An Interview with Christina Leano

by Gordon Nary



Gordon: Where did you attend university and what was major?


Christina: I attended Yale University and majored in American Studies where I focused my senior project on environmental justice. One of the major reasons I chose Yale was because of their strong community service program at the Dwight Hall for Community Service. During my college years I was very involved in working with the local homeless community, raising environmental issues through the Yale Student Environmental Coalition. I also helped co-found two groups, the Yale Social Justice Network and Salt of the Earth, an initiative to explore the intersection of spirituality and social justice.


Gordon: Where did you earn your graduate degree and in what specialty?


Christina: I received my Masters in Systematic Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. My masters thesis explored the theological implications of a Filipino American environmental movement that I was involved with, the Filipino American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity. The study reflected on issues of racial identity, spirituality, and social justice.


Gordon: Where did you complete your religious studies, and what was your favorite course, and why it your favorite?


Christina: While I was pursuing my masters in theology, my “home” school was at the Franciscan School of Theology where I was formed in the beautiful Franciscan spirituality and charism. At that time, the Graduate Theological Union comprised nine different seminaries and theological schools giving me the opportunity to take a diversity of classes. One of my favorite courses was Asian American Biblical Hermeneutics as it gave me an opportunity to read and interpret Scripture from my own experience as Filipina American and the backdrop of Asian American history


Gordon: When did you serve as Executive Director of Ayala Foundation and t were your primary responsibilities?


Christina: From 2004-2005 I served as Executive Director of Ayala Foundation USA which was mobilizing resources within the Filipino American community to support social development projects in the Philippines. There are millions of Filipinos in the United States who have strong ties to the Philippines and are eager to find ways to provide financial and technical support to communities in need.


Gordon: What were your primary responsibilities when you served as Nonviolence Trainer at Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, and share with our readers an example of one of your cases.


Christina: As a Nonviolence Trainer for Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service I facilitated workshops and retreats on the spirituality of nonviolence for schools, faith communities, and interested individuals. One of my favorite skills was to share the two hands of nonviolence. This is an approach to difficult situations or people that invites you to have an open heart, while also addressing any injustice, sin, or inappropriate behavior. It invites you to go beyond either-or thinking and to walk the nonviolent path, of seeing others as beloved children of God.


Gordon: What is your favorite memory when you served as Interpretative Staff at East Bay Regional Park District?


Christina: I loved having the opportunity to guide people in one of my favorite areas in the East Bay area in California, Redwood Regional park. The park held trees that were hundreds of years old. If we were lucky we might run into one of my favorite creatures, the banana slug.


Gordon: When and why did you cofound the Filipino/American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity and what was one of the major challenges that you had to address?


Christina: After college I served as a volunteer in the Philippines with an environmental group, the People’s Task Force for Bases Clean Up. This group was addressing the toxic waste left behind at the former US military bases, Clark and Subic. Surrounding communities were plagued with health issues as a result of their water, air, and land polluted by the US military presence. After 2.5 years I returned to the United States and co-founded FACES to mobilize the Filipino American community on this critical environmental issue.


Gordon: What were your responsibilities as Hospital Chaplain Resident at Alta Bates SummitMedical Center?


Christina: As a hospital chaplain resident I provided pastoral and spiritual care to individuals in the oncology unit and geriatric psychiatric unit. This included anything from listening to the concerns or fears of patients to leading groups in simple movement meditations. Every hospital chaplain resident had to be on call and in those situations I might be called to lead a prayer service for someone who was dying unexpectedly or even lead an emergency baptism. It was a privileged opportunity to be with people during such tender and vulnerable moments.

Gordon: What is one of your favorite memories when you were at Our Lady of the Redwoods, Cistercian Monastery?


Christina: Redwoods Monastery sits on several acres of gorgeous wilderness in northern California that includes ancient redwoods. Contemplation in creation was deeply woven into our monastic life in prayer and there could be unexpected surprises. I had a favorite stump on the edge of a field where I would often sit and meditate. One late afternoon I heard a whistling noise which I thought was a bird, until I saw two young mountain lions emerge from the bushes nearby who were the ones responsible for the chirping. I soon realized the young lions were communicating to a mother mountain lion across the field that I hadn’t originally seen! I was both terrified and in awe to be a mere feet from these awesome creatures. I


Gordon: When did you serve as Instructor for Theology: Faith, Beliefs and Traditions and Coordinator, De Porres Center for Community Service, Department of Campus Ministry at the School of Arts and Sciences and what courses did yu teach?


Christina: I worked at Barry University, a Catholic university sponsored by the Adrian Dominicans in Miami Shores, Florida. I taught the core theology course which all students were required to take, Theology: Faith, Beliefs, and Traditions. It was wonderful to engage students, Catholic and non-Catholic, in spiritual practices and theological topics as a way to reflect on their values and deepen self-awareness regardless of their faith or non-faith background.


Gordon: What is one of your favorite memories when you served as Associate Director and Coordinator of Retreats and Faith Formation, Department of Campus Ministry at Barry University?


Christina: There were many amazing student leaders at Barry when I worked there. One summer we participated in an action to support farm workers in Florida who were fighting for better wages and working conditions. I was inspired by the student leaders who spoke up boldly for social justice as a result of their faith.


Gordon: You are a consultant at Retreat and Workshop Leader. What do you find most rewarding as a consultant?


Christina: I love creating opportunities where people can slow down and connect to the sacred. There can be a precious moment when people transition from the busyness of their everyday concerns to a more interior, contemplative space. In this place they might be able to rest in God’s presence, access their inner wisdom, or hear a message in nature. I also love leading meditation, particularly being in silent communion with others. It is amazing the sense of connection you can feel in the silence.


Gordon: What are your primary responsibilities’ as Associate Director Laudato Si' Movement?


Christina: I have been blessed to have served with the Laudato Si’ Movement from almost the start of the movement’s beginning in 2015. Being with a start up, I probably have done almost all of the functions of the organization at some point! Today, I provide strategic and spiritual leadership across the organization with particular attention to cultivating a strong team and movement culture aligned with our values inspired by Laudato Si’. In addition, I manage our eco-conversion programs including the development of eco-spirituality materials, Laudato Si’ retreats, and coordinating of the Season of Creation, this special time of year from September 1 to October 4 when Christians worldwide pray and act together for our environment.


Gordon: What are our moral responsibilities to help to protect the environment?


Christina: As Pope Francis says in the encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home: “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” (LS 217) Creation is a gift from our Creator, and like all gifts we are to treat them with care and love. One of my favorite quotes from the encyclical is: “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” (LS 84) It is a reminder that through creation we can experience God’s love reaching out to us, calling us to be in a mutual, caring relationship. If God is speaking to us through creation, how could we not do everything within our means to protect creation from harm and destruction?


In addition, we need to “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”(LS 49) a quote Pope Francis draws from the Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff. We are called to live in solidarity with all of our sisters and brothers, particularly the vulnerable and future generations. More and more we are seeing how people, particularly in the Global South, are suffering due to environmental events or issues. These will continue to escalate and impact millions of people. We must do everything within our means to ensure that current and future generations have a world where they can live and thrive.


Gordon: Thank you for an exception and inspirational interview.

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