system means we have Mr and Ms Presidents.  See full notes from that session here.

Sanctuary and Refuge Cities

On Sunday morning, we joined a panel on Sanctuary and Refuge Cities. Speakers included city officials from Barcelona, NYC, Berlin, Kilkis (Greece), and Paris. Some highlights:

Daniel Gutierrez from Interventionistische Linke in Berlin explained how they created an anonymous health card so migrants can access services without fear of deportation. The same is happening in Barcelona and parts of France. Ignasi Calvó explained that the Barcelona ID is a municipal (not national) register of citizens, so they can bypass the racist laws of the Spanish state, but it still carries state validity, conferring automatic rights to anyone carrying it in the EU. He warned though, “If you’re going to use civil disobedience, you have to ensure the consequence will be on the city, not on the migrant.”

Each of the speakers reiterated the same simple point: that everyone should have access to the same rights. They argued against categorical distinctions between migrants, refugees, and other residents, as these categories create exclusion.

Amélie Canonne from Emmaus International explained how the state fuels radicalisation: “Repression creates radicalisation, both within migrant communities and in the activists working in solidarity with them. In EU, food distribution is banned, activists are arrested, trialled, radicalised.

Comments from the audience revealed the huge intelligence in the room. For instance, one commenter shared their concerns about the elephant in the room: the question of race. “This has been a colorblind discourse, forgetting the racial aspect, treating migrants as foreigners rather than people of colour. In the US, white nationalism is one of the main drivers working against migrants.” For more on this, see author’s  recent article on white nationalist militias resisting migration from Latin America.

A city councillor from Philadelphia agreed, explaining how systemic bias is compounded against people with intersecting identities, not just “people of color”, but “low income, migrant, people of colour.”  A Lebanese participant shared some broader context: “We have been receiving refugees for 60 years, maybe 2 million of them. We have a lot to say about the experience! Are these European cities connecting with the history of refugees in Lebanon? We have made so many failures, and success stories too. Many European cities are coming at this for the first time, learn from us!”

At the end of the day we enjoyed a one last panel — a furious, joyful, incendiary lineup of speakers. I took fairly comprehensive notes, which you can read here.

Yayo Herrero was one of the most incredible speakers I’ve ever seen. Their transformation recipe is worth quoting in full (that is, my transcription of the English translation of the recipe):

“Acknowledge the very clear reality: that material reduction is not catastrophe. It is a catastrophe to not address this with equity and justice.

“We are obliged to think about freedom and a framework of rights that is not just individual but has a relational sphere.

“We need to imagine an ecologist feminist alternative that is anchored in the land, and in our bodies. Put life and sustainability as a political and economic priority.

“Expel markets as the centre of the political logic. Challenge the perverse logic that if we don’t keep on feeding this exploitive system we won’t grow wellbeing.”

“We need a different way of science and technology. We need to expel the part that is based on fantasy, promoting things that are not possible, or only possible for a few. Put science in the service of life.

We need social organisation where men and women and institutions are co-responsible for care. Life must be cared for, it’s not just a job for women.

“We need alliances that allow us to organise a sabotage to this historic plan. Feminists, entrepreneurs, ecologists, trade unions… build a complicated diverse alliance of majorities.”

Activist philosopher Vandana Shiva spoke last, concluding beautifully:

Nature is intelligence, diversity, and self-organisation.

Municipalism is self-organisation at the level of cities.”  And with that, we were ejected out into the warm Barcelona evening. Reviewing these notes, I’m stunned by the quality of all these speakers. The conference felt very much like a sequel to last year’s Democratic Cities conference in Madrid, where I was first introduced to the idea that cities can offer hope in an age of hopeless states.  The conference organisers got a couple of simple things right which made a profound difference to the mood and the content: they made the event accessible with €20 tickets, and they ensured the majority of speakers were women.  However, with respect, I do want to offer a criticism: every session I attended shared the same linear format, with one person speaking, and a room full of intelligent, engaged, creative people simply listening. We can do so much better than this! As Vandana said, municipalism is self-organisation at the scale of the city — I’m hungry for self-organisation at the scale of the conference. We can use horizontal collaboration structures like Open Space Technology” to unlock the collective intelligence of all the participants. We can intentionally design for relationship-building, rather than hoping for it to emerge passively in the hallways and lunch breaks. This Thursday my partner Nati and I are hosting a workshop on self-organising at the scale of 10s to 100s of people; perhaps we can convince some of the conference organisers to join us and the next Fearless Cities event will have a format to match the content. &#x1f64f

Additional note:

European Ecovillage Conference 2017- Ӓngsbacka, Sweden By Ann Marie Utratel

European Ecovillage Conference 2017- Ӓngsbacka, Sweden “Conscious Happiness: Living the Future Today Solidarity, Resilience, and Hope”

“This is an opportunity to take a drink from the wellspring of knowledge offered by people who are living a new normal.”-Charles Eisenstein, visionary and conference keynote speake

The European Ecovillage Conference’s vibrant programme is brought alive by co-creators offering talks, workshops, and interactive sessions centered on the theme “Conscious Happiness – Living The Future Today: Solidarity, Resilience, Hope.” Highlights will include keynote addresses by acclaimed speakers, authors and activists Charles Eisenstein and Helena Norberg-Hodge, who will engage some of the great challenges of our time – and invite participants to explore solutions offered by the ecovillage movement.

