Once in a while, you’ve gotta hand it to the Catholic church. Sometimes, its methods work in glorious ways.
While scientists agonize the rapid disappearance of the world’s great glaciers — residents in the Swiss village of Fiesch are using a simple practice to stop this rapid retreat. And that practice is prayer.
Here’s a bit of history…
Back in 1678, the inhabitants of Fiesch were exasperated with the glaciers that loomed over their villages. The icebergs swallowed up their pastures and were seen as a general nuisance in the area. So the people gathered for an annual pilgrimage. The hope was to banish the glaciers with chants, prayers and holy water. And several centuries later, their prayers seemed to have been answered.
Unfortunately, the glaciers kept getting smaller. The villagers were devastated because it looked like too much of a good thing was, in fact, not so good.
On average, Swiss glaciers are shrinking by 10 metres a year. And the consequences of this are proving dire for some. The Giesen glacier in the Jungfrau massif is developing a large crack. It now risks collapse, potentially unleashing deadly floodwaters on the village of Lauterbrunnen. Meanwhile, a melting glacier in the region of Zermatt has forced Swiss and Italian officials to renegotiate their frontiers.
But a few years ago, on behalf of Fiesch and other villages upset with the glaciers’ retreat, the Bishop of Sion rallied the Vatican to authorize a change. The Bishop asked for a modification in the annual pilgrimage (which still happens each year) so that villagers could ask God to stop the ice shrinking instead. The Holy See chewed on the request for a year before agreeing. The modified prayers will get their first airing at the procession this week.
Of course there’s a slight chance the prayers won’t be effective. But some villagers might cheer the news that certain groups have found positive uses for the melting glaciers. For example, Swiss environmentalists have proposed that turbines, powered by the meltwater, replace nuclear as a source of energy. And many archaeologists are thrilled as the receding ice reveals treasures that never would’ve been discovered.