Day 2 of The Mercy Education Conference 2023!

The second day of the Mercy Education Conference kicked off with a meaningful reflection by Sister Susan Frazer, RSM (the Area Administrator of the Sisters of Mercy of Jamaica); who shared words from the poem “Beginners” by Denise Levertov. This beautiful poem reiterates themes from Laudato Si and set the tone for another day of exploring the ways in which the Mercy community can further the mission to care for the Earth. Swiftly following this, the audience participated in a rousing session of praise and worship in which they sang a medley of songs (familiar to both Jamaicans and those from overseas), before being serenaded with a lively rendition of ‘Sweet Jamaica’.

Afterwards, the day’s first keynote speaker, Dr. Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie of the Jamaica Environment Trust, took the stage to address the environmental and social impact of climate change in Jamaica and the Caribbean in general. Acknowledging the Caribbean as one of the most vulnerable places in the Western hemisphere as it relates to climate change, she impressed upon the audience the relevance of climate in all of our lives; stating that no longer can people see climate change as something which will only affect generations to come as the world is already feeling its harmful effects now. Rising sea levels, this summer’s record-breaking temperatures, coral bleaching, Mangrove destruction, and the intensification of hurricanes, she noted, all evidence the changing climate and indicate that radical societal changes need to be made towards greater sustainability. Thus, Mercy Educators were encouraged to champion the education of environmental issues in the classroom; promote critical thinking among students; as well as empower students to take ownership of their environmental advocacy in the real-world.

After this engaging and thought-provoking presentation, the audience broke out into small groups; one of which was led by Marianne Comfort (the justice coordinator for Earth, anti-racism and women for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas), and Sister Edia Del Carmen López, RSM, (a missionary and a Sister of Mercy for over 30 years). Inspired by the Laudato Si’ Action Plan and Sisters of Mercy Critical Concern for Earth, this workshop took participants through the Mercy Justice Advocacy Approach; a framework which guides Mercy advocacy efforts and is informed by the core Mercy values. Sister Edia Del Carmen López, RSM, also spoke passionately about her decade-long service as a missionary to the indigenous Ngabe-Bukle ethnic group in Panama, where she has helped to generate social projects including anti-mining advocacy; food security and water initiatives; and human rights interventions. This led members of the audience to share their own experiences of serving communities in need and ponder the value of arming oneself with knowledge, bravery and the ability to listen to others in order to become true advocates for justice.

Following an open discussion on the ways in which the 55 Mercy institutions represented at the conference could address the critical concerns together, the event’s final keynote address was delivered by Meera Karunananthan and focused on how climate change affects environmental racism while also shining a light on international water justice issues. Informed by her research on water privatization and her years of work with water justice networks and frontline communities abroad, she underscored the need to scrutinise and challenge large corporate entities who may be hoarding water resources at the expense of local communities. Referring to what she dubbed the “four Rs of water justice,” Karunananthan explained the importance of communities Resisting exploitative and unsustainable practices of “colonial or corporate friendly states”; Reclaiming water sources; Redistributing resources in equitable and sustainable ways; and Reimagining a better future in which humans enjoy a truly symbiotic relationship with the rest of nature. Additionally, this informative session showcased the strides being made through the The Blue Communities Project which supports community-based efforts to protect the human rights to water and sanitation.

Judging by the thunderous applause as the conference drew to a close, and a declaration that it will be difficult for future conferences to surpass the Jamaican experience, it was clear that the 2023 Mercy Education Conference was greatly enjoyed by all. The planning committee (which comprised Kimberly Baxter, Anne Knapke, Jamie Landry, Kali McMorris, Patricia Normile, Traci Smith and Nell Stetser), did a tremendous job in creating a meaningful event which encapsulated the Mercy core values and highlighted the voices of preeminent minds within the fields of education, environmental justice and social development. Attendees are sure to have another amazing time as they gather together once again for the 2024 Mercy Education Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, United States which will be hosted by two local schools and held under the theme of “Non-Violence”. Until then, the dedicated community of Mercy Educators, both here and abroad, will continue to nurture “highly competent and deeply compassionate leaders ready to serve a vulnerable world.”

A standing ovation given by attendees at the end of the Conference!

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