Norberg-Hodge, creator of “The Economics of Happiness” notes, “There’s been a really dramatic [cultural] shift, just in the last couple of years, and yet it needs more awareness. It’s the consciousness that’s missing…. There is this huge need for global communication and interaction… We need that flowering of connections which we can start with right now at home but also reach out across internationally into a global movement. ”

The Global Ecovillage Network is a membership-based coalition of Ecovillages, or intentional communities, that holistically integrate ecological, economic, social and cultural sustainability into regenerative living models. The GEN Europe network connects, sustains and diffuses the work of ecovillage and communities across Europe, within ecovillage communities and also to those who are curious to learn about the movement. Solidarity During the 5 day conference, participants will explore a particularly timely series of events centred around our theme of solidarity.

At a time of great change and political divisiveness, there is an urgent need to address hardships with insights gained from living intentionally together. Norberg-Hodge describes a part of the work of solidarity this way: “Let’s get away from this idea that we don’t need anybody. We do need others. Let’s not be afraid to express that to one another.”

Workshops exploring the Eroles residential in Grenada, which put migrants at the centre of community co-creation, and the Sustainer, which combines permaculture principles and ecovillage innovation to build an autonomous shelter for those who’ve had to flee their homes, will showcase some of the many ways in which ecovillages are acting in solidarity around Europe. Resilience Personal and collective resilience in the face of changing climate, cultural upheaval, and spiritual emptiness is a key theme of many of our workshops and exhibits.

Workshop leader and evolutionary biologist Bjorn Grinde describes how ecovillages meet a biological need that increases our happiness and well-being: “Humans are adapted to live in tribal settings. Research shows people need to find meaning in these [smaller] units. For the future of the world, finding a meaning of life in a setting of ecological balance is even better because that will point towards a way of living that benefits future society.”

The Ecovillage Sustainable Technology Exposition will feature open source solutions for reducing carbon emissions and producing energy efficient systems, many demonstrated and built on site by their ecovillage inventors. Conference participants will learn how to build simple wind turbines or try out superefficient energy-saving cookware.

Exploring other aspects of resilience, workshop leaders from Spain, Sweden, Holland and beyond consider our human relationships and spiritual development, from addressing “the shadows” in our lives to learning innovative conflict resolution strategies to inviting attendees to try out organizational structures used in ecovillages. The conference will build an atmosphere that offers participants hope and inspiration. As Eisenstein, author of “The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible”, puts it, “hope is the feeling when you glimpse a real possibility. Hope is what comes when you have an experience of what’s possible in the future, even if you don’t know how to get there. This is an opportunity to take a drink from the wellspring of knowledge offered by people who are living a new normal.” Young people help us see the path to our collective future, and therefore our conference team is supported by an international team of young volunteers from across Europe. The conference will also feature a children’s festival and provide people of all ages a chance to connect across generations and cultures to create new friendships.

In addition to workshops, participants can expect opportunities to celebrate and practice healing arts, interactive events like a living map of ecovillages across Europe, and plenty of time to relax. The conference is a family-friendly drug and alcohol free experience, offering managed campsites with outdoor facilities and full vegetarian catering.

“A more beautiful world IS possible… and you will experience a part of it during the gathering at Ӓngsbacka” welcomes Ewa Jacobsson of Ӓngsbacka.

About the conference:, Facebook event:, General enquiry: [email protected]

Press contact: For interviews in English and Italian: Evan Welkin +39 334 259 0522, [email protected]

In Swedish: Annette Ericsdotter Bettaieb, [email protected], + 46 70 777 91 00

GEN–  Global Ecovillage Network.  The Global Ecovillage Network was founded 20 years ago and represents over 100 countries in the 5 continents. GEN-Europe is a network that connects, sustains and diffuses the work of ecovillages and communities. The network offers consulting and coordination for member communities across Europe as well as supporting projects of interdependence, including an international youth exchange program, a community-sponsored forced migration relief project, and advocacy in grassroots climate change networks. GEN-Europe has representation in Brussels under the umbrella of ECOLISE, together with other intercontinental networks; also, it has a consultative status at the UN for educational material for 10 years.

Ängsbacka, outside Karlstad in Sweden, is a vital meeting place for people who want to live a more conscious life, live from the heart and care for our planet. Since 1997 thousands of people have been touched by the warm, open, loving atmosphere during workshops, festivals and visits at Ängsbacka.

Ängsbacka is a full member of GEN Europe since 2016.

“A more beautiful world IS possible… and you will experience a part of it during the gathering at Ӓngsbacka” welcomes Ewa Jacobsson of Ӓngsbacka.

#ecovillages #community #beautifulalternatives #innovativesolutions #togetherwerise