2015 Symposium | Speaker Profiles
Rev. Tafue Molu Lusama is from the South Pacific island nation of Tuvala where he was raised in the traditional island style. Today, Reverend Tafue Lusama serves as the General Secretary of the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu (Tuvalu Christian Church), which serves almost about 94% of the total population. Rev. Lusama earned his theology degree in Samoa and has pastored congregations throughout the South Pacific. He was named as the Program Officer for the Peace and Justice Program in 2002. Rev. Lusama earned a Master of Arts in Religion in Taiwan with a specialization in the intersection between morality, theology, and climate change in the Pacific Islands.
As part of his current advocacy work, Rev. Lusama established the Tuvalu Climate Action Network (TuCAN) in 2006. As chairman of TuCAN, Rev. Lusama has publicly advocated for his people on five continents, including representing his nation in important environmental negotiations in Kenya and Poland. Rev. Lusama places a particular focus on the moral and ethical implications of climate change, noting the importance of a biblically based Christian response to this problem. This topic is of particular relevance for his nation, as their very survival depends on our global response to this challenge.
Growing up in the Bronx, Alexie Torres-Fleming watched her borough burn. As a little girl perched on the ledge of her ninth floor window in the Bronx River Public Housing Projects she witnessed the fires that led to the devastation of the South Bronx in the late-1960s and 1970s. Although she was too young to understand things like ‘Planned Shrinkage,’ ‘Urban Renewal,’ ‘Divestment’ and ‘White Flight,’ she knew that it was a frightening and tumultuous time for her and all of the children of the South Bronx. When later urban planning initiatives sought to transform the rubble of her neighborhood, Alexie grew determined to see that local residents had a role in the rebuilding process.
Alexie Torres-Fleming herself left the South Bronx in her 20s to live and start a career in Manhattan. During that time, she learned the power of grassroots organizing through her involvement with the Williamsburg activist group, El Puente. She returned to the South Bronx in 1992, joining a community action group at the Holy Cross parish. When the church organized an anti-drug rally, local drug dealers attempted to burn down the church in an attempt to intimidate the activists. Rather than retreating from the threat of danger, Alexie and other leaders realized that they had the power to make a real difference. She founded Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ) in 1994 with the mission to rebuild the Bronx River neighborhoods of the South Bronx by preparing young people to become prophetic voices for peace and justice.
Faith has been a central component of YMPJ’s work. Alexie believes that the desire to promote justice and healthy community growth is at the core of an individual’s belief, and that faith gives people the will and the courage to stand up and do something. Alexie also believes that reminding residents of the Bronx that they possess the skills and tools necessary to engender change is as important a legacy as the concrete results that YMPJ has produced. She is proud of the successful projects that have added parks, provided access to the Bronx River and cleaned-up brownfields, but she notes that it is “even more important that I contribute to leaving a legacy of a community that understands its own power.”
A nationally and internationally sought after speaker, Alexie has received numerous awards throughout her career including the 2008 Rockefeller Foundation’s Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism, the Caritas Medal from the Vincentian Society for her service to the poor, and the “Servant of Peace” medal from the Permanent Observer Mission of the Vatican to the United Nations. In January of 2009, Alexie was named one of “50 Visionaries Changing Our World” by the Utne Reader. In addition to founding Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, she is the co-founder of the Bronx River Alliance and the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance.
Today, Alexie continues her public speaking and writing while also serving as Executive Director of Access Strategies Fund, a philanthropic foundation that harnesses the collective power of underserved communities to use the democratic process to improve their lives. She is a New Voices Fellow for Sojourners in Washington, DC and a 2014 Loeb Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.
Jason Fileta | Director, Micah Challenge USA
Jason Fileta grew up outside Chicago, the son of Egyptian immigrants. The plight of the persecuted church in Egypt compelled him to commit his life to fighting for a more just world.
After graduation from Calvin College with a B.A. in Sociology and International Development he was chosen as a delegate to the G8 Summit in Scotland. The delegates advocated to leaders for debt cancellation for impoverished nations, fair trade policies, and increased aid. This helped launch his long term work in advocacy focused on ending extreme poverty. He is the director of Micah Challenge USA, a church-based movement committed to ending extreme poverty through advocacy, prayer, and living justly. In 2014 Jason edited and contributed to a book titled Live Justly, and subsequently launched a small publishing company Lion and Lamb Publishing LLC that donates 1/2 of all profits to organizations advocating for justice. When Jason isn’t scheming for justice or with his two beautiful children his other passions include bicycles, sandwiches, and Louis L’amour novels.
John Elwood | Beloved Planet
John Elwood is an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, a leader in the evangelical mission to care for God’s creation, an organic produce farmer, and an active participant in cross-cultural gospel missions. He speaks frequently at Christian conferences and seminars, and represents Christian perspectives in secular, interfaith and intercultural settings. He edits the Evangelical creation care website BelovedPlanet.com, serves as director of the mission agency Care of Creation, Inc., and collaborates with numerous Christian ministries focused on care for the natural world.
Christen Civiletto Morris | Author and Attorney
Christen Civiletto Morris is an author, adjunct law school professor, mediator, and attorney. She’s focused on faith-driven action for the care of creation. Christen is a counsel of record for a recent series of toxic injury lawsuits stemming from the historic Love Canal disaster and has authored Green City Savior—a faith-based, environmentally themed suspense novel set in Niagara Falls. She resides in Western New York with her husband and four children.
Gerry Gacioch, MD. | Rochester General Hospital and Catholic Climate Ambassador
Dr. Gerry Gacioch is Chief of Cardiology at the Rochester Heart Institute at Rochester General Hospital. He helped found the “Care of God’s Creation” Ministry at Church of the Transfiguration where he attends. Dr. Gacioch has been named as an official Catholic Climate Ambassador and works to help Christians learn about Catholic Social Teaching and our particular commitments to care for God’s Creation and exercise an option for the poor. He also belongs to Doctors Without Borders and has volunteered in several developing countries.