NEW YORK — Just two weeks before the feast of St. Francis, patron saint of the environment, thousands from across the United States assembled in Midtown Manhattan for the People’s Climate March to show their concern for the planet. The Franciscan call to care for creation was heard Sunday amid many passionate voices at the event, what some are calling the largest climate demonstration to date. Close to 400,000 people participated to urge policymakers to take action against climate change, according to news reports.
The event, held two days before world leaders met at the U.N. to discuss global climate concerns, was held to draw attention to the impact of climate change.
Representatives of Franciscan communities were among the many faith-based groups. They carried signs, prayed, sang, chanted and talked with other participants hoping to reduce the impact that humans have on the Earth.
“It is important that we participate in events like this because concern for creation is at the heart of our spirituality,” said Julian Jagudilla, OFM, of St. Francis Parish on West 31st Street. “We believe in the interconnectedness of human rights and environmental justice.”
Members of the social justice ministry from St. Mary’s Parish, Pompton Lakes, N.J., were visible, carrying banners with several messages: “Franciscan Response to Climate Change” and “Praised be You, Sister Water, who is useful, humble, precious and pure,” from St. Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures. Franciscan friars communicated their presence by wearing their habits.
“The march has energized us to continue what we have been doing,” said Jackie Schramm, director of St. Mary’s Social Justice Ministry. “We are encouraged by the diversity of this movement.”
Participants were organized by the interest group they represented, including labor, students, science and other categories. The religious affiliated groups gathered with other faith-based communities. Before walking, they participated in an interfaith prayer service.
The march was emotional, said Schramm. “I am still moved by the feelings caused by hearing the different chants and prayers, and all the instruments at one time, with flags and banners waving, elevating us as we began to march. I was not prepared for the overwhelming sense of united experience at the faith community rally before we began marching. From Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, Muslin, Quaker, Unitarian to atheists, humanists and spiritual seekers, the chants, songs and prayer uplifted us for hours.”
St. Mary’s Parish has been involved with climate change initiatives for several years. Its JustFaithMinistry formed an environmental group in 2006 called North Jersey Citizens for Environmental Action, Schramm said. The group has sought to educate the community about global warming, fracking and climate change, among other issues.
At 1 p.m. on Sunday, St. Mary’s rang bells in solidarity with the marchers.
The march was significant because of its size, said Renee Allessio, of the Pompton Lakes group. “The value of a large event like the People’s Climate March is that it gains media attention toward this important issue. Maybe someone will see the news and want to learn more about why so many people came to this event. It was wonderful seeing our Franciscan brothers and sisters, and the mix of all religions, walking peacefully for a sustainable future.”
Julian, director of the Migrant Center of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, said it was important to represent the Franciscans. He walked with the Pompton Lakes group and with members of the Franciscan Action Network, and was stopped several times by passersby, who asked if he was a monk.
The discussion about God’s creation continued into the week. On Sept. 22, the Franciscan Action Network held an interfaith panel discussion at the Province’s San Damiano Hall. Speakers included GreenFaith’s executive director, Rev. Fletcher Harper, who organized the march’s faith-based groups.
“Many environmental activists are encouraged by the swell in numbers of people getting involved and standing for what they believe,” said Schramm. “We realize this march is just the beginning and hope that the numbers will grow exponentially to change the tide and course of our planet.”
St. Mary’s Parish is holding a Care for Creation Fair on Oct. 5 to educate parishioners about ways they can take immediate action for the cause.
Photos and information about Sunday’s event can be found on the website and Facebook page of the People’s Climate March. Resources about climate change and care for creation can be found in the Justice and Peace section of the Province’s website.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.