Seated at the airport getting ready for my long awaited journey to Rome, I was feeling excited. It was my first time to travel to Italy and I was full of joy. Next to me was my colleague Allen Ottaro who is the Executive Director and Founder of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa. Together we were representing CYNESA in the ‘Emerging Leaders Multi Faith Convergence’ in Rome which was organized by the GreenFaith Foundation.The aim was to bring leaders together to share ideas and initiate local action to address climate change. A lot was going through my mind but I was calm. Soon it was time to board our flight from Nairobi to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In Addis Ababa, our other CYNESA Colleagues, Desdery from Tanzania and Tafara from South Africa joined us. Ben Muyale too was there from Kenya. It was so much joy catching up and talking about our different expectations of Rome. An hour and a half later we were all seated close to one another in a plane heading to Rome. It was an overnight journey and so there was minimal talking and more sleep. Early on Saturday morning at 5: 40am we landed at the Fiumicino International Airport. It was a bright sunny morning. We went through the checks and finally found our way to the railway terminal station which would take us to Ponte Galeria. Later we took a bus number 808 to Salesia which was near Hotel Salesianum where we were to stay for the next 5 days.
Upon arrival at around 8:30am there were some few people who had already arrived. There were screams of excitement as we walked in the reception area. Everyone was happy to see the CYNESA delegation from Africa. We soon started catching up as we checked into our rooms. More and more people kept coming and the numbers kept increasing. Everyone was eager to meet everyone else and share their travel experience and get to know them a bit more. I was able to attend a small meeting to brainstorm on the preparations for the World Youth Day. The meeting was chaired by Lou who is spearheading the preparations for this big event that will take place in 2016.
Soon it was lunch time and that’s when I realized I was hungry and super tired (since we had not slept well the night before) but I had made a decision that I was not going to sleep at all. I could not afford to miss anything. During this first afternoon, we went with to St. Peters Square to organize the last minute details for the big climate march that was taking place the following day.
Stepping into St. Peters Square was a dream come true! I was all smiles and glad to be here. It was such a beautiful moment for me. Most of the preparation for the march were being finalized. We were taken through the plan for the march. Something caught my attention! The Holy Father, Pope Francis would address us. Absolutely no words can express what I was feeling. Just thinking of seeing the Pope for the first time was a big thing for me and I had a lot to look forward to. Having checked and ensured everything was ready for the climate march, we headed back to Hotel Salesianum.
There was a gathering of all participants where we were officially welcomed and briefed about the climate march. People took up different tasks. It was amazing seeing people from different beliefs and religion so enthusiastic about the climate march. There were Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Protestants, Catholics, and Jews among others. Thou our backgrounds were different, we had a common goal which was to protect our mother earth! After the briefing people went in for dinner. The food was strange. I tried some but still strongly missed my Kenyan meal. The evening was spent socializing with different people from different countries, trying to understand their work when it comes to conservation matters, the challenges they face and how they handle the challenges.
I was up early the next day ready for the march. I was among the 15 participants who had volunteered to help with morning preparations for the march. We left the hotel at 7am and headed to Piazza Farnesse where the march would start. The sun was already up and a good sign that it would be a bright hot day. At Piazza Farnesse, there was a lot going on. There were all kinds of banners lined up on the ground, there were designers doing some last minute touch to the banners and a truck full of the artificial leaves that were to be used for the march. Everyone seemed to be busy doing something. Soon we also got absorbed into the preparations. I went to the truck with the leaves and helped in off-loading it while others went to assist designers. As time went by, the Piazza got full. People kept coming and some had different costumes ready for the march.The air was heavy with great optimism and enthusiasm.
Every person who came got a leaf which had the words ‘I pray that together we can act to Protect…’ the holder of the banner would fill in what he/she commits to protect. Mine was to protect the poor and vulnerable to climate change. At around 10am there was a band singing and that sort of brought people’s attention together. We started the March soon after the band, heading towards Piazza San Pedro (St. Peters Square). There was singing, drumming, and repeatedly saying the words Una famiglia una Terra which means one Family, one Earth. This was such a memorable experience to me. This is because it was the first ever march that I attended and participated, yet it was so beautifully organized.
In the march I was holding the ‘Global Catholic Climate Movement’ banner. Everyone was free to carry whatever they felt was fine with them. There was also media houses from different parts of the world represented such as New York Times, Reuters, BBC, Washington Post, DW TV and many more. All aiming at collecting very nice pieces for their use. Some of our participants were interviewed by the different journalists.
The process ended at the Vatican City. We were allowed in and we made such a significant impact to everyone who was there. The entrance into St. Peters was heavenly and everyone noticed our presence. It remained calm as we awaited the Holy Father to address us. After a few minutes of waiting, there he was. We screamed in excitement as he greeted everyone and proceeded to address the crowd in Italian. I could not understand a thing but was happy to see the Holy Father who particularly thanked all those who took part in the climate march.
Later it was free time for all and I took the opportunity to explore the City of Rome. I walked around the town for hours enjoying the warmth, the beauty and rich history. At some point about 5pm, I lost my way and the worst thing was that I needed to be at Piazza Trilussa at 5:30pm to take the bus back to Salesianum. I asked some policemen I saw nearby but unfortunately we could not communicate. I could not understand their Italian language and they could not get my English. I was helpless until I mentioned the word Taxi and the four policemen said a loud “Aaaaaah” and in sign language directed me to where I could get a taxi. I quickly crossed the road and found a taxi lady who spoke English. I felt so relieved. She took me to Piazza Trilussa and I was just in time to take the bus. What a way to end the day!
The journey back to Salesianum was coupled with lots of interaction and sharing about the Climate March. Most of the people I interacted with felt that we made a big impact.
The next couple of days were also useful since we had different sessions that allowed participants to share their work experiences and also helped understand how different people are affected by climate change. There were sessions on ecology, climate change, leadership, GCCM and making an action plan. This sessions were accompanied by group discussions, presenting feedback, sharing personal journeys / stories and lots of socializing which would continue through the meal times. One particularly useful one was when CYNESA Africa formed a group and discussed how they would take the Laudato Si back to their countries. An action plan was drawn which once implemented would have great results. At another different session, Allen Ottaro also spoke about the origin of CYNESA and how it has grown over time. This was an inspiration to many. The sessions were carried out at a lovely venue in San Edigio which was a good change for everyone.
Every evening, there was worship sessions that were help outdoors on the grass field. All participants would form a big circle and take time to connect with creation through worship. Each religion had a day to lead the others into worship. I particularly liked the Jews especially when they blew the horn! I appreciated the different ways in which different religions worship and engage others.
Time went fast and soon our convergence was coming to an end. I had learned a lot, experienced a lot, interacted greatly and planned a lot as well. I had another chance of touring the Vatican City just before my 11pm flight back. I took this opportunity to buy a copy of the Laudato Si which I have already read and given a friend to read too.
Once I came back, the first thing I did was to talk and share my Rome Experience & the Laudato Si at my local church called St. Mark Catholic Church and the effect was great. I plan to create as much awareness as I can and initiate action at our local level.
Many thanks to the GreenFaith Foundation for such as a tremendous endeavor!
The time for ACTION is NOW!
Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA), Kenya.