Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Thoughts on Epiphany: “We observed his star at its rising”

The Wise Men were probably astronomers and philosophers but most importantly of all they were ‘seekers’, looking to the skies for something that would bring them closer to God. They would have been familiar with the prophecy about a new King who would be a very powerful leader and may have been watching the skies for years, waiting for the right astronomical sign which would foretell His birth. Many astronomers have since tracked the skies from that time period to try to identify what ‘star’ the Wise Men could have seen. Some have identified Jupiter, not a star, which in 6BC was following that correct trajectory across the sky over many months. One must admire the faithful and determined journey that these Wise Men set out on, a journey which involved many risks. The Wise Men represent all peoples of all cultures and faiths who make such journeys in search of God. 

We often look for signs in our own lives, especially when we are looking for answers. Let us have the courage to take the risk and move out of our comfort zones in search of Jesus just as the Wise Men did. They had no idea of what awaited them but the Gospel speaks of their delight and joy when they arrived to that place. 

Related image“We often make do with looking at the ground…I wonder if we still know how to look up at the sky? Do we know how to dream, to long for God, to expect the newness he brings, or do we let ourselves be swept along by life, like dry branches before the wind?”(Pope Francis).

Friday, 30 November 2018

Hospitality on the Road

 "Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place." (Henri Nouwen) 

We continue our pilgrimage through many villages, towns, communities, schools, cultural centres, forests, highways, country roads and mountains. The past two weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions and challenges. I find it hard to express in words what we have faced as a group from the heartbreaking moment of losing Alan, our fellow pilgrim, to moments of hope and comfort as we are surrounded by so much support; our bonds of friendship and community deepen. This week we crossed into the Czech Republic from Slovakia. Since I last posted we have also walked across parts of Slovenia and Austria. The temperature has dropped dramatically and the lack of daylight is becoming more of a challenge. There is so much to say but for now I want to simply write about hospitality.

In each place that we stop we are hosted usually by a local faith community in either a parish centre, the local priest's house, schools or with host families. Occasionally we also avail of the wonderful community of couch surfing. In these spaces we have been treated so warmly, our every
need met. We experience the best of food and refreshments, warm comfortable places to sleep, hot  showers at the end of a 25-30km walk, somewhere to rest to recharge our bodies and our phones. There are two parts to each day of this pilgrimage, the walking and the resting. While resting we are also working as we often say that while the physical destination of this pilgrimage is Katowich and COP24, the true destination is the minds and hearts of the people we meet. In our resting we engage often on a deep level with those we encounter whether it be at a presentation or event or around the table of our host community. The conversations are not always easy, climate justice brings its complications and as it is a topic which ultimately will effect the lifestyles of people all across the world, it can be difficult. For those who find this topic baffling and unsettling they still listen attentively to our stories and our purpose. There is a space created that oozes a generosity of food and other necessities but also of listening and a desire to understand why on earth we would walk such a distance.

I'd like to share a few memorable experiences of hospitality so far:
In the village of Kuty in Slovakia we arrived after a day's walking to a wonderful welcome in the local church where young people dressed in traditional costumes and parishioners came out on a coldSunday afternoon to sing for us and pray with us. Earlier that day Fr. Francis, the parish priest, and a group of young people came to meet us while we were 11km out from the village and walked with us. It was a lovely gesture of solidarity and welcome. We were then treated to a total feast of food, drinks, laughter and song. It was our last night in Slovakia and the parish of Kuty made sure we had a good send off. On this journey our hosts remind us that we walk for everyone, for those who perhaps would love this opportunity and who want their voices heard yet cannot join us.

In Vienna, Austrian President Alexandre Van der Bellen welcomed us to the presidential palace. He walked with us in the People's Park as we experienced the first snowfall of the Winter. President Vanderbellen showed us around his very impressive office, spent time with us for photographs and wished us well for our journey to Katowich. It was a fantastic gesture of solidarity at State level. All the Climate Pilgrims were given a packed lunch for our ongoing journey which contained the most delicious bar of chocolate I have ever had. I should probably have a different highlight from that presidential audience than the chocolate, but it was seriously good. Joking aside, it was an honour for this pilgrimage to be acknowledged in such a way.

