A Pilgrimage for the Climate - The Years Project

A Pilgrimage for the Climate

By Maggie Badore

Photo: Christina Leano

The journey from the Vatican in Rome to Katowice, Poland might not seem particularly far in an age of trains and airplanes, but eight faithful travelers have dedicated themselves to making this 1500-kilometer journey by foot. Their objective is to sound the alarm bell for climate action, and have set the United Nations climate summit (also known as COP24) as their destination. 

These climate pilgrims are inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’, which urgently calls for efforts to address climate change. In their packs, they’re carrying prayers and wishes written out on ribbons and pennants collected from around the world and from the people they meet on their journey. These messages will be delivered in person to the delegates negotiating at the summit in Katowice. Supporters can also submit messages or prayers to be included among the ribbons on the Climate Pilgrims’ website.

“What strikes me about them is they’re in lot of different languages,” says Jane Mellet, who started the prayer ribbon project in Ireland and is participating in the pilgrimage for a portion of the journey.

Climate pilgrims in Italy. Photo: Tomás Insua

Five of the pilgrims are from the Philippines, a country that is particularly vulnerable to many different climate impacts, including sea level rise, drought and worsening hurricanes. AG Saño said that part of his motivation for participating in the pilgrimage is to carry forward the stories of his close friends who died during Typhoon Haiyan. “I feel that there’s a responsibility to share the stories of people aren’t here anymore,” he said.

The other pilgrims represent the United Kingdom, the USA, and France, and several other travelers like Jane will join them for portions of the journey. Along the way, they are meet with schools and faith groups. In addition to undertaking the long journey on foot, some of the pilgrims fast on the first of each month, to show solidarity with people who have gone hungry because of climate disasters.

For the Catholics living in medieval Europe, a pilgrimage could serve as a form of penance, or offer a physical means to those seeking enlightenment and redemption. For these climate pilgrims, with their sights set on COP24, their journey on foot also finds common ground with social movements–like Ghandi’s 400 kilometer march to the sea in protest of the British salt tax. The journey connects activism and spiritual pursuit.

For Bernice Tompkins, from the United States, walking helps her be more physically present in her activism. She said just by being physically out on the road, their group attracts curiosity, and allows them to meet people outside of their faith or climate social circles.

“Walking allows us to connect with a lot of people who we would never otherwise meet,” she said. “A lot of the people we meet might not have gotten to attend a climate change event, or even hear about climate change events.”

To follow the climate pilgrims’ progress, you can visit their website or Facebook page