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Pope Francis' call to save planet spurs 'pilgrimage' in Brentwood

A cardboard cutout of Pope Francis is pushed

A cardboard cutout of Pope Francis is pushed on a cart during a pilgrimage to celebrate Mother Earth and in Brentwood, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

Pope Francis made an appearance in Brentwood Saturday, leading dozens of nuns and their supporters on a save-the-Earth pilgrimage.

The smiling pontiff -- actually, a 6-foot-tall cardboard cutout -- joined the mile-long walk from Ross Memorial Park to the Sisters of Saint Joseph convent on Brentwood Road.

They marched and sang in a cold drizzle to draw attention to Francis' appeal to hear "both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor."

Sister Rosalie Carven, 81, one of the organizers, said the goal was to be "faithful to the call from Pope Francis," who has made the health of the planet and the threat of global warming a major concern of the Catholic Church.

"We have Pope Francis with us in spirit," said Sister Mary Beth Moore, 67, of Wantagh, who works with immigrants in Hampton Bays.

Speaking to the crowd through a megaphone, she said: "We're singing and walking for the integrity of Creation."

To the beat of a drum, participants sang "This Little Light of Mine" -- adding environmentally friendly lyrics, such as "Shine to keep our waters clean." The walk ended at St. Joseph's organic garden, where a handful of dogs who tagged along were blessed.

Anne Cimino, 65, of Freeport, said she walked to show her support -- carrying Molly, her 1-year-old Maltese.

"I'm thrilled about this pope and his concern for environmental and human issues," said Cimino, a member of Pax Christi Long Island, the Catholic peace movement. "Hopefully, people will see us and wonder what we're doing, wonder what we're standing for."

The pilgrimage and blessings took place on the eve of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Sunday, Catholic churches and religious groups nationwide will celebrate the life of St. Francis, who was born in the 12th century and is the patron saint of animals and the environment.

Before the walk started, Sister Jeanne Clark, 78, of the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Amityville, spoke of the significance of starting at the park.

"We are standing on holy ground," she said. "The trees are holy, the birds are holy, every creature is sacred."

Clark also made a reference to nearby Roberto Clemente Park, befouled by contaminated waste dumping, calling it "a place where toxic things were put into the soil because people didn't realize that the soil was sacred."

Speakers also advocated for greater tolerance and a warmer embrace of new immigrants, echoing the pope's remarks during his recent United States visit.

Sister Helen Kearney, president of Sisters of Saint Joseph, said Long Island has historically "welcomed people yearning for a better life, looking for equality."

"That's not changed," she said. "That will never change unless we change it."

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