President Vanderbellen is one of 15 heads of state who this week put their names to a joint declaration ahead of COP24. I'm proud to say our own President Michael D Higgins has also signed his name to the declaration which states: "We appeal to the International Community and to all Parties to the Paris Agreement: Let us act jointly, decisively and swiftly to stop the global climate crisis. We call for a successful outcome at COP 24 in Katowice that will bring the Paris Agreement to life through the adoption of detailed operational rules and guidelines on all elements in the Paris Agreement Work Programme." You can read the 15 point declaration here. We were very happy to be hosted by President Vanderbellen, so far the only head of state who was available to meet with us.

Another memorable host this week was in the town of Vyskov in the Czech Republic when we stayed in a local Christian organisation's gym. The care taker was a lovely man called Jaromir who didn't speak English but his kindness spoke more to us than anything. Before we left he gave us each a special candle and a bottle of something to keep us warm, for medicinal purposes of course.

These are only some examples of the generous hospitality we experience each evening. Each meal we eat feels like a very special communion, especially when someone opens their home to complete strangers on the road. I have experienced such kindness and openness on this journey. Without these hosts, our pilgrimage would not be possible. We rely on the generosity of strangers and it is a lesson in letting go. We joke that this has become the food pilgrimage as we sample delicious local cuisine from the four countries we have travelled through. Welcoming strangers is a wonderful gift to give. It encourages me to be grateful every day for all that we receive and in a strange way has helped to melt away insecurities and worries that I might carry on the road. Each morning as we walk I am moved to a space of gratitude for what we have received from our hosts.In return I hope I will always be able to open my home to those who need space to rest.

"Anytime we practice hospitality we follow in the footsteps of our lavishly hospitable God."
(from The Simplest Way to Change the World)

"Then they told what had happened on the road, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread." (Luke 24:35)

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Saturday, 10 November 2018

Step by Step for Climate Justice

"An interdependent world not only makes us more conscious of the negative effects of certain lifestyles and models of production and consumption which affect us all; more importantly it motivates us to ensure that solutions are proposed from a global perspective, and not simply to defend the interests of a few countries. Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan." (Laudato Si, 164).

Part of this Climate Pilgrimage involves many events and actions. When we are not walking 24-30kms per day, we are speaking in schools, parish centres, meeting with climate activists, Mayors, church leaders or perhaps helping AG paint one of his amazing murals. Last week, in the port city of Trieste, Greenpeace Italy arranged for us to meet with Generali, Italy's third largest insurance company. The meeting took place in their beautiful offices in central Trieste; we walked from the Cathedral in procession with many supporters to the offices of Generali.

Gathered outside the main building Luca Iacoboni (Greenpeace Italy campaigner) handed us postcards to write on. These postcards had images of natural disasters from our home countries which have been attributed to climate change in the past year. The postcards were addressed to the Managing Directors of Generali. Each of us wrote a message pleading with them to be brave, be a climate justice leader, to turn away from fossil fuel investment and to stop insuring coal companies. We entered the  Generali building and were met by the member of staff who oversees corporate responsibility. Our Philippino pilgrims shared with them the suffering which has been inflicted on the Philippines because of the climate crisis and also their harrowing experience of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 15,000 people in 2013.

While these negotiations in big companies can be complicated and drawn out, Greenpeace Italy had laid the groundwork over recent months. Last night, as we were preparing dinner in an old school house in the mountains, we got the message that Generali had reached an agreement with Greenpeace and have commited to stop insuring new coal mines. I was really amazed as we had mixed feelings about how our meeting had gone with Generali. While the stories from the Philippines are terrifying and should be a wake up call to the whole world, I was unsure if we had touched the hearts of those we spoke to.  Something shifted for this announcement to have been made yesterday and for me it shows the power of the narrative that AG, Albert and our whole group carry on this pilgrimage.
Our Philippino brothers are the real faces of the climate crisis, so for me this campaign concerns more than something that is happening to people far away from me, this is now about my friends and their loved ones. Now it's personal. When we speak in schools I now look at the students we speak to and am fearful for them. The transformative power of this pilgrimage becomes more visibile day by day, step by step.

