pilgrims trek for 200+ kilometers

They came from churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples across the country, united in their passionate desire for a ceasefire—and in their determination to express that desire by walking—a long way.

The Pilgrimage for Peace, which lasted from 14-21 February, stretched for about 225 kilometers, split into daily segments so that pilgrims could rest for the night in local hotels or with family or friends. Local churches along the way offered respite as well, with snacks, hot beverages, and warm hospitality. 

On the fifth day, 18 January—when the pilgrims would walk 28 kilometers in Maryland from the small city of Havre de Grace to the town of Joppa—Rabbi Barat Ellman, from Brooklyn, New York, and representing Rabbis for Ceasefire, announced the day’s theme: “Climate justice in the war on Gaza.” 

She mentioned the effects on the air quality of fighter jets, tanks, and bombs. “We also march for the future of our planet,” she said. 

Ellman and the other pilgrims were welcomed by the St James AME Church in Havre de Grace, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. “I consider all of you my friends, and we encourages you in your witness,” said Rev. Dr Baron D. Young, pastor of the church. “We have the blessing of this nation that we can lobby and advocate for ourselves.”

To the seat of political power

As they finished their pilgrimage at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, with the White House in the background, they shouted: “What do we want? A ceasefire! When do we want it? Now!”

Rev. Stephen A. Green, pastor at St Luke AME in Harlem, New York and chair of Faith for Black Lives, reflected on why the Black leaders have joined rabbis, Hindus, and Muslims in calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

“Our nation—the nation that is the citadel of democracy—is continuing to profit off the bombing of children in Gaza,” he said. “The birth of this very nation is founded on genocide.”

We are all in this together, he added. “We are calling for the release of all hostages,” he said. 

Rabbi Alissa Wise, founder of Rabbis for Ceasefire, reflected that Jewish communities are bound to a tradition that recognizes every life is sacred. “This pilgrimage is about saving lives,” she said. “Stop the starvation. Stop the disease. No more forced displacement.”

Rev. Dr Leslie Copeland Tune, chief operating officer of the National Council of Churches of  Christ in the USA, described the pilgrims as a “multi-faith, multicultural, multigenerational” group. 

“We are here for restoration,” she said. “We are here for peace.”

And this isn’t the end of the pilgrimage—though it’s the end of the walk, she added. “This is a stop along the journey,” she said.

Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, interim president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches of  Christ in the USA, said that the different faith traditions may not agree on everything—but they agree on peace, a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, and release of the hostages.

“We walked from the seat of independence to the seat of political power,” she said. “That’s why this isn’t just a march—it’s a pilgrimage.”