Walking With Heroes

Walking With Heroes

Yeb Saño shares a reflection from his Roman pilgrimage with multi-faith emerging climate leaders for The People's Pilgrimage.

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Wednesday 19 August 2015 at 18:29
Walking With Heroes

by Yeb Saño,

Rome will always be one of the most visited pilgrim destinations in the world. Since ancient times, it has been the journey's end for many pilgrims. Today, millions still flock to Rome, and it can be said and seen that the cobblestones of the eternal city have been polished by the sheer volume of footsteps that have trodden these paths.

It would therefore be difficult to imagine a situation special enough that would make any pilgrimage here stand out.

But June 28 was special; at least for those who are starkly familiar with the planetary ecological crisis and for those who believed that something big — a global movement — was emerging. Indeed, that Sunday saw over a hundred young leaders gather and link up their hands from all corners of the globe, from a diverse range of spiritual traditions, cultures, languages, and experiences. It was a sight to behold, and for the thousands who were there to witness it and be part of it, it was a beautiful moment that brought an uplifting feeling that there is hope for our world.

Picture this: youthful Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Animists, Brahma Kumaris, in their colorful religious garb carrying a satin banner that read “Many Faiths, One Planet,” adorned by the icon symbols of each faith as they marched through the Via della Conciliazione and arriving at St. Peter’s Square with chanting and singing, greeted by throngs of people who themselves were carrying oversized leaf–shaped green cardboards that turned the piazza green. All of this thanks to OurVoices, the multi–faith movement that aims to bring faith and spirituality into the climate change conversation.

On that Sunday, the global inter–faith climate movement had taken a foothold, and what an auspicious place for it to happen.

Rallying literally behind Pope Francis’ brand new authoritative encyclical on the ecological crisis, faith communities have realized a new–found enthusiasm that brings the spiritual aspect of the problem to the fore. This is of course the same spirit behind The People’s Pilgrimage, a special journey that endeavors to get every community on Earth to embark on their own journeys as part of our manifestation to take a stand against the climate crisis.

It was therefore befitting that all of these amazing young spiritual leaders were gathered in Rome and extending the St. Peter’s Square climate march into a pilgrimage around Rome was of course the logical thing to do. As we headed out of the Colonnades, we were joined by at least a score of these leaders who wanted to retrace Rome.

PP in Rome

Praying with our feet, and reminding ourselves to tread on the ground softly, we made our way to the Palazzio del Giustitia, an imposing edifice that sat on the banks of the Tiber. While this building somehow suffered from ill repute among Italians for the suspect manner by which it was built in the late 1800’s, it was a good reminder for us pilgrims that there is more to justice than meets the eye.

The Pantheon, surely always on top of the list of the most recognizable ancient structures, teemed with people as usual. We made our way into the ancient temple, which of late has been converted to a Catholic basilica. It was severely crowded with swarms of tourists but its charm did not evade us. Some of the key stops of our little walk included the most remarkable churches adorned by the works of the masters with incredible detail, and many of the grand monuments that once stood as a testament to power. Our group found our way to the Synagogue, where we recited a few Jewish prayers, thanking God for the gift of nature.

Like on every edition of the Pilgrimage, we tread slowly, we are deliberate with our steps, as if we are kissing the black cobblestones with our feet.

We breathe. We recognize the power of the now, and we listen to music. We become present. And so in the cacophony of Roman tourism, with people following the guy with the bandana on a little pole, marching like herds to digest centuries of stories in a flurry, our group was peculiar, wandering through Rome purposefully, as if in a time lapse segment. The Pope may have called this bustle and senseless commotion that is destroying the world as rapidification. Thus, the pilgrimage is also meant to send a message of mindfulness, of slowing down the pace of our lives, and finding our purpose.

In our little walk, some of the participants got separated from us, as can be expected in the bustle of the tour routes, lost their way and struggled to retrace their steps, but eventually made it to the rendezvous point. The journey will never be perfect, and some of us will wander. But because we are all walking carefully, we eventually find each other again. The journey lives on, and the destination is not any physical place, but the hearts and minds of all people on this Earth.

What does embarking on a pilgrimage mean for us? In the Pope’s encyclical, he writes:

“Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.”
With deliberateness, we found ourselves walking through the city, rediscovering its wealth of history, and appreciating both its beauty and its quirks in a different sense. The young leaders who were walking with us gave the walk a unique meaning, and perhaps unknown to them, their unity of purpose had started to rewrite history. Being a fused group from diverse religious (or non-religious) backgrounds, they gave much life to the idea of an inter-faith community, and with every step, together they have started to create a global movement – one that transcended greed, arrogance, apathy, prejudice, bigotry, dogma, or plain pigheadedness.

Saving the world is not such a bad motivation to hold hands and march towards a new dawn.

These young people are greatly inspiring. I realized I was walking with the heroes of our time. They are changing the world in a great way, touching hearts, and touching lives.

As we completed our walk, we stood right at the riverside, away from the tumult and hubbub of what has become Roman tourism, we witnessed the waters of the Tiber gently flowing and creating eddies among the rocks and grasses. We spent a persuasive moment of silence and concluded with A prayer for our Earth which was offered by Francis at the end of Laudato si’:

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty,
not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


Yeb Saño  arrives this week in India for his next leg of The People's Pilgrimage. Follow along on Twitter with #PeoplesPilgrimage.

Stock Image from Shuttershock; Blog image by Ciara Shannon

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