The anti-capitalist Occupy movement, whose protest camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral caused a rift within the Church of England, returned to the cathedral today with a new strategy: the pilgrimage of protest.
Occupy Faith, a protest group associated with the Occupy movement, includes people of all faiths who share the movement’s goals of encouraging greater social justice and condemning corporate greed.
A band of around 30 protesters set off from the steps of St Paul’s on a “Pilgrimage for Justice”, which will see them walking 62 miles to Canterbury Cathedral, staying in churches or camping on open land along the way – all the time spreading the “good word” about their movement.
Among their number were a Catholic priest, a Protestant vicar, a Muslim Imam and a United Reform Church Minister.
Paul Nicolson, and 80-year-old retired priest from the village of Turville in Buckinghamshire, said that the broad aims of the Occupy movement chimed with Christian values.
“I supported them from the moment the first tent went up,” he said. “The government is making laws to make things even harder for the very poorest in our society, who cannot afford to pay their bills or their rent and are now having benefit caps imposed on them. At the same time the richest are getting wealthier and wealthier. It seems self-evident that something has gone very wrong in our democracy.”
The group received a parting blessing from the Right Reverend Michael Colclough, Canon Pastor of St Paul’s who said that “the Cathedral and Occupy were not at odds on the question of justice”. The Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s have been criticised for approving the forced eviction of the Occupy camp earlier this year.
Father Joe Ryan, 65, the parish priest of the church of St John Vianney in north London, said that he had backed the Occupy protesters because it was religion’s role to “give a voice to the voiceless”.
“There was a sign at the Occupy camp here at St Paul’s that said: ’Where would Jesus be?’,” he said. “I thought that Jesus would have been here, with the common person calling for the wellbeing of others.”
Alan Bolwell, 25, a philosophy student at the University of Kent who conceived of the idea of a protest pilgrimage after participating in the occupation of a building at his university over Christmas last year, said that he hoped the pilgrimage would enable traditional religion to find common cause with the Occupy movement: “If every Anglican was an Occupier we would achieve our goals in no time,” he said.