In Ljubljana some days ago we met with a Laudato Si study group, all young women who are university students. At another event later that night we met with a representative from Slovenia's Ministry for the Environment and the person who had translated Laudato Si into Slovenian. Climate scientists gave their data on the impacts of climate change so far in Slovenia and theologians unpacked the richness of Laudato Si for those present. We are all working together for a common cause. One young person from the audience asked if she could set up her own Laudato Si working group in Ljubljana and a Jesuit priest who was present committed to work with her on this. So while the climate crisis seems huge and impossible, I am witnessing a conversion of hearts, one person, one village, one company at a time.

The Generali announcement is huge and is down to the hard work by Greenpeace Italy but we all feel that we were part of the last push over the line. Whether it is meeting with insurance companies or encouraging groups of students to start reading Laudato Si, I am convinced that by walking we are contributing something very positive to climate justice. Statistics and figures will not change people's minds about climate change, we have to speak to their hearts. Whenever I hear of the effects of
climate change from now on, I will see the faces of AG and Albert. That is key, to  really SEE the other person. Love of neighbour in this context involves action and it has no time for indifference.

You can read the Greenpeace press release concerning Generali here: Generali

Outside Velenje Coal Mining Plant, Slovenia
"We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels, especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas - needs to be progressively replaced without delay...Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the 21st century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities." (Laudato Si, 165).

 You can WALK WITH US by taking action in your own country. Before COP24 begins in December it is so important that our governments are committed to immediate climate action:

Thursday, 8 November 2018

The Climate Pilgrimage experience so far

I have been on the Climate Pilgrimage now for almost ten days, joining the group in
A mural painted by AG Sano in Trieste
Udine in northern Italy during the severe storms which wrecked havoc on that region over the past few weeks. Heavy rains and flooding have killed 15 people in Italy; in Venice the marathon runners ran through ankle deep water and the next day tourists were up to their knees in it as they tried to navigate around the city. You can read about the floodinghere. It was ironic that I could not visit the city on the first day I arrived there due to the floods. A beautiful city at real risk from sea level rise.

Our group is made up of climate activists from the USA, England, France, Germany and the Philippines. We have an amazing support team organized by a coalition of NGOs such as FOCSIV in Italy, Greenpeace and the Global Catholic Climate Movement. In Italy we were led by our coordinators Claudia and Pepe and since arriving in Slovenia our fearless leaders are Patricia and Louise. We could not complete this pilgrimage without these people. They plan our route for each day, liaise with local NGOs and parishes on the events we speak at each evening and keep us well fed and watered. Logistically they make our journey possible and we only got lost in the forest in Slovenia on a couple of occasions so far! As a pilgrim all you need is the stamina to complete an average of 24kms on most days and the motivation to be here. Some days are easier than others. The rain has been relentless these weeks but you get used to it. The temperatures remain mild for this time of year and locals in northern Italian towns told us that it is ten degrees higher than normal at present.

We are greeted along the way by school children, faith communities, Mayors, Bishops, faith leaders, all who support this pilgrimage and who tell us that we are walking for everyone. In each village, town
and city that we stay in we experience the most generous hospitality. Sometimes we stay with families who may be associated with our support network, or a parish community hosts us; occasionally we are on the gym floor in a local school, regardless I am blown away by the welcome we receive in each place. Since I arrived I've experienced many events where at least 40 people gather to listen to our stories, to bring food and beverages, break bread with us, support our petitions, watch our presentations and generally fill us with so much hope and a sense of solidarity that it is hard to put into words.

The walking takes us through varied landscapes and the highlight so far was leaving Trieste, a beautiful port city in north eastern Italy, to cross into Slovenia. On that day we were joined by 15 people whom we had met along the way and who simply wanted to accompany us over the border. They came from various nearby
Crossing Italian Slovenian border
villages we had visited and walked with us for the 24 kms on Sunday. That is solidarity.

For the past two days we have been in Ljubljana following some rainy days walking. We have been fully occupied with events in parishes, schools and Slovenian national media are keeping us very busy. We even featured on a full page story in Slovenia's national newspaper.

