Religious leaders call for action on the environment, poverty and peace

June 24, 2010
Susanne Tamas, centre, a delegate from the Canadian Baha'i community, participates in the World Religions Summit 2010. To her left is Rabbi Adam Scheier of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and right, Commissioner William W. Francis, Territorial Commander for the Salvation Army for Canada and Bermuda. Photograph by Louis Brunet.

WINNIPEG, Canada — World leaders meeting in Canada have been urged to take "inspired leadership and action" to halt poverty, protect the environment, and end violent conflict.

The challenge was made in a statement drafted by representatives of the world's religions, who gathered at the University of Winnipeg in advance of this week's G8 and G20 summits in Toronto.

"Acknowledging our common humanity and embracing the imperative to treat all persons with dignity, we affirm that no one person is more or less valuable than another," said the statement.

"We urge the political leaders to consider first the vulnerable among us, particularly our children, and to work together to address the dehumanizing scourge of poverty and injustice, and practice and promote care for our common environment, the Earth," the statement said.

The World Religions Summit 2010 was the sixth in a series of interfaith gatherings associated with the annual G8 meetings. It brought together more than 80 participants from all of the world's major faiths including, for the first time, representatives of the Baha'i community.

Religious leaders from more than 20 countries attended, including each of the G8 nations – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The Reverend Dr. James Christie, secretary general of the Summit, said the meeting and its output was directed principally at the leaders of the so-called "Group of 8" countries because they represent the nations that have the most power to effect change in the world.

"The reality is that these nations have the money, they have the clout, and they make a difference," said Dr. Christie.

The 2010 World Religions Summit was addressed by Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, Canadian senator and former Force Commander of UNAMIR, the United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda between 1993 and 1994. Photograph by Louis Brunet. Slideshow
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The 2010 World Religions Summit was addressed by Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, Canadian senator and former Force Commander of UNAMIR, the United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda between 1993 and 1994. Photograph by Louis Brunet.

Some participants said it was also important for the religious communities themselves to redouble their own efforts to address the three main topics of their discussions – poverty, the environment, and peace.

"We are living in a very critical period in history," said His Holiness Aram I, of the Armenian Orthodox Church. "I believe what is important for us is building community. It is not just living side-by-side, coexisting peacefully. It is a question of building integrated communities, communities of integrated diversity, accepting and respecting the others, but living together."

"We have to tell the G8 and the world that we religions not only speak together but that we are working together to build communities of integrated dialogue," he said.

Baha'i participation

Among the Baha'i representatives at the Summit was Susanne Tamas of Canada, who was joined by Baha'is from five other countries - France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

"We believe that spiritual principles need to be brought into the discussion of such challenges as poverty, the environment, and peace and security," said Ms. Tamas. "We want to create a space where the political leaders can reflect and make decisions for the long term, and for the common good, rather than on short-term, national concerns."

"We're also here to learn – because these issues are complex and we need to learn what other faiths are saying about them," she said.

As a prelude to the Summit, the Baha'i community of Canada sponsored a seminar on human rights and religious freedom. The day-long event – held in Winnipeg on Monday, 21 June – brought together four human rights experts from different religious backgrounds who concluded that the right to freedom of religion must be upheld to ensure that its influence on society is progressive and positive.

"Courageous and concrete" actions

The statement, issued after three days of deliberation at the World Religions Summit 2010, called upon political leaders to take "courageous and concrete" actions.

Regarding poverty, it said more than a billion people are "chronically hungry" and that women, children and indigenous peoples are among those most affected.

"The magnitude of poverty would be overwhelming were it not for the knowledge that this global inequity can be transformed into a shared life of human flourishing for all. Together, we have the capacity and the global resources to end extreme poverty and its impacts," the statement said.

On the subject of the environment, the statement noted that all faith traditions "call us to careful stewardship of the Earth." It warned of the effects of climate change and said "bold action is needed now."

Governments were also called upon to halt the nuclear arms race, and to make new investments to create a "culture of peace."

The Summit condemned religiously-motivated terrorism and extremism with the faith leaders committing themselves "to stop the teaching and justification of the use of violence between and among our faith communities."

The statement was presented to Steven Fletcher, Canada's Minister of State for Democratic Reform. Mr. Fletcher promised to deliver it to the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for presentation to the G8 leaders.

Read the Statement from the World Religions Summit 2010, here.