On October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, we embarked on the climate pilgrimage from St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican to Katowice, Poland, the site of this year’s UN climate talks, COP24. The 1500 Km (950 Miles) walk will last for over 30 days with several climate advocacy events scheduled along the way to Katowice. Prior to our departure from the Vatican, we had prayers and blessings led by Fr. Don Francesco Pesce, the Vicar of the Diocese of Rome. We also had a few words of encouragement from Yeb Saño, the former lead climate negotiator for the Philippines and the leader of The Climate Pilgrimage. You might recall the devastation of the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, which killed over 6,000 people and was likely made more powerful by climate change. Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan are among the pilgrims. They are marching in solidarity with the most vulnerable people and lifting up a strong cry for climate justice.
Three hours into our first day’s journey, we stopped for an online ecumenical prayer service that was organized by the Global Catholic Climate movement and joined by Christian and environmental leaders from around the world.
The Climate Pilgrimage shares a message of care for creation along the way encouraging communities to address the core message and calls to action in the way that best suits the local contexts. Wherever we stop to rest we take the opportunity to meet the local community to listen and to share with them our call for climate justice. More information about the pilgrims’ call to action is here. Several days into the journey we have walked and had conversations with people in different communities along the way including Anguillara Sabazia, Campagnano di Roma, Romita di Cesi, Spoleto, Trevi, Foligno, Assisi, etc see the Italian part of the journey.
We are on this pilgrimage because we want to raise a prophetic voice for action on climate change. Grounded in the values of the Catholic faith, we want to urge leaders to act in courage and love to protect the Earth. Achieving this vision will protect people around the world, especially the most vulnerable.
Our pilgrimage is guided by laudato si,’ Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on climate change and ecology. Many of us pilgrims are Catholic, and all of us are grateful for the wisdom in the encyclical, which is addressed to “every person living on this planet.” (3)
Laudato Si’ encourages us to see that “a great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of
renewal.” (202) We pray for the healing of humanity’s spirit. We pray for justice for the poor and vulnerable, who are disproportionately affected by the consequences of climate
change–its dirtier air, sicker families, more extreme weather, and growing hunger.
Laudato Si’ draws us toward an “ecological conversion,” in which the values of our
faith–love of our Creator, love for our neighbours– is demonstrated in how we preserve
the resources of our common home. (216) We pray for ecological conversion among people of faith and all people of good will.
As I walk along with other pilgrims from different parts of the world praying, singing and admiring the mountains, valleys, trees, flowers, birds, and the people we meet along the way, I realize, like Saint Francis, the beauty of creation and the image of God in each one of them. I am reminded of St. Francis’ Canticle of creatures and his view of “cosmic fraternity”, the idea that all creatures have dignity in them and so we need to treat them as our brother and sister.
A Swahili proverb says Mwenda pole hajikwai. “He who moves forward slowly does not trip” so our pilgrimage went forward slowly but surely. Walking, we discovered that the world desperately needs dreamers who bring together their individual dreams. Hopes that unite the different people. People who bring together actions, small gestures, good practices. Everyone who can help to stop climate change.
Why do we walk? Because as Erlin Kagge, a Norwegian writer, says: “I put my shoes on. I let my thoughts wander a bit. And now I’m sure of one thing: putting one foot in front of the other is one of the most important actions we can perform. So let’s go.”FOCSIV Italia,
Ben Ayodi OFMCap