Today is the anniversary of Super Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest typhoon ever recorded in human history which slammed into the Philippines in 2013. 15,000 people died. Please take time to watch and share this short video which features the story of Yeb and AG who lead this Climate Pilgrimage. We walk in solidarity with them and for them and for all who are suffering because of this global crisis.

In the run up to COP24 it is so important that our pilgrimage receives as much publicity as possible and that a strong message is sent to government leaders worldwide. You can walk with us by taking action in your own country. Please follow this link and share with your contacts, colleagues, friends.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Sail 'n Rail Anyone?

My journey to The Climate Pilgrimage began last Wednesday on October 24th. I left Dublin by ferry for Wales and from there took numerous trains to Assisi, Italy.

The climate pilgrims passed through Assisi weeks ago on their journey from Rome and I knew I wanted to visit there as part of this trip. It's the home of St. Francis, patron of the environment and creation, Saint of peace. A flight to Rome is cheap as chips but I had decided that on this occasion I would not fly. We all know the 'inconvenient truth' of the impact of flying on the environment and when you start to read into the facts it's actually quite disturbing. I'm no expert on CO2 calculators or on the aviation industry so I'll just leave a few interesting links for you here: and here:

One fact which blew my mind is that in 2017 only three per cent of the global population flew yet we flew 3.6 billion times.  Three per cent!!! Only 18% of the world's population have ever been in a plane. Once again it brings home the fact that the wealthiest of the world contribute the most to climate change.

It's unlikely that any of us are about to sacrifice our travel plans in the near future, nor is this about piling guilt trips on people. But maybe we could think about how often we fly and what the alternatives are. According to the above article by Wanderlust, Eurostar claim that a flight from London to Paris emits ten times more carbon per person per flight than their service from St. Pancras to Gare du Nord. My epic adventure last week was a long one I'll admit, I arrived into Assisi on Friday morning, but it was extremely enjoyable. Now there are a number of factors involved in order to take this option. I'm in the privilaged position at present to have the time to do this. Also I'm not one to shy away from a bit of an adventure.

My journey started bright and early when my lovely house mate Sarah kindly dropped me to Dublin Port (thanks Sarah, although it wasn't so bright outside!). I was in Holyhead in Wales by 11.30am and in the
centre of London at 4.30pm. For people in Ireland travelling to the UK it's certainly worth considering this as an option. The following morning I took the Eurostar to Paris and an overnight train to Milan. From there a couple more trains to Assisi.

Here my top ten perks of sail and rail in Europe:

1. You don't have to deal with airports, which will eat up half your day anyway.

2. It takes TIME. This is a good thing. You have no option but to SLOW THINGS DOWN. Ommmm

3. You see so much more countryside, coastline, sea, scenery, nature. . . It's good for the soul.

4. You meet far more people than you would on a flight. I counted ten people that I had full conversations with between Dublin and Assisi. That just doesn't happen on a flight. I was able to share with them about The Climate Pilgrimage and not all of them thought I was mad.

5. You can work in a much more comfortable way on the ferry and on trains.

6. It is ten times less damaging to the environment. (See articles above). You might be the eco warrior of the village but as soon as you buy a flight it's very hard to catch up that carbon count.

7. It's far less hassel... no two hour prior show up; no long security queues.

8. It is way more comfortable than a plane.

9. The journey is a destination in itself (probably a quote from somewhere).

10. You get a real sense of a country and you end up being dropped off in the middle of the city, not ten miles outside the city.

Just a few thoughts on the pilgrimage before the pilgrimage. I know we are all addicted to busy, myself included, and are unlikely to stop flying and trying to get 'there' as fast as possible anytime soon. But it is worth asking "do I really have to?"

Any downsides? The only downside was the loud snorer in the cabin on the overnight train from Paris to Milan. It always happens when you can't find the earplugs that are at the bottom of your rucksack. God bless her anyway. (Not the sentiments I used at the time!) Snore on!

