PILGRIMS from across Britain and the world descended on Paris last week to raise awareness of the need for political action at the UN climate summit.
About 50 campaigners from the UK ended their 200-mile walk from London to the French capital with a special reception on Saturday at Saint-Denis. At the gathering, the pilgrims handed over a global petition, consisting of nearly 1.8-million signatures.
The “Pilgrimage2Paris” walkers were joined by thousands of other people of faith who had trekked or cycled from around the world. The director of policy and public affairs for Christian Aid, Christine Allen, paid tribute to their moving and uplifting efforts. She said: “Seeing and being with pilgrims who have come from all across the world — the Philippines group, the African cyclists, and friends from different churches across Britain — was an amazing feeling.
“1.78 million signatures is not an insignificant voice to bring to the table. So I want to say thank you to supporters of Christian Aid, the Church of England, Tearfund, and CAFOD, and to everyone else who has campaigned, who has written to their politicians, who has prayed, who has fasted, and who has been involved.
“As Christians, we are called to be a people of hope — and hope is something that I’ve felt absolutely abundantly and tangibly today.”
Handing over the petition was the ACT Alliance ambassador, the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba. He said: “Climate change is a spiritual and moral issue. The poorest who are the most affected by it have contributed the least toward it. This is unjust. We call on our leaders to be bold, and to deliver a fair and just climate-change agreement. We can do it, we must do it, we will do it together.”
Many of the pilgrims were welcomed at a special event in the Church of Saint-Merri, in Paris, on the Friday evening. Caroline Pomeroy, who led a group of cycle pilgrims from the UK, was glad to have made a contribution. She said: “It was one of the most humbling and inspiring evenings of my life. We watched as group after group arrived, rucksacks on backs, speaking a myriad of languages. Our journey seemed too comfortable, too short, too easy, compared with many others; but I am very glad we made that journey and could be part of this extraordinary group.”
Why we left our shoes on the street in Paris
THIRTEEN bishops and many others joined the pilgrims at different stages, walking in solidarity with the world’s poorest.
They spoke of the hospitality of strangers, and the stories that they had heard along the way.
Their stories joined with the stories of hundreds of others I met in Paris, who had travelled by foot and bicycle from around the globe. People such as Yeb Sano, from the Philippines, who had walked across Australia, and India, and, if that wasn’t enough, from Rome to Paris. There was the German who had collected soil along her route, presenting a layered jar of diverse colours. A Swede had collected a few millilitres of water from every river she had crossed.
Marches were banned in Paris; so events were lower-key, but still poignant.
We placed shoes in the street, alongside a pair sent by Pope Francis, forming a powerful silent march, the shoes then to be donated to a homelessness charity. We gathered to pray and reflect alongside people of other faiths.
A petition with 1.8 million signatures, calling for a fair, ambitious, and binding climate-change deal in Paris, was given to the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres. In tears, she thanked people of all faiths for their commitment, announcing that the pilgrims had collectively walked the equivalent of seven times around the world.
Pilgrimage changes us, but it is not complete until we return home. We can still do more to protect our common home, and delight in the gift of creation. No longer can any generation say “We didn’t know.”
The Rt Revd Graham Usher is the Bishop of Dudley, and is one of the C of E’s environmental bishops.