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Green Pilgrimage Network
- During the Maha Kumbh Mela of 2001 about 60 million Hindus came to bathe in The Ganges river at Amritsar – 30 million on one day, January 24, alone – making it the largest ever recorded gathering of people. This kind of mela only occurs once every 144 years.
- The most visited Catholic shrine is Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, where each mass service can accommodate up to 40,000. The most devout pilgrims crawl for miles on their knees to approach the basilica.
- 2% of all US travellers – around 600,000 – said religious pilgrimage was the main purpose of their journey, as many as were going to conferences or conventions. (Profile of U.S. Resident Travelers Visiting Overseas Destinations, 2009, by US Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration).
- In accordance with Sikh custom, the sacred Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, provides free vegetarian meals to all visitors. Volunteers in the Guru-ka-Langar dining hall serve curry, dahl and rice to around 35,000 people a day.
- If all the estimated 100 million pilgrims that go on pilgrimage each year were laid end to end, they would stretch around the globe nearly four times (based on an average human height of 1.72m).
FIVE THINGS A GREEN PILGRIM CITY CAN DO
- Work with tour operators, airlines and others to develop carbon neutral travel
- Ensure sustainable accommodation for pilgrim visitors
- Provide clean, accessible drinking water and improved sanitation for pilgrim routes and destinations
- Bring faith organisations and local authorities together to create sustainable cities
- Create green maps highlighting eco-projects, environmental issues and volunteering opportunities for pilgrims during their stay
FIVE GREEN THINGS A PILGRIM CAN DO …
- Choose sustainable tourist agencies and travel arrangements to minimise the carbon footprint of the journey
- Eat and drink sustainably and ethically throughout the pilgrimage, especially avoiding bottled water and other packaging
- Minimise waste and dispose of rubbish (your own and others) sustainably
- Support work being done locally to green the sacred destination, both by assisting or financial donations
- Share the art of green pilgrimage along the way and after returning home
WHY MAKE IT GREEN?
At the heart of each religious faith there is a divine responsibility to preserve and nurture the natural world as part of one’s service to God. It is especially important, therefore, that in undertaking a spiritual journey every pilgrim tries to use the opportunity to benefit nature rather than exact an environmental cost.
WHERE DO THEY STAY?
Most pilgrimage destinations have developed all kinds of accommodation for religious visitors, from hotels and guest houses to permanent or temporary camping sites. The issue of accommodation is especially crucial for those pilgrimages like the Hajj which bring together millions of people at a particular time.
WHAT DO THEY DO WHEN THEY GET THERE?
Each pilgrimage destination will offer the opportunity for spiritual activity to those who visit. This may be a mass gathering and ceremony, a smaller more personal ritual or the space for private reflection and prayers. Where there are sacred relics or tombs, touching or seeing these may be highly important.
HOW DO PILGRIMS TRAVEL?
With the dispersal of religious communities worldwide, the followers of a faith can often live far from its place of origin. As a result all forms of transport can play their part in pilgrimage, from long-haul air flights and sea voyages to arduous journeys on foot. In many cases the journey itself is an important part of the process of spiritual reflection and self-denial (The Camino Frances walk to the Christian shrine of Santiago de Compostela, Spain is 780 km through mountains, though most pilgrims complete only part of this).
HOW LONG DOES A PILGRIMAGE TAKE?
There is no limit to how long a pilgrimage could or should take. For some it might be a day trip to a shrine, for others a long and arduous journey taking weeks. It is the spiritual significance of the journey that matters.
WHERE DO THEY GO?
Pilgrimage destinations have a spiritual significance for followers of a particular religion. This may relate to the origins of the faith (Lumbini, birthplace of The Buddha; Louguandai, where Lao Zi first spread the Daoist teachings of the Dao De Ching) or to events and people in the history of the religion (the Western Wall of the Second Temple of Jerusalem for Judaism). Many sites have sacred relics, especially the tombs of saints (the shrine of Baha’u’llah in Haifa for the Baha’I; the tomb of St Frances in Assisi for Christians)
WHY DO THEY DO IT?
There are many reasons for taking a pilgrimage. It may be that it is a sacred duty, to be undertaken, if possible, once in a lifetime (the Muslim Hajj to Mecca), a chosen opportunity for spiritual renewal (Sikhs visiting the Golden Temple of Amritsar) or to seek a specific benefit (Christians going to Lourdes seeking relief from illness or disability; Hindus scattering the ashes of relatives in the Ganges river at Varanasi).
WHO GOES ON A PILGRIMAGE?
It is estimated that every year around 100 million people undertake some form of pilgrimage. These take place on every continent and within every major religion. The Maha Kumbh Mela in 2001 was attended by around 60 million Hindus and was the largest gathering of people ever recorded.
WHAT IS A PILGRIMAGE?
A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred destination undertaken by the followers of a religion for their spiritual development and well-being.