“We will build a shelter for you.” –a village elder in the Philippines to Pedro Walpole, SJ


St. Ignatius referred to himself as “the Pilgrim” is his autobiography and included a pilgrimage as a major experience of Jesuit formation. His insistence on the mobility and poverty of Jesuits has often been at odds with the stability and wealth of our educational institutions. Community-Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR) offers one path for researchers at Jesuit institutions to reclaim the spirit of a pilgrim: bringing with us some specific academic skills, relying on the generosity of others for our food and shelter, and trusting in God as our ultimate teacher.


Breaking the centuries-old tradition of what could be clinically diagnosed as an academic superiority complex, university researchers are collectively realizing the need to form partnerships with local communities. One approach is CBPAR where community partners at local or remote research sites are included fully as researchers at all points from planning to presentations. How can Jesuit-affiliated faculty integrate these methods within the structure of our institutions and stringent academic expectations?


Although the annual Climate Change Conference at Loyola University Chicago was canceled amidst coronavirus concerns, a small group of participants met on Thursday, March 12, 2020 for a pre-conference workshop to address that question. Throughout the day, three teams of faculty and community partners presented case studies from over twenty years each of working in India, Nicaragua, and the Philippines.


In the northern Ahmednagar district in the state of Maharashtra, India, Siju Varghese, SJ and Dr. Supriya D'Souza have worked with over 197 local villages to develop watershed projects, empowering communities and transforming the land around them for over twenty five years. A quote painted on the walls of one of their research sites summarizes their collective vision for working with communities: “If you dream alone, it stays a dream, but if we dream together, it starts to become a reality.” They build capacity in the community to manage these projects by organizing committees of men, women, and youth who work to find consensus on the needs of their own community.



Rowena Soriaga and Pedro Walpole, SJ have worked with the Pulangiyen people in Sitio Bendum, a small indigenous community located along the upper Pulangi river in Northern Mindanao, Philippines. Along with Jason Menaling and Ariel Haguilay, they have been developing mapping and management practices for the farms, forests, and water around seventeen villages, supporting the community’s self-determination in the midst of political voices that speak without their input.


Pedro’s work began in this community when a village elder offered to build him a hut where he could stay on future visits, explaining, “we will build a shelter for you.” Pedro described his continued work as a Jesuit with the community, saying, “I never saw myself as a missionary… Christ has been there before me, and, therefore, they reveal Christ to me, not I to them.” The work began and continues at the invitation and participation of the community.


Researchers through Santa Clara University’s Environmental Justice and the Common Good Initiative have partnered with two co-ops in Nicaragua to address food and water security amidst climate variability and other hazards. Their workshop case study included presentations from two of the community partners: Raul Diaz the Director of Asociación de Desarrollo Social de Nicaragua (ASDENIC), and Merling Presa the General Manager in PRODECOOP, a fair trade smallholder cooperative. Chris Bacon from Santa Clara explained his experience of CBPAR which increased the “relevance, rigor, and reach” of their research.


Finally, Chad Raphael from Santa Clara led a session digitally, prompting participants to imagine how the tools of CBPAR might apply to all levels of research work at our institutions. His invitation was to recognize our positionality as researchers and to integrate community members as equal partners in planning, data collection, analysis, and dissemination of results to benefit the community and to improve the research itself.


These extensive and inspiring projects use the methods of CBPAR to challenge what it means to follow the call of Pope Francis and the Jesuit Universal Apostolic Preferences to “care for our common home.” When we as researchers enter a community different from our own, is it really our home that we care for? The hopeful message from this workshop is that through forming partnerships and recognizing the agency of all research partners, we can find shelter and a home, if only for part of our life-long pilgrimage.



Reference Links:

Workshop agenda:

Santa Clara’s Environmental Justice and the Common Good Initiative:

Centro de Información e Innovación – Asociación de Desarrollo Social de Nicaragua - CII-ASDENIC


UAP: Caring for Our Common Home

NCR Article on the workshop: