An estimated 250 million people make pilgrimages each year, according to conference organizer and Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur. The conference hopes to highlight sustainable urban and economic development, eco-tourism and equal sharing of the public domain.
“We’re trying to take that moment in people’s lives, when they undertake a transformative spiritual journey,” Tsur told The Media Line. “We are saying that people of faith should understand the crisis that the earth is undergoing. They should become more responsible citizens of the world.”
Tsur hopes the conference will result in an international network of pilgrimage sites all committed to environmental awareness. One way of doing this is to encourage more walking tourism.
“When you are a pilgrim on foot you have to go on highways and roads so you are exposed to the traffic, to pollution, to dead animals on the road,” Dr. Christian Rutishauser, the Jesuit provincial in Switzerland told The Media Line. “You become so sensitive to environmental problems. I’m more green than ever before.”
Rutishauser, along with several colleagues, walked from Switzerland to Jerusalem in 2011: A seven-month journey. Their route took them through the Alps, the Balkans, Syria (despite the uprising), Turkey and Jordan before arriving in Israel.
Some of the other participants also came a long way – even from China.
“China has raced with growth for 20 years and that growth has led to distortions and terrible environmental problems,” Laurence Brahm of the Himalayan Consensus told The Media Line. “The next stage of growth for China will have to involve a green growth economic paradigm. We’re pleased that the new premier is interested in these ideas and there’s a huge opportunity in China.”
Brahm spoke at the conference about his work in Lhasa, China, to preserve the ancient buildings and traditional crafts found there.
Rabbi, priest and imam
Among the several hundred people who attended the conference sessions were clergy from different denominations. One session which was given by a rabbi, priest and imam from Rhode Island, offered theological ways of looking at environmental activism.
“A verse from the Koran says that God created us as different tribes and nations -- not to despise one another, but to get to know one another,” Imam Farid Ansari, of the Muslim American Dawah Center of Rhode Island, told The Media Line. “It also says, ‘Take not life, which Allah (God) has made sacred.’”
Imam Farid commented on the recent terrorist attack in Boston, not far from Rhode Island.
“In Newtown, a Connecticut a man shot and killed a bunch of kids and teachers and no one made any point of his religion,” he said. “It is only when a Muslim commits a crime does the media glorify the fact that this criminal happened to be a Muslim.”
It is his first trip to Jerusalem, and he said that praying at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was a deep spiritual experience for him. His colleague, Rabbi Amy Levin, said the partnership began as a series of breakfasts at a local diner.
“We have been engaged in building bridges in Rhode Island among people who historically have not been able to sit down at the same table,” she told The Media Line. “We have found a profoundly courageous partner in Farid stepping out of the Muslim community which did not have a long tradition of interfaith relations.”
Dr. Reverend Donald Anderson of the State Council of Churches said the conference offered an opportunity for his organization to plan its own multi-denominational pilgrimage.
“We would like to bring a group of interfaith clergy from Rhode Island here next year,” he said. “Sharing this type of experience builds trust and understanding.”
The conference was also timed to celebrate Earth Day with a solar-powered movie broadcast on the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. The organizers hope that Jerusalem will now offer new opportunities for sustainable tourism.
Article written by Linda Gradstein
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line