Press releases
News archive
Selected books
ARC Home > News and Resources > News archive:

100 million people go on pilgrimage every year

October 28, 2011:

Around 100 million people become pilgrims every year – that’s the astonishing figure calculated by ARC ahead of the launch next week of the world’s first network aimed at greening pilgrimage.

The Green Pilgrimage Network will be launched in the presence of ARC’s founder, His Royal Highness Prince Philip at the Sacred Land celebration in Assisi, Italy, from Monday October 31 to Wednesday November 2. The event is organised by ARC in association with WWF.

The Network will help the faiths to make their sacred sites and pilgrim cities as environmentally sustainable as possible according to their own theologies and understanding.

Also launched at Sacred Land will be the first Green Guide for Hajj aimed at the two million Muslim pilgrims who visit Mecca (Makkah) every year, and a second guide aimed specifically at Muslim women, Islam and Water: The Hajjar (r.a.) Story and Guide.

A charming cartoon has been developed to support Islam and Water. View it here.

Why pilgrimage?

Pilgrimage comprises the world’s biggest travel events.
  • Around 100 million people go on pilgrimage every year, whether for a few hours, days or even weeks, according to figures compiled by ARC. (For a breakdown of the figures click here)
  • The largest human gathering in recorded history was the 2001 Maha Kumbh Mela, a festival held every 144 years in Prayag, Allahabad, India, which attracted more than 60 million Hindus.
  • The biggest annual pilgrimage remains the Hajj, in which around two million Muslim pilgrims travel to Makkah (Mecca) in Saudi Arabia.

    And far from decreasing in popularity, it seems pilgrimage is more popular than ever. A recent meeting of directors of Catholic shrines at Walshingham, Norfolk – currently celebrating its 950th anniversary – reported that visits to shrines in Europe were up, and the National Shrine of Our Lady, Walsingham, has itself enjoyed one of its busiest seasons ever.

    Environmental damage

    However, such huge movements of people inevitably cause environmental problems around the world’s sacred places.

    Pilgrimage sites that once had 1,000 people a week arriving mostly on foot are now handling tens of thousands of people descending by coach or car, and requiring refreshments that are not only spiritual, placing huge pressure on water and food supplies, sewage and waste disposal, accommodation and energy resources.

    The beauty of such places – which may have been one of the reasons why they were considered sacred in the first place – also risks being damaged, as does their wildlife and biodiversity.

    This is important as sacred places are often also places with vital biodiversity, usually because their religious value over the centuries has protected them from development, says ARC Secretary-General Martin Palmer.

    “Sites that are sacred because they are in part fragile are now under threat because of our desire to be in a special place where we can be touched by something more than just our ordinary world.

    "However, we may well be in danger of trampling underfoot the very places where we hope to raise our eyes to heaven.”

    Green Pilgrimage Network

    The Green Pilgrimage Network will bring faith and city representatives together to green sacred places.

    Founder members of the Network include sacred sites or pilgrim cities from 10 faith traditions, from Louguan in the People’s Republic of China for Daoists to Kano in Nigeria for followers of Islam’s Qadiriyyah Sufi tradition. For more information on the pilgrim cities in the Network, click on the link below.

    As well as preparing sacred places to receive and accommodate pilgrims sustainably, the Green Pilgrimage Network will also reach out to pilgrims themselves to encourage them to ‘treat lightly upon the Earth’ – both at home and on their journeys.

    Martin Palmer said: “The Green Pilgrimage Network will ask the faithful to live, during the most intense of religious experiences, in a faith-consistent way. To travel to a holy place, and to behave in it, in such a way as to treat the whole world as sacred is to be a true pilgrim.”

    25 years of faith action on the environment

    Sacred Land will also celebrate 25 years of faith action on the environment since the first Assisi gathering in 1986 when, as International President of WWF, Prince Philip invited faith leaders to consider how their beliefs, practices and teachings could help protect the environment.


    The Road to Assisi

    Read more about how the unique event in 1986, bringing leaders from the world’s major religions together in Assisi to consider their faith’s role in relation to the environment, has led to this year's gathering of faith leaders in Assisi on October 31, 25 years later. Click here.

    The first Green Pilgrimage Network members

    To find out more about the founder members of the Green Pilgrimage Network, as well as pilgrimage statistics, link to the Green Pilgrim Cities section here.

  • < previous 
    ARC site map
    Related pages

    Green Pilgrimage Network Launch & Celebration, Assisi, October 31 to November 3, 2011
    ARC will formally launch the Green Pilgrimage Network, in Assisi, Italy, on October 31-November 4, in the presence of our founder HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. At the same time, we will celebrate 25 years of faith action on the environment and the growing recognition of religions as playing a pivotal role in protecting the natural world.
    Green pilgrimage network members
    The vision is of pilgrims on all continents and the pilgrim cities that receive them, leaving a positive footprint on the Earth
    Projects overview
    A complete listing of all current ARC projects