A global campaign to encourage ecologically sensitive pilgrimages will be launched in Assisi, Italy, at the end of October by WWF International and a UK-based ecumenical group, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC). The Green Pilgrimage Network will help faiths make their holy cities and sacred sites as environmentally sustainable as possible, says ARC. Martin Palmer, ARC secretary-general, pointed out that hundreds of millions of people take part in various pilgrimages every year. “Pilgrimage sites which once had 1,000 people a week walking to them are now handling tens of thousands of people arriving by coach,” he said. “The impact can be seen in the surrounding environment, from the strain on water and food resources to the extra energy used and the additional waste and litter created.” A total of 10 faiths have nominated sites to become founding members of the Green Pilgrimage Network. Two are in Asia: the Daoist Louguandai Temple in Shanxi province, China, and the Sikh sacred city of Amritsar in Punjab. Jinja Honcho, the association of Shinto shrines in Japan, responsible for around 80,000 shrines, is also a member of the network. “The aim is for faith and secular representatives to work together to green their sacred sites,” said Palmer. In Amritsar, for instance, there has been a huge tree-planting programme, the area outside the Golden Temple has been pedestrianised and a modern version of the cycle rickshaw, rather than motorized tuk-tuks, is being promoted by the authorities. Punjab is also banning plastic bags. Next week’s launch marks the 25th anniversary of a gathering of faith leaders in Assisi at the invitation of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who will be present at the forthcoming event. The first meeting took place just before Pope John Paul II's “summit” of religious leaders in Assisi. Pope Benedict XVI will be in Assisi himself on October 27 to mark the anniversary of that event, with a group of invited guests joining him on what is described as “a pilgrimage for peace.” The WWF-ARC meeting was the first of leaders of five major world religions - Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism - to discuss how they could help save the natural world. It led to the launch of faith-run environmental projects around the world. “Today, every major religion takes ecology seriously and is involved in environmental projects, and the world's religions are increasingly recognized as playing a pivotal role in protecting the natural world,” ?said Palmer. “The Green Pilgrimage Network will ask the faithful to live, during the most intense of religious experiences, in a faith-consistent way. To travel to a holy place in such a way as to treat the whole world as sacred is to be a true pilgrim.”
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