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Standing in solidarity in Paris

Posted in: Comment
Date posted: 17 December 2015

Three of Operation Noah’s board members travelled to Paris before or during the UN climate talks, to stand in solidarity with those affected by climate change and to be a witness to Christian concern for the climate.

Jean Leston arrived in Paris on Friday 27 November, just ahead of COP21, as part of the Pilgrimage to Paris. She says: ‘The terrorist attacks in Paris, which happened on the very day we set out, brought a whole new dimension to our pilgrimage. We became even more aware of the brokenness of our world and walking in peace, justice and love – in solidarity with the French people – seemed even more necessary.

‘I also couldn’t help but reflect on the interconnectedness of climate change, terrorism and the current refugee crisis – and the many thousands who have no waterproof clothes or warm place to sleep in, or home to return to this winter.

‘Once we arrived in Paris, we were able to meet with pilgrims from around the world and it was so humbling to hear about their experiences. One couple had cycled all the way from Vietnam, which took them 10 months. I was also able to meet Yeb Saño, my faith and climate hero, who has done so much to call world attention to the urgency of climate action. Yeb and his People’s Pilgrimage group had just walked from Rome to Paris (a distance of 1,000 miles), carrying a copy of the Pope’s encyclical. We were told that, globally, pilgrims had walked 280,000 kms in support of COP21, or seven times around the world – the same number of times that Joshua walked around the walls of Jericho before they tumbled down. Symbolic perhaps?

‘The final highlight of our time in Paris was to hand in a faith petition containing 1.8 million signatures to Christiana Figueres, who heads the UN climate talks. She was visibly moved and thanked us pilgrims for each step we had taken, from the bottom of her heart.

‘I hope a Christian climate movement has been created that will engage our churches and continue to hold government to account on taking climate action. Our climate pilgrimage may have reached Paris but it’s really only just begun!’

Alex Mabbs is minister of Brighthelm Church in Brighton, which welcomed the pilgrims on their route from London to Newhaven. A few days later, he travelled to Paris himself, spending four days there with a URC colleague.

He explains: ‘Our original intention was to be there for the pilgrims’ welcome and take part in the public events that first weekend before the COP began. When those were cancelled, we had to curtail our plans but still felt it was worthwhile being there: to support the pilgrims, but also simply to be there.  We did our own two-man demo along the Champs Elysées, spent some time at the Place de la Republique taking in the memorials to the shootings, attended the pilgrimage reception, went to the multi-faith service at St Denys, and went to church at Notre Dame and to St Michael’s Anglican church, also to a service with the pilgrims on the Sunday afternoon.’

He reflects on these experiences in his blog, writing: ‘It was a humbling experience to be in Paris when pilgrims arrived from all over the world. I had walked with the UK Pilgrimage2Paris group for a day, between Burgess Hill and Brighton, and saw them off along the south coast the next morning. It was great to see them again at the completion of their journey.’

Ruth Jarman was in Paris for the final weekend of the talks. She says: ‘We were extremely grateful to Friends of the Earth, who arranged the travel, accommodation and two police-tolerated actions in the city where all gatherings of more than three people were meant to be banned.

‘On the Saturday we teamed up with three people from ShareAction to take part in a wonderful “climate justice treasure hunt” action, where groups of five or six people were sent all over Paris and asked to use geolocation on their smart phones to register their position. We were three points on the “T” of “JUSTICE” in “CLIMATE JUSTICE PEACE” that was spelled out over Paris.

‘We celebrated my daughter’s 16th birthday at a café at our last point, with cake and candles and then RER’d it over to L’Avenue de la Grande Armée for Coalition Climat 21’s powerful, yet partying, “RedLines” mobilisation.  Hiding our placard in my rucksack allowed us past the police lines and to the Eiffel Tower for a mass gathering of people before we did our bit for the French economy in the second-hand shops and brasseries of the 4th arrondissement.

‘After a year of praying, campaigning, emailing, letter-writing and generally trying to raise awareness of the importance of COP21, it was good just to be there: to simply stand in solidarity with all those suffering and working for a safe future. The Paris agreement will only be historic if businesses, governments, cities and communities go way beyond what it asks for, and soon.  The energy, creativity and commitment of activists in Paris these last two weeks gives me hope that they will.’

Protesters with "Climat justice paix" banner.
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