Both Jerusalem and Haifa will be sending delegations to an October 31 event in Assisi, Italy, which will celebrate the launch of a global network aimed at promoting environmentally- sustainable pilgrimages among the world’s major religious sites.
Key to the new Green Pilgrimage Network, which is being launched by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) and the Worldwide Wildlife Fund, will be a link to “faith cities,” where pilgrimages tend to occur en masse annually and where sites must remain “as environmentally sustainable as possible,” according to a statement from the new group.
Instrumental in establishing this network was Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, who said that she actually proposed the idea of establishing such a network for pilgrim cities at ARC’s 2009 Windsor Castle gathering for environmental and religious leaders.
“I made the suggestion that we combine the strengths of cities and faiths, the meeting place of which is in pilgrimage,” Tsur told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday evening, noting that she will be appointed as a special world ambassador for the group at the Assisi meeting. “Since then I have been working nonstop.”
Creating a “world club” of pilgrimage cities would be beneficial, as “cities have green obligations these days” – obligations that Jerusalem takes quite seriously, according to Tsur.
Jerusalem itself has its own environmental plan that Tsur will bring to the Assisi conference, which includes a broad greening of religious institutions, creating a green pilgrim map and cleaning up the sewage flowing through the Kidron Valley to make it a “thriving, prosperous route for pilgrims, as in ancient times,” she said.
In addition to Jerusalem for Jews, Christians and Muslims, the other nine main faith cities will include Haifa for the Baha’is; Assisi for Roman Catholics; Amritsar, India, for Sikhs; Etchmiadzin, Armenia, for Armenian Orthodox; Kano, Nigeria, for Islam’s Qadiriyyah Sufi tradition; Louguandai, China, for Daoists; St. Albans, England, for Anglicans; and Trondheim, Norway, for the Lutheran Church of Norway.
Aside from the faith cities, other founding members of the Green Pilgrimage Network will include the Church of Scotland and its 1,500-year-old Pilgrimage Pathway in Luss, Loch Lomon; the Coptic Orthodox Church and its St. Bishoy Monastery at Wadi El Natroun in Egypt; and Jinja Honcho, the Association of Shinto shrines in Japan, the statement said.
The launch event and celebration, which will run from October 31 through November 2, will occur in the presence of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who initiated the first such gathering between religious leaders in Assisi in 1986, where they discussed how their beliefs, practices and teachings could be melded with growing environmental concerns, according to the organization.
During the Windsor Celebration 23 years later, UN Assistant Secretary-General Olav Kjørven described the religious effort to promote green issues as “potentially the biggest civil society movement on climate change in history,” the organization added.
“Today, thanks to that first Assisi event, every major religion takes ecology seriously and is involved in environmental projects, and the world’s religions are increasingly recognized as playing a pivotal role in protecting the natural world,” said ARC Secretary-General Martin Palmer, who organized the first Assisi event 25 years ago, in the statement.
“The Green Pilgrimage Network will ask the faithful to live, during the most intense of religious experience, in a faith-consistent way,” Palmer added. “To travel to a holy place in such a way as to treat the whole world as sacred is to be a true pilgrim.”
Also at the celebratory event, the network members will launch the first-ever “Green Hajj Guide,” which they intend to distribute to the two million Muslims that attend the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia each year.
While the network itself is beginning with the faith cities category as per Tsur’s initiative, she said that the group will also be adding other groups to the network, such as sacred sites and institutions.
“ARC was established to create the connection between environmental connection and faith,” she added.