Network aims to make pilgrimage a greener experience
- A new interfaith network has been launched to help make pilgrimage sites more environmentally sustainable.
- Some 10 cities and faith traditions have joined, including the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel.
- Other sites include the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar in India, the Armenian Orthodox holy city of Etchmiadzin in Armenia, and Jerusalem — a major pilgrimage destination for the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.
ASSISI, Italy — An estimated 100 million people make some kind of pilgrimage every year, some for a few hours, others for days or months.
To address the environmental impact of these journeys — and to assist the world’s holy places to become as environmentally sustainable as possible — a new network has been organized to help make sacred sites around the world more environmentally sustainable.
Representatives of some 15 faith traditions, along with secular and environmental organizations, gathered here November 2011 to launch the world’s first global commitment to green pilgrimage.
Local governments and faith groups responsible for 10 holy sites have become the first to join the network. They include the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar in India, the Armenian Orthodox holy city of Etchmiadzin in Armenia, and Jerusalem — a major pilgrimage destination for the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.
The Bahá’í World Centre — and the city of Haifa, Israel, where it is located — have also become founding members of the Network. Last year alone, the Bahá’í holy places attracted around 750,000 pilgrims and visitors.
“The Green Pilgrimage Network will ask the faithful to live, during the most intense of religious experiences, in a faith-consistent way,” said Martin Palmer, Secretary-General of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), which has established the Network in association with WWF.
“To travel to a holy place in such a way as to treat the whole world as sacred is to be a true pilgrim,” said Mr. Palmer.
Mr. Palmer said other faith and pilgrimage sites are expected to join in the future. “This is an invitation to all holy places to put into practice what they preach — namely, that when we walk upon this Earth, we walk on sacred land,” he said.
The Network was launched in the presence of Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent at the Sacred Land celebration, held in Assisi from 31 October to 2 November.
Some 90 delegates from around the world — representing all the major faiths — took part in a two-day conference which examined the way forward for religion and environmentalism, and the Green Pilgrimage Network.
The Bahá’í International Community was represented at the event by Jalal Hatami, its Deputy Secretary-General.
“The Bahá’í World Centre is discussing with the authorities in Haifa how to make the city more ecological,” said Mr. Hatami. “This includes promoting the use of public transport among all citizens and greener practices in the hospitality sector, improving the management of energy and water, and encouraging more recycling and waste reduction.”
Mr. Hatami described hearing about the various initiatives already under way in various holy cities as “very inspiring.”
“It demonstrated that the faith communities have much to say about the environment and can really make an impact if they work towards common goals,” he said.
For members of the Bahá’í Faith, pilgrimage currently involves a visit to the cities of Haifa and Akka for a period of 9 days, during which they visit the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, the Shrine of the Báb, and other Bahá’í holy places in the Haifa-Akka area.