"It cannot be emphasised enough how everything is interconnected...When we speak of the environment what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it." (Laudato Si, 138-9) 
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Monday, 22 October 2018

Our Common Home: From WMOF2018 to COP24 (The UN Climate Summit)

The World Meeting of Families event in Dublin in August 2018 had ‘Care for Our Common Home’ as a core theme running throughout the festival as we sought to bring the message of Laudato Si to pilgrims and a global audience. There were a number of eco-spaces helping to spread that message and one of the most interactive of those was the Laudato Si Prayer Space which was located in the main Prayer Marque in the RDS. This space hosted the Climate Justice Candle at its centre. This Climate Justice Candle has been on tour around Ireland to Christian parishes and community groups since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Pilgrims were able to write a prayer for the earth on ribbons or prayer flags which were hung on the surrounding walls. People sat on cushions having time for reflection, walked around the photo exposition and could sign the Laudato Si pledge if they wished.

By the end of the week, hundreds of ribbons hung from the walls of the prayer marque, holding powerful messages, a cry for the earth. We wanted to do something special with these ribbons and I am delighted that they are currently en-route from The Vatican to Katowich, Poland for the UN Climate Summit (COP24) which takes place in December. The ribbons and prayer flags are being carried on the backpacks of some mighty pilgrims who are walking from Rome to Katowich (1,500km) for climate justice. They left the Vatican on October 4th, the feast of St. Francis, and carry with them these beautiful prayers from WMOF2018.

This week I leave Dublin to join this Climate Pilgrimage, travelling by ferry and train to Assisi and then on to meet the group in northern Italy. From there we walk 1,000km travelling through Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia, Austria and into Poland for COP24 in December. The pilgrimage is being organised by a number of organisations including the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) and Greenpeace to bring a strong message to global leaders about the future of our planet.

A quote from the pilgrimage website explains our purpose: “Our journey is inspired by Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ letter on climate change and ecology. As climate change makes storms rage, deserts grow, and seas rise, people of faith are called to act. We love our neighbours, the most vulnerable above all, and solving climate change is an act of love. Laudato Si’ says that we need to “set out on the long path to renewal.” You’re invited to walk this path by tweeting at leaders, holding a conversation in your community, or even walking the route with us.”

When we began the Our Common Home project for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018, we had no idea of how this project would evolve. There was a real sense of the Spirit guiding us in all sorts of crazy directions. This pilgrimage, for me, has flowed out of that experience. I am honoured to be carrying these prayer flags and ribbons to Katowich and I ask that, if you can, you might walk with us, online, in prayer, in your community, your family, wherever you are. Please encourage your parish, colleagues and friends to go to the website and write a prayer for the earth and a message for COP24. We can all do little things.

"Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope". (Laudato Si, 244).

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Photo Credits: Laudato Si Prayer Space WMOF2018 photos(Jane Mellett, Barry Redmond) Climate Pilgrims at Vatican 4th Oct 2018 (Tomas Insua)

Monday, 15 October 2018

Sunday 25th November Christ the King Gospel: John 18:33-37

“So you are a King?”

Today is the Feast of Christ the King and this Gospel certainly gives us an opportunity to lay aside a lot of cultural baggage we may have about kings, leaders and kingdoms. The Jewish leaders want Jesus executed and so they bring him to Pilate who engages in a debate with Jesus on ‘kingship’. Jesus is accused of claiming to be a ‘king’ and this passage plays on both the political and religious meaning of that word. Pilate is concerned with whether or not Jesus poses a threat to Roman rule, while the Jewish religious leaders are worried about the type of ‘Messiah king’ Jesus claims to be. Through his ministry Jesus has shown them that His kingdom is unlike the one that Pilate, or many other earthly leaders know. It is a kingdom built on love, service, justice, reconciliation and peace. Few ‘kings can measure up to this. Jesus is a servant King, a beacon light for today’s world. Who do you know in our world today who is the more living example of this type of kingship? When you look at the world’s political leaders, do they shine like a beacon light striving for peace, justice and care for the earth? On this Feast of Christ the King we celebrate a type of kingship that is a display of radical love. What a different world we would have if all those who hold power and authority led in such a way. Let us pray today that all leaders will be open to listening to the Spirit and strive for a more just world.