I mentioned in a previous post that I had a really neat experience on Monday in Vatican Square, more precisely up under the Colonnades, that I would share with you in a later post. Before I forget the story, I need to share it with you.
I had taken a seat against the end of a building just outside the square but in full view of one end of the South Colonnade to eat a bite of lunch I had brought from my Rome Home. As I was eating, I looked up to the Colonnade to see a group of very dark-skinned folks and one white guy involved in intense prayer, arms wrapped around each other in a circle. I also noticed mats, like straw mats, hanging over the railing and flowers in the hair of both men and women. I thought they might be Hawaiians, but most of them were far darker skinned than what I thought of as Hawaiian. After finishing my sandwich, I went up on the platform of the Colonnade to observe more closely but out of the way. They had a corner all covered with different mats on the floor, very colorful. I watched as a person would come into the center as they all sat on the floor and would speak. I was too far away to hear their voices. After the person spoke, they would all surround him or her and pray. Tears were flowing freely. I moved a bit closer to hear them then singing in their very beautiful voices, both men and women. This went on for some time. When they were singing “This Little Light of Mine”, I kind of started moving to the music. A very large woman saw me and waved me over to join them. I sat through several stories, all about how their homelands were being affected in various ways by climate change and how this was affecting their societies. These lands are experiencing not only rises in sea levels, but adverse effects on agriculture and fishing. In some places, where food used to be very abundant, there are food security issues. They were all from different Pacific Islands. Each person when they spoke talked about the mat they had, how it was made, how women interacted in a village in mat-making, the colors and feathers in them and yarn fringes. The mats represent so very deeply their homes, their ties to home and family. When all of the story-telling, praying and singing ended, the large woman, their leader, thanked me and the white guy for joining them. I asked if they would tell me about themselves, sharing with them that I was doing free-lance reporting. They are from a group called the Pacific Climate Warriors. They have been engaged in climate change issues in their region for upwards of 20 years. They usually are engaged in much more active initiatives such as last year completely surrounding a coal ship headed to China using canoes…..and they stopped it. They are also actively involved in education and in the political process as far as they can get. Most of them are very active Catholics in their homelands. They decided 18 months ago to start this Mat Initiative to come to Rome to pray for their countries and to “lift up” not only their countries but all countries affected by climate change. They worked with various entities to seek funding to come. One had gone to her archbishop who helped and one went to her prime minister who also helped. They all were very warm-hearted and very articulate story-tellers, a tradition I suspect that is part of their DNA. One woman told of how it took 18 months to make the beautiful mat she had brought and how it reminded her so of her grandmother who was the one who sewed the red feathers on the mat. She told of the role of grandmothers and grandfathers in their culture ensuring the next generation has the skills to endure and survive. Sounded a lot like some pope’s words I know about whose initials I use instead of typing out “Bishop of Rome”! At the end, they asked me to speak so I told them about the melting of the glaciers and the trees that die of bark beetle because we do not have cold enough winters to kill bark beetle. I told them about the coal trains. It all reminded me of something else PF has said in Laudato si: we are all interconnected. When I asked them if they had read the pope’s encyclical, they said they had it with them. They had gone to the effort to translate the English into their own languages to disseminate it among their people. They had all studied it thoroughly. They were going to come to the General Audience today to see if they could give the pope a mat. I gave them pointers on how to proceed to get as close as possible. We are all so interconnected and I hope they were able to flag down Francis. He would love these people.