‘The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt’. (Leviticus 19:34)
There are two groups of people walking this Autumn and Winter. They are very different to each other, and yet intricately connected.
The first group is the multitude of people trying to make their way across Europe, fleeing from Syria and other places where life has become impossible to sustain. Over the last few months we have watched the unfolding crisis, horrified at the scenes of death, panic, desperation and heartache that have been relayed to us through our various screens.
The second group is an eclectic mix of people taking part in something called the Pilgrimage to Paris: people giving up their time, their money, their energy and their comfort in order to pray and speak up for issues they care deeply about, calling on world leaders to agree a fair, ambitious and binding climate change deal in Paris. Many different pilgrimages are taking place around the world, all converging on Paris in time for these important talks, which start on November 29th. The UK one is setting off from London on 13 November and arriving in Paris on the 27th.
The current refugee crisis is one of the biggest crises since the Second World War. There are thought to be more than 4 million Syrian refugees outside the country, as well as 7.6 million people displaced inside Syria, where some 12.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
It is a crisis of immense proportions, but how is it connected to those who are walking the path to Paris?
The immediate reason why millions of people have had to leave their homes is the invasion of ISIS and the worsening violence in Syria due to the ongoing civil war caused by an attempt to overthrow President Assad in 2011. The subsequent deterioration of the refugee camps has then catalysed people to leave Syria in search of something better.
If we look further back, though, there is evidence to suggest that the uprising itself was caused by an unusually lengthy and severe drought, which a number of studies have linked to our changing and increasingly erratic climate. The factors behind the current refugee crisis are complex, but it is certain that climate change is a significant one of them.
The Pilgrimage to Paris is an opportunity to walk in solidarity with – and prayer for – the stranger: people not only from Syria, but millions of people around the world who are on a very different journey; travelling on foot, in boats, on trains; forced to leave their homes because of the impacts of the changing climate that are being experienced all around the world.
Reflecting on Leviticus 19:34, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has said, ‘I used to think that the most important line in the Bible was “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Then I realised that it is easy to love your neighbour because he or she is usually quite like yourself. What is hard to love is to love the stranger, one whose colour, culture or creed is different from yours. That is why the command, “Love the stranger because you were once strangers”, resonates so often throughout the Bible. It is summoning us now’.
Why not take a look at the route the Pilgrimage to Paris is taking and see if you, too, could love the stranger and join in, even if just for a day, or join one of the local ‘mini pilgrimages‘ that are taking place?
 See the useful briefing paper at http://www.climateoutreach.org.uk/portfolio-item/climate-change-and-the-refugee-crisis/.
Rabbi Sachs might enjoy Rabbi Jesus’ insight in the parable of the Good Samaritan: when asked for an example of a neighbour, Jesus offers a stranger, and a despised one at that. So there’s a little something in the New Testament for Rabbi Sachs. But love of stranger, by all means; I’d love to see more of that, in me and around me. I enjoyed knowing he thinks it that way.
The walk seems like a great idea!