By Jane Mellett, Companion in Mission
On October 4th 2018, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a group of pilgrims left Vatican City for a 1,500 km journey, on foot, to Katowice, Poland. Their destination was the UN Climate Summit (COP24) and the aim of this pilgrimage was to bring the message of [Pope Francis‘ encyclical letter] Laudato Si to this annual conference. I was privileged to join this group in northern Italy and spent almost 2 months journeying with them on this epic adventure. In total I managed to walk 1,000 km.
The group was made up of pilgrims from Europe, the USA and included Filipino survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan which struck the Philippines in November 2013. Haiyan was the strongest storm ever recorded to make landfall, its strength attributed to climate change, and it killed over 10,000 people in two hours.
On this pilgrimage we journeyed from community to community sharing these stories with all we met. We were hosted by families, parishes and schools along the way. Yeb Saño the leader of our pilgrimage reminded us frequently that our final destination was not just COP24 but the hearts and minds of all those we met along the way. The climate crisis was brought home to me on this journey, hearing the heart-breaking stories of my fellow pilgrims, some of whom had lost their entire families due to the climate crisis. They are the real faces and human stories behind the scientific data and facts. Our journey was quite intense as we walked across Europe in Winter but it was one which opened my eyes and ears to the cry of the earth. I find hope now in the student climate strike movement which has become a worldwide grassroots vision of hope. Scientists tell us we have 11 years to turn this around. The call of Laudato Si has never been more relevant.
I wish to address every person living on this planet…I urgently appeal for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing and its human roots, concern and affect us all.
Pope Francis, Laudato Si 1, 14