Joint ACT/LWF/WCC group at Climate march during COP22 in Marrakech. Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

Joint ACT/LWF/WCC group at Climate march during COP22 in Marrakech. Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

A lively and youthful, but demanding, voice of the faith groups was heard clearly in the streets of Marrakech last Sunday, where a joint group from the ACT Alliance, the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches (WCC) marched among several thousand activists to demand environmental justice during the United Nations (UN) climate conference COP22.

“One of the most thrilling things was to see the real, dedicated and exultant participation of the groups from Morocco - environmental and social justice groups, women’s groups, farmers, trade unions, human rights workers”, said a participant in the climate march, Joy Kennedy from the Canadian Council of Churches, who is a member of WCC working group on climate change. “They really led, and it felt wonderful to join in and accompany people who were standing in their own space, marching in their own community for the first time like this.”

International climate groups also fully participated in the march as environmentalists and  social justice groups that comprise the movement to decrease dependency on fossil fuels. “Those were the people bringing the messages of other people from all over the world to join the procession. For me it was almost liturgical – honouring the culture, traditions and the spirit of the people whose desire is for peace and freedom, dignity, sustainability and justice. The message I saw throughout the whole parade over and over was about climate justice – it was very clear”, said Kennedy.

The March drew together different generations of people – there were families and children, old people and young people. “And you could feel the energy of the young people – in their faces, movement, expression. For us, churches, that gave a huge feeling of encouragement – that there is a future we are fighting for, worth struggling and hoping and praying for. We are in the kingdom of Morocco – but we are experiencing the glimpses of what the Kingdom on earth is like.”

African young leaders of their churches in the ACT group were participating in creative, competent, yet youthful ways, causing people to smile everywhere they walked. “At first they chanted in English, then in French – it was moderate. But then they were taught to chant “climate justice now” in Arabic and they turned that into singing – people all around in the streets were smiling, laughing and applauding – there was instant resonance”, said Kennedy. “It was like a move of the spirit – it was just incredible. And it gives me hope that the young generations get it and they will make it happen. “

As a churches and faith communities, we know that we need to be in negotiating rooms and strategizing rooms - but we also need to be in the streets, said Kennedy, adding that the voice of the participating faith groups was heard well in the streets of Marrakech, as they were singing at the top of their lungs at the end of the procession. “In some ways it is the role of people of faith to come along and clean up the mess left behind. When they were singing ‘We are marching in the light of God,’ everyone could relate to that”, said Kennedy, describing the experience as a marvellous and genuine witness. “It came out of the depth of their souls – you could not help to start singing along with them. That’s real liturgical leadership, where you are just drawn to sing along.”

The COP 22 climate conference, taking place from 7-15 November in Marrakech, Morocco, has gathered 22,000 delegates, observers and representatives of the civil society from 196 countries. COP22 is regarded as a crucial next step for governments and other parties to operationalize the Paris Climate Change Agreement adopted last year, which came into force just a few days before the conference.

Related links:

Photos from faith-based events at COP22:

Faith communities explore concrete climate action at COP22 (WCC news release from 10 November 2016)

Advocates urge transition to low-carbon economy, clean energy (Joint news release by ACT Alliance/LWF/WCC from 9 November 2016)