VATICAN CITY - Several thousand Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims have marched through Rome to the Vatican to demand action on climate change and thank Pope Francis for his encyclical on the environment.
They marched behind banners reading "Many Faiths - One Planet" and "The Earth - Our Common Home - Climate Action Now!" to lobby leaders to take decisive action at a United Nations summit in Paris this year to stem the effects of global warming.
Speaking to crowds gathered in St Peter's Square for his Sunday blessing and message, the Pope acknowledged the groups and encouraged inter-religious collaboration for an "integral ecology" to protect "our common home".
The participants held up placards promoting renewable energy and sustainable development and flew kites shaped like white doves.
One banner read: "Thank you Pope Francis for Laudato Si" (the name of his encyclical).
"We want the Pope to know we're behind him 100 per cent," said Mr Tafara Dandadzi, a student in environmental law and governance at North-West University in South Africa, who came to Rome for the march and to take part in a seminar convened in part to bring together emerging leaders from various religious and geographic backgrounds to coordinate on climate action.
"There are people here from different backgrounds with a common purpose," Mr Dandadzi added. "I hope the Pope knows that, and I hope that the political leaders meeting in Paris later this year know that, too."
In the encyclical released on June 18, Pope Francis demanded swift action to save the planet from environmental ruin.
He urged world leaders to hear "the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor" and plunged the Catholic Church into political controversy over climate change.
In the first papal document dedicated to the environment, he called for "decisive action, here and now" to stop environmental degradation and global warming, squarely backing scientists who have said it is mostly man-made.
In the encyclical "Laudato Si (Praise Be), On The Care Of Our Common Home", Pope Francis called for a change of lifestyle in rich countries steeped in a "throwaway" consumer culture and an end to "obstructionist attitudes" that sometimes put profit before the common good.
"It's an amazing document that brings together environmental science, social justice and religious teaching and asks us to think about economic policies," said Ms Samantha Smith, the leader of the Global Climate and Energy Initiative at World Wildlife Fund International.
At the heart of the encyclical is a powerful message "that the way we are living on the planet is not sustainable or equitable", she said.
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES