Positive impact of ‘green’ pilgrimage

Canterbury hosts meeting of European experts on pilgrimage.Conference highlights positive impact of ‘green’ pilgrimage for Kent

18 May 2017

  • Canterbury hosts meeting of European experts on pilgrimage

  • Pilgrimage the fastest growing sector within the travel industry

  • New European funded project to help develop eco-friendly pilgrimage in Kent

‘Pilgrimage has the power to make a significant positive impact on Kent and the wider global environment.’ That was the message to faith representatives, local businesses and policy makers in Canterbury this week (15 to 19 May), at the launch of a major new European Union funded project to promote ‘green’ pilgrimage. 

Pilgrimage is a growing industry. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, more than 330 million people - a third of tourists worldwide - are going on pilgrimage each year to key religious sites around the world. In the UK, Scotland in particular has seen a significant upward trend in faith tourism, with Visit Scotland reporting that it is their fastest growing market, with two million overseas visitors sharing in worship each year.

How to harness the positive potential of this growth was the focus of conversation at the conference. Experts shared their experience of managing pilgrim destinations and routes across Europe in more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways. They highlighted the benefits this brought to local people, such as the growth of local economies, the protection of local landscapes, as well as local cultures and traditions.

Held in the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral - itself a UNESCO World Heritage site and pilgrim destination - the conference marks the start of the five-year Green Pilgrimage project funded by Interreg Europe. Its aim is to promote awareness and growth of environmentally friendly pilgrimage across the continent, and will eventually lead to the creation of practical projects to develop and support pilgrim pathways in regions like Kent.

A day-trip to the Roman Catholic Shrine of St. Augustine in Ramsgate gave delegates the chance to hear how the pilgrim experience is already being enhanced there in eco-friendly ways through the creation of interesting and novel partnerships. This includes working with other Christian organisations like the Diocese of Canterbury and Canterbury Cathedral, as well as local businesses like Canoe Wild and Champing.co.uk, to establish the Way of St. Augustine – a route that can be travelled on foot or by boat between Canterbury and Ramsgate.

The conference was organised by the Church of England’s Diocese of Canterbury which is a partner in the project, along with Kent County Council and pilgrimage places from Norway, Italy, Romania and Sweden. Speaking at the conference, Rt Rev Trevor Willmott, the Bishop of Dover, said that the renewed interest in pilgrimage by people of faith and none is to be welcomed:

“Pilgrimage is not just about getting from A to B, but about the invitation to accept encounters; encounters with oneself, with others, with God and with the environment. Kent is blessed with many ancient pilgrim pathways, some better known than others. This projects presents an exciting opportunity to work together to develop pilgrimage that emphasises the ‘green’ values of care for the environment, engagement with local products and services, and tolerance through welcome and hospitality; values so important in these uncertain times.”

Catherine Brady, European and Project Development Manager for the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Kent County Council, and Co-ordinator of the Interreg Europe Green Pilgrimage Project, said that pilgrimage presented a real opportunity for Kent:

We hope that religious groups, Kent businesses and local policy makers have been suitably inspired by the conference as to the environmental, economic, spiritual and well-being benefits offered by pilgrimage and long distance walking. As the project progresses, we look forward to sharing our vision to seek further funding to invest in the physical routes themselves, to improve signage and to support rural churches and businesses who want to provide services for the growing number of pilgrims coming to Kent and the UK in general.”


For more information please contact Jennifer Ross, Communications Officer at the Diocese of Canterbury on 01227 459 401 / 07702840074 or jross@diocant.org


Photos show:

  • Delegates enjoy a series of inspiring presentations showing how the demand for pilgrimage has grown rapidly in recent years.

  • Bishop Trevor Willmott speaks about why pilgrimage matters

  • A visit to the Shrine of St. Augustine gives delegates practical insight

  • At St. Augustine's Shrine local fish and chips are on the menu!

  • The Green Pilgrimage Project is a five year European Union project funded by Interreg Europe. It brings together seven partners from the UK, Norway, Sweden, Italy and Romania to work in partnership - from now until 2021 - to undertake research into best practice, study visits and exchanges with other currently successful ‘green’ pilgrim routes - such as the Way of St. James to Santiago Compostela in Spain. This is to support the development of a series of action plans, and further funding bids, to deliver improved policy and practice for pilgrimage in their regions. In the UK, the work is being undertaken by representatives from the Diocese of Canterbury, Kent County Council and Norfolk County Council. For more information about the project visit: http://www.interregeurope.eu/greenpilgrimage/

  • The project is being further advised by the European Green Pilgrimage Network, a faith-led network of pilgrim places, pathways and cities in Europe that are committed to promoting green, or environmentally friendly, pilgrimage. Its vision is that pilgrims leave a positive footprint on the earth, and that pilgrim places become models of care for the environment. It has created a series of free resources on green pilgrimage which can be found here:  http://www.greenpilgrimageeurope.net/toolkits--downloads.html

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