In 2007 Franciscan friar Mark Ciantar gathered young volunteers and co-founded a green community space for youth in Malta based on permaculture values. His aim was to protect the island’s environment, while also providing a refuge for young people who were dealing with personal conflicts and obstacles at risk of exclusion. Defying the rampant construction on the island, they restored an old farm and created permaculture gardens. Connection with nature had a healing effect on land and people. This way, formerly excluded youth became creators of a sustainable community.
Together with a group of young people, Mark recently founded a non-governmental organization named Inteko, through which initial and ongoing support is offered to individuals and entities that seek to rehabilitate their fields or gardens and possibly food-producing spaces.
Friends of the Earth Malta took the opportunity to interview Mark about his successful eco-community project and his personal vision for Inteko.
Friends of the Earth Malta: Integral ecology is a key concept in chapter four of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment. It derives from his understanding that “everything is closely related” and that “today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis.” This concept forms the basis of your NGO Inteko. How do you personally think that this approach can tackle the climate crisis?
Mark: The answer to this question is very long and complex, but I’ll try to simplify it. First of all, I want to explain my understanding of ‘integral ecology’, because this is fundamental in order to draw its connection to the climate crisis. It is about bridging the environmental with the social aspect. In the encyclical the Pope explains that if we have social problems, we also have environmental problems. Why? The reason is because everything is interconnected. The concept addresses problems in a holistic way. You don’t tackle problems one by one, but in a holistic approach. You consider each and every different problem in its context. So if you are after a solution, you try to find a solution that affects all problems that are connected to this particular problem. Thus, we are no longer looking for a short-term solution, but long-term solutions.
Why is ‘Integral Ecology’ a long-term solution for the climate crisis? Because we are talking about healing a situation. We can see that the environment needs healing, the planet needs healing and at the same time people need healing as well. If we look at the current situation of climate refugees for example, we can see that both, people and planet need healing at the same time. So we can see that there’s a connection and thus, we need a solution that addresses both issues. ‘Integral ecology’ can therefore be a solution, because it’s a holistic approach that considers both issues and asks for a common solution. What I observe is that most approaches to tackle the crisis are technical solutions, which do not look into the initial problem. Unfortunately, very few people consider that we need to address the real cause first in order to find a solution.
Friends of the Earth Malta: Where do you see the link between the well-being of our planet, and the process of healing of the human individual?
Mark: Humankind derives from nature and therefore, we all are part of nature. Our modern lifestyle often makes it hard to see that connection; there is so much human intervention and destruction going on, which creates distance and destroys the connection between humankind and nature, but in reality we’re all part of nature. Nature actually mirrors humankind. I want to give an example for that: If we consciously observe nature, we can see that we are very similar, plants grow from a seed, they grow and pass through different seasons, different cycles, go from sprout to death. The human cycle is very similar to that. This way, it becomes obvious that we suffer, if our planet, our environment suffers. It then makes sense that the healing process of human kind is interconnected with the rehabilitation of our earth.
One of the main reasons behind the climate crisis is humankind. So, healing humankind will eventually lead to the rehabilitation of the planet. It’s about the question ‘What is causing all this chaos?’ For me we need to heal the soul of people, start healing the roots and this way, eventually we create the conditions for nature to heal itself.
Friends of the Earth Malta: What’s the role of solidarity within this process?
Mark: Instead of using the term ‘solidarity’ I prefer the word ‘compassion’, because ‘compassion’ eventually means ‘to suffer with’. The Latin root for the word compassion is ‘pati’, which means ‘to suffer’, and the prefix ‘com’- means ‘with’. It refers to a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for someone who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. And to be able to heal, we need to feel that compassion.
Having a conscience, what does it mean? It means that you don’t only see a problem, but you are awake, you are aware. That is one step, and a very important one. That awareness, which is connected to the mind, goes down to the heart and there we start to reason. We ask ‘If a person or the planet have a problem, what can we do, what shall we do?’ We look for a solution. The reasoning then leads to the hands and the feet to act. This whole journey, the seeing, the reasoning and action-taking is compassion. To heal the planet, heal humankind, we need this journey, we need compassion.
I’d like to refer to the Pope’s latest encyclical ‘Fratelli tutti – All Brothers’. It builds on Laudato Si. In the encyclical he refers to Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan. This refers to compassion. A compassionate person is no person that sells solutions, but he or she becomes part of the solution. This means that the person is ready to shoulder responsibility, like the Good Samaritan.
Friends of the Earth Malta: With regard to your community garden project, how do you think could nature and agricultural work support the youth with their personal conflicts?
Mark: This is my favourite question. And the answer is a very personal reason. I always loved nature, I studied biology in school and I grew up in a very urban area of Malta. Around the age of 13, maybe 14, nature started attracting me and I discovered this inner peace. I later discovered agriculture and the beauty of growing food with sustainable practices. I discovered that connecting with the land alone is practically enough for a person to find peace. That was exactly what was happening to me. When I was outside in the field, time stopped – the smells, the touch of soil, and the sounds. When working with nature, observing nature, you start to observe things within yourself, too. This way, nature becomes like a mirror to ourselves. Our modern lifestyle disconnects everybody from nature, especially the youth. Before they are disconnected from each other, they are first disconnected from nature. And they suffer from that loss. The human being was not designed to be disconnected from nature. So working outside surrounded by nature, growing plants and food and gardens helps them to connect, not only to nature but also to themselves. This way, nature becomes medicine. That’s a healing process.
Friends of the Earth Malta: What is your vision for Inteko? Is there anything in particular planned?
Mark: We have a lot of plans and obviously we want to continue doing what we are already doing. With regard to the future, there are two things we especially want to focus on right now. One is structuring more the educational aspect. We want to create more awareness and share knowledge about the concept of ‘integral ecology.’ We want to offer a solution with our approach and don’t leave people with all the discouraging facts. Secondly, we want to create a safe harbour, a physical place, which will serve as a point of reference for our activities. More than anything else, we would like to use this place as a therapy space for the work we are doing with the youth. But for that we need a place and we are still seeking for that. The best would be a place in the countryside like an old farm house for example. But I’m confident that we will find this place and that God will provide this place at the right moment.
In the past, Friends of the Earth Malta has worked together with Mark Ciantar on several environmental projects and community activities regarding sustainability. For the future, Friends of the Earth Malta will be looking forward to new inspiring projects by Inteko, as well as further collaborations with Mark Ciantar and his NGO.
Contact details of Mark Ciantar and his NGO Inteko:
Phone: (+356) 7943 2719
Artwork by Zoe Shields
Written by Marika Schoenherr
Friends of the Earth Malta gratefully acknowledges financial assistance from the European Union. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of Friends of the Earth Europe and cannot be regarded as reflecting the opinion of the European Union. The European Parliament cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained.