Getting Behind Pope Francis on Climate Change: Why People of Diverse Faiths Should Support the Eco-Encyclical
This summer, Pope Francis will issue a papal encyclical on the environment. In a year of unparalleled importance for climate change because of key UN meetings in Paris this December, his timing couldn’t be better.
The encyclical will not only represent a key step forward on climate and environmental issues within the Catholic community. It will be a document that people of all faiths can use to increase the attention paid to climate change and the environment in their own communities.
Timing Is Everything
Pope Francis himself recently announced that the encyclical will be released in early summer, prior to the Paris talks. For 20 years, world leaders have made these negotiations an exercise in futility, despite consistent leadership from the UN. Scientists widely agree that we need a strong agreement out of Paris to have a prayer of keeping global warming below devastating levels. Pope Francis is doing his best to help create a positive outcome.
What’s an Encyclical?
The two previous popes wrote extensively on environmental concerns. Pope Francis himself has referred to climate change in numerous speeches. But a papal encyclical, one of the highest forms of Catholic teaching, is different. By addressing these concerns in this format, undiluted by other concerns, the Pope makes the topic unavoidable for Catholics globally.
Once the encyclical is released, it will be shared throughout the Roman Catholic Church and incorporated into the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the foundational document for the moral formation of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. The Church will have a high-status statement that engages the entire Catholic community on climate change, putting the environment squarely on the church’s agenda for the foreseeable future.
Good for Non-Catholics Too
An essential document for Roman Catholics, the encyclical will also be influential for other Christians and people of all faiths and good will. When the encyclical makes headlines, diverse faith leaders globally will want to highlight their own traditions’ eco-teachings.
This is good, because over the past two decades, eco-theologians globally have articulated values deeply consistent with the themes that Pope Francis can be expected to share. With an eye to the Pope’s past speeches and writing, here are several likely themes of the encyclical, with points of connection to other faiths.
- The earth is a gift from God and reflects a divinely ordained beauty and order. This theme is integral to Christianity, Judaism and Islam, which share an understanding of God as a magnificently generous creator.
- Human beings must act as the stewards and protectors of this order. Human power over Creation must be carefully utilized in a constructive way. Judaism, Chrisetianity and Islam offer variations on this theme, rooted in Biblical creation accounts and from passages from the Qur’an. Hinduism and Buddhism, with their traditional teachings on ahimsa (non-violence), consistently emphasize that it is our dharma (duty) to treat the natural world with respect. The moral imperative to protect the earth is strong across all faiths.
- The poor and excluded suffer the worst effects of pollution and climate change. Consistent with the Catholic notion of “the preferential option for the poor,” Pope Francis has repeatedly emphasized the vulnerability of the poor to environmental crises. In line with the teachings of every major religion, he will urge leaders to protect from environment-related devastation those who have been “excluded” from the world economic system.
- Linking nature’s destruction with greed. Pope Francis has consistently criticized the current economic order as a greed-driven, “throw-away” system, in which the rich get richer and the poor poorer. The Pope will likely be clear that he is not anti-capitalist; he’s anti-greed.
- Pollution as Structural Sin. In 1997, Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church became the first major religious leader to call pollution sinful. We expect that Pope Francis will take this a step further, describing nature’s degradation not only the sin of individuals but also the “structural sin” of the society, whose large-scale systems result in harm to both nature and people.
Pope Francis will likely place the environment in the context of traditional Catholic doctrines on the rights and dignity of the human being, including previous teachings on birth control, gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty. There will be a great deal of continuity between the encyclical, what previous popes have said on the environment and what he himself has already stated. What will be new is the depth of support the pope provides on this issue, demonstrating that unchanging spiritual teaching can adapt to address great turning points in human history.
Getting Behind Pope Francis
People around the world will want to celebrate the encyclical’s release. To help channel this enthusiasm, OurVoices, the international, multi-faith climate campaign, will be facilitating an inter-religious response, sharing the perspectives and reactions of people from a wide range of traditions and circumstances.
Growing numbers of people of faith are united behind a strong agreement at the Paris meetings. Pope Francis is adding his voice through the most powerful means at his disposal. Given the critical importance of 2015, all faith leaders should do the same, urging world leaders to commit to halting the destructive trend represented by climate change and creating an authentically prosperous future for all.
Republished with the author’s permission from Rabbi Lawrence Troster via Huffington Post
Jeffry Odell Korgen & Rabbi Lawrence Troster are engaging Catholic and Jewish communities in OurVoices.net, the international, multi-faith climate campaign.
Via Adam Gerstenfeld, Parliament Ambassador, IFYC Advisory Board Member for USA TODAY: Within hours of hearing about the killing of three Muslim students, I had been invited to three different prayer vigils for the deceased. All of my invitations came from college interfaith groups.
And then my Twitter blew up — #MuslimLivesMatter was suddenly a trending topic worldwide, prompting an international conversation on media double standards, hate-crime prosecution and Islamophobia in the U.S.
While the positive response for the prayer vigils and social media wave is heartening, I want to know that these conversations are going somewhere. America today is the most religiously diverse it has ever been in its entire history, while religious tensions around the world are steadily rising.
But the cries for more interfaith cooperation are few and far between, and when they are addressed — such as when President Obama spoke during the National Prayer Breakfast — thespeakers are excoriated for addressing some of the more uncomfortable topics.
Currently I serve on the National Advisory Board for the Interfaith Youth Core, the largest college interfaith organization in the United States. I was a panelist at the 2014 North American Interfaith Network national conference, and founder of University of Florida’s Interfaith Ambassadors.
2015 Parliament registrants are invited to attend the Inaugural Women’s Assembly at the 2015 Parliament which will be held from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on October 15 (preceding the 2015 Parliament opening ceremony on the evening of October 15). Please book your travel accordingly and register free below.
The Inaugural Women’s Assembly and Program Initiative for Global Advancement beginning October 15 will run throughout the Parliament conference, highlighting the work of interfaith women and featuring programs on the vital nexus of women, religion and human rights, sacred sources of inspiration and strength, the transformative impact of women on religion, the re-emergent Divine Feminine and more. A Women’s Sacred Space will host services, ceremonies, meditations and other expressions of women’s spiritual engagement.
Program proposals for the Women’s Program Initiative and Space are encouraged to follow the proposal submission process at rfp.parliamentofreligions.
- Remember to kindly book travel arrangements accordingly and to arrive in Salt Lake before October 15.
- Key speaker announcements will be made soon!
- The Parliament Women’s Task Force seeks your support for the Global Sisters Fund to enable special constituencies of women to attend the Parliament Women’s Assembly and Program Initiative!
- Please answer these important short questions for registrants so we may count you in for the Women’s Assembly. Form is also included below.
If you cannot locate your registration record, please email 2015@ParliamentOfReligions.org with your name and Registration in the subject.
The Parliament welcomes Crystal McCormick in 2015 to the Board of Trustees. Crystal brings a wealth of information and experience through her background as a pastor in various denominations as well as through her role as a university professor. In this interview with the Parliament communications intern Shani Belshaw she shares her thoughts on the importance of understanding and developing relationships through interfaith dialogue and on the role of women amplifying their voices in religious contexts.
Parliament of the World’s Religions: What has inspired you to be a part of the interfaith movement?
Crystal McCormick: My spiritual journey includes a time (a long time ago!) when I was what I would call a “Christian fundamentalist;” it was in that context that I was taught and internalized a lot of negative and horrible lies and distortions about people of faith traditions outside of Christianity and about people who are atheist. It was the academic study of religions and more importantly, by engagement with people of faith traditions outside of my own that caused those false ideas and distortions to unravel. I began to see the sheer beauty in the many expressions of religion and the fact that many atheists were so very concerned with harmony and human rights and were far kinder than many religious people I had come in contact with; all of these realizations and all of the transition in my religious worldview fostered in me a love for all religions and a commitment to build bridges between people of different religious expressions.
PWR: One of the focused constituencies of the 2015 parliament is “women”. Why do you think this is an important focus for the 2015 Parliament?
CM: The undeniable fact is that in the overwhelming majority of the world’s religious traditions, women have been silenced, marginalized, and oppressed, and continue to be so, this is true regardless of which religious tradition or which continent one looks at. Therefore, focusing on women and paying close attention to the voices of women is both crucial and beneficial; the world of interreligious dialogue must focus on women, women’s right’s and issues, and on women’s voices in order to undo the silencing that the world has done and continues to do to women. Additionally, women – though silenced by their traditions – have often been the most courageous and proactive in practicing sincere peace building, our voices are paramount; though our greatest task as women is to recognize our own privilege, helping create spaces for women around the globe whose voices have been silenced because of poverty and a gross imbalance of power and privilege.
PWR: What is one thing you hope your students gain from your teaching?
CM: When teaching, I hope my students feel empowered – empowered in recognizing their strengths and abilities, including making their own informed decisions. I try to reiterate to my students that I do not hope to impose a particular position or worldview on them, but that I would like for them to soak in the material we are engaging, to challenge it and to allow themselves to be challenged by it so that they might in turn come to conclusions which are informed and carefully thought out.
PWR: Why do you think inter-religious dialogue is so important?
CM: Perhaps it is the pastor in me speaking, but relationship is key in building bridges of peace and understanding, and religions at their best know that though there are rich and beautiful differences among them, that service to humanity is an undeniable commonality. Thus, inter-religious dialogue is vital and so important in order to build bridges of peace across the globe and to address the societal ills that plague our communities. Additionally, we find ourselves at a time and place where the world is terrified by a group like ISIS and thus feeds the already present Islamophobia rampant particularly in American and European cultures. Interreligious dialogue can help dispel the Islamophobia and to show our Muslim neighbors that they have allies in the interreligious world.
PWR: What more you would like to share about yourself?
CM: I am an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, serving a congregation in the Presbyterian Church (USA), doing doctoral work at a Lutheran School (LSTC) because of their commitment to interfaith dialogue, particularly Muslim-Christian dialogue.
Crystal Silva-McCormick is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and currently serves as Associate Pastor at St. Andrews Presbyterian in Austin, Texas. She is a doctoral student in Interfaith Relations at the LSTC. Crystal is a scholar with the Hispanic Theological Initiative; a program designed to nurture and advance the work of Latina/o scholars in the field of religion. Crystal has taught in the university setting in the areas of Women’s Studies and Religious studies. She has worked with people of various religious backgrounds in order to foster interreligious dialogue and service and has worked for advocacy for immigrant and immigration reform. Crystal’s work within and outside the academy focuses on building bridges across race and religion and advocacy for women and women’s rights.
Shani Belshaw, an intern on the Parliament communication’s team, recently conducted an interview with one of the Parliament’s newest trustees Dr. Brian Birch to discuss his journey to the Board and what a significant role religion plays in our societies. Birch also explains his view on how the 2015 theme— Reclaiming the Heart of our Humanity. Working Together for a World of Compassion, Peace, Justice, and Sustainability—exemplifies the topical, practical dimensions that will be addressed at the Parliament.
Parliament of the World’s Religions: The 2015 Parliament in Salt Lake City is quickly approaching, what about the coming Parliament excites you most?
Brian Birch: I cannot think of a better time to be hosting a Parliament. Religious differences and misunderstanding continue to play a significant role in human conflict. This event is an opportunity to communicate the deep commitments of religious communities to peace and harmony.
PWR: This is the first Parliament to ever be held in Utah; what do you hope the people of Utah gain from the 2015 Parliament being held there?
BB: I am extremely proud to be part of hosting the Parliament in my home city. Salt Lake City is a wonderful choice. The people of Utah are among the most friendly and hospitable in the world. Our community will greatly benefit from the cultural and religious diversity. Though we have a strong history of hosting international visitors, the religious dimensions of the event add a degree of unparalleled richness.
PWR: The theme of the 2015 Parliament is Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity: Working Together for a World of Compassion, Peace, Justice, and Sustainability; what do you like about this theme?
BB: The theme could not be more timely and communicates the very practical dimensions of interfaith work. Religion remains among the most potent forces in the human experience. It influences a variety of institutions and thus has a substantial role to play in finding solutions to our biggest challenges. I’m excited that people will see the application of faith to our economic and environmental challenges.
PWR: What major events in your life have encouraged you to be a part of this movement?
BB: As a young Latter-day Saint missionary in New York City, I was mesmerized by the diversity of faiths and cultures I experienced there. I observed firsthand the challenges of religious misunderstanding and prejudice and it led to my academic pursuits in these areas. My experiences over the years have only strengthened my commitment to respectful interactions across religious and ethical lines.
PWR: One of the three focused constituencies of the 2015 Parliament is youth. You’re the Director of the Religious Studies Program and Center for the Study of Ethics at Utah Valley University and active in the development of student interfaith leadership through partnerships with the Interfaith Youth Core; what have you learned from working with the youth?
BB: I am continually amazed by the creativity and commitment of young interfaith leaders. Students are naturally more inclusive and have an orientation toward service that gives them a head start in working across differences. The Parliament leadership is especially anxious to provide opportunities to build on their unique forms of social capital.
Brian D. Birch is Director of the Religious Studies Program and Center for the Study of Ethics at Utah Valley University. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University and specializes in comparative theology and the ethical dimensions of religious diversity. He is a member of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable and active in the development of student interfaith leadership through partnerships with the Interfaith Youth Core and related organizations. He currently serves as Senior Research Fellow at the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy and his latest book projects are entitled Radical Pluralism: Essays on Religious Practice and Mormonism Among Christian Theologies for Oxford University Press.
Tumpek Krulut Compassion Day is celebrated every six months in Bali, but the recent krulut day at Goa Gajah in Bedulu Village was a special one. The “2nd Sharing Creating Offering Art” event on January 31, 2015 was organized to celebrate the Krulut Day combined with the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week, and as a Pre-Parliament of the World’s Religions event.Tumpek Kurulut Day is a holy day in Bali for giving thanks to God the great unity-as manifested in Dewa Iswara- for creating sacred sounds or sacred music in the beauty of art. Tumpek Krulut is also Compassion Day towards all living beings. The word lulut means “uniting the heart with sundaram (beauty),” so that thoughts become peaceful.
The Community of Bedulu Village under the coordination of the Village Chief and Customary Chief; Padepokan Lemah Putih; International Foundation for Dharma Nature Time; GEOKS – Geria Olah Kreativitas Seni; Pancer Langit Bali; Gianyar Regency Office of Culture; and Gianyar Regency Office of Tourism celebrated the Tumpek Krulut Compassion Day with more than 450 artists, culture specialists, and religious leaders from Bali, several other Indonesian provinces and 30 nations plus 150 additional audience.
The Senior Advisor on the Protection of Creative Diversity in the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia Drs. Hari Untoro Drajat and the Director for Public Diplomacy in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, Mr. Al Busyra Basnur, also attended this intercultural event.
In addition to traditional and contemporary artistic performances in the Goa Gajah handicraft market and gardens, a very valuable discussion session also took place on “The Contributions of Ethnic Cultures to the Prosperity of the World’s Communities” conducted by Dr. Wayan Dibia (GEOKS – Singapadu, Bali); Dr. Kusumita Pedersen (Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions trustee); and Drs. I Wayan Patera (Chief of the Samuan Tiga temple).
Dr. Diane Butler, the Co-Charter Founder and President of International Foundation for Dharma Nature Time, and Suprapto Suryodarmo, the Founder of Padepokan Lemah Putih, further reported about this event that sharing among artists, culture specialists, religious leaders, market vendors and society grows a spirit of gotong royong (mutual cooperation). Inspired by the essence of Tumpek Krulut Compassion Day, this sharing will be useful for efforts to increase mutual understanding, harmony, and prosperity for humanity throughout the world, and in particular, based on the values of unity in diversity.
More photos and videos available at https://www.facebook.com/
Mourning the Passing of Tonya Frichner, Heroine of Indigenous Rights and Parliament Women’s Task Force Advisor
It is with heavy hearts the Parliament shares news of the February 14 passing of Tonya Frichner. A Monumental Figure in the Indigenous’ Rights Struggle, Frichner spoke at the 1999 Cape Town and 2009 Melbourne Parliaments, and recently began serving as an Advisor to the Parliament Women’s Task Force.
- Women’s Task Force Chairwoman and Parliament Vice-Chair, Phyllis Curott, says,” “She was an extraordinary and great-hearted woman, an Advisor to our Women’s Task Force and President and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance, an NGO in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic & Social Council. She was an activist attorney who played an essential role in the campaign against the Doctrine of Discovery and so many more efforts on behalf of Indigenous peoples and women. Tonya was a great woman and her passing is a great loss. We will miss her wise counsel, her radiant presence but her spirit and inspiration remain in our hearts, and in the Women’s Initiative.”
- Official statement from the Onondaga Nation: http://bit.ly/1Mu6u2v
- The United Nations will hold an event in memory of Frichner later this year
Ms. Gonnella Frichner was a lawyer, activist and professor of American Indian history and law, Federal Indian Law, and anthropology and human rights for over twenty years. Ms. Gonnella Frichner taught at the City College of the City University of New York (CUNY) and Manhattanville College for eight years, as well as CUNY Hunter College and New York University. Ms. Gonnella Frichner also served as an Associate Member of Columbia’s University Seminar on Indigenous Studies.Ms. Gonnella Frichner, worked closely with global Indigenous leadership, as well as the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee. She devoted her life to the pursuing of the right to self-determination, sovereignty, treaty rights, and individual and collective rights for Indigenous Peoples.Ms. Gonnella Frichner was appointed as the North American Regional Representative for a three year term from 2008-2010, to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), by the President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), an advisory body to the ECOSOC. In that position, her mandates included: human rights, economic and social development, environment, health, education and media. Ms. GonnellaFrichner was nominated by Indigenous Nations, Peoples and Non-Governmental Organizations to the position for her work in the international arena. During that time, Ms. Gonnella Frichner served as Vice-Chairperson as well as the Special Rapporteur for the “Preliminary study of the impact on indigenous peoples of the international legal construct known as the Doctrine of Discovery,” (E/C.19/2010/13), submitted to the UNPFII, Ninth Session, 2010. She has served as an active participant and legal and diplomatic counsel to Indigenous delegations in virtually all United Nations international fora affecting Indigenous Peoples especially during the drafting, negotiations and passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), overwhelmingly adopted in December 2007 (A/RES/61/295) by the UN General Assembly. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) sets the minimum standard for the survival, dignity and individual and collective rights of Indigenous Peoples globally.
Ms. Gonnella Frichner has received many distinguished awards for her service. Most recently, she received the Drums Along the Hudson award in June 2014, shared with the Honorable David N. Dinkins, the 106th Mayor of New York City. Other awards include the Harriet Tubman Humanitarian Award, the Thunderbird Indian of the Year Award, the Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor, the American Indian Community House International Service Award, the SilverCloud Singer Outstanding Service Award for advancing Indigenous Youth, the Ms. Foundation Female Role Model of the Year, which was shared with author J.K. Rowlings and others, The Mosaic Council, Inc. Visionary Award for Making a Difference, which was shared with entertainer Queen Latifah, the New York County Lawyers Association Award for Outstanding Public Service, the Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa O’Peqtaw Metaehmoh – Flying Eagle Woman Fund for Peace, Justice, and Sovereignty Award, the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team Recognition, a City of Philadelphia proclamation in honor of United Nations Day and Ms. Gonnella Frichner’s work to “promote the rights for native people around the world,” recognition from the Temple of Understanding, recognition from the Beacon Two Row Wampum Festival, and the Alston Bannerman Fellowship.
Ms. Gonnella Frichner co-founded the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, together with Ms. Tia Oros Peters (Zuni), Executive Director of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, and Ms. Esmeralda Brown, President of the Southern Diaspora Research and Development Center.
Ms. Gonnella Frichner served on several boards of directors including serving as the Chairperson of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, the City University of New York School of Law Board of Visitors, the Interfaith Center of New York, the Connie Hogarth Center for Social Action, the Seven Eagles Corporation, the Flying Eagle Women Fund for Peace, Justice and Sovereignty, the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, the Boarding School Healing Project, and the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team, the official national team of the Haudenosaunee since 1984. It is a Federation of International Lacrosse member nation and World Lacrosse Championship medalists. Ms. Gonnella Frichner authored a number of articles and papers on Indigenous Peoples and was working on two books, including an autobiography. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from St. John’s University of New York and graduated magna cum laude in 1980, she earned a Juris Doctor from the City University of New York School of Law in 1987 and a Doctor of Laws honoris causa from Colby College, Waterville in Maine in 2012.
In September 2014 United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon quoted Ms. Gonnella Frichner in his remarks: “A longtime indigenous activist and former member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Tonya GonnellaFrichner, once said, “Indigenous peoples all speak many different languages but in our meetings, we are speaking one language. Our relationship to Mother Earth is identical.”
Ms. Gonnella Frichner, 67 of Union City, New Jersey began her journey to her Creator on February 14, 2015 and is survived by her loving husband of 42 years, University Professor and Fashion Institute of Technology HerbFrichner, and their son Jason M. Frichner (Eva), Assistant Vice-President of Marketing for the Hanes Corporation. Ms. Gonnella Frichner is also survived by her sisters, Nannette Gonnella (Carol), Jacquelyn Gonnella Thomas, and Kimberley Gonnella Tobian (Brian); brothers, Henry Gonnella, Jr., Michael Gonnella, Thomas Gonnella (Lucia) and Christopher Gonnella; her beloved nieces, Betty Lyons (Tadodaho Sidney Hill) and Maya Thomas; nephews, David Tobian and Matthew Gonnella and several nieces and nephews. Ms. Gonnella Frichner held dear to her heart the AILA staff that supported her work, Chief of Staff, Murrielle Borst-Tarrant (Kuna/Rappahanock Nations) and Research & Policy Adviser, Roger Drew. She was predeceased by her father, Henry L. Gonnella in 1993 and her mother, Maxine Nolan Gonnella in 2003.
Donations can be made to the American Indian Law Alliance to carry on Tonya’s important work. For more info on donations email email@example.com.
To express sympathy please visit ballweg-lunsford.com
Council on Foreign Relations to Hold Religious Environmentalism Conference Call with Mary Evelyn Tucker
CFR Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call series on Monday, February 9, from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. (ET) will feature Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-director of Yale University’s Forum on Religion and Ecology. Tucker will lead an on-the-record conversation on the role of faith-based organizations in global efforts to address climate change. Read more…
Dr. Tucker is a senior lecturer and research scholar at Yale University where she teaches in a joint master’s program between the university’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Divinity School. She has organized a series of ten conferences on world religions and ecology at Harvard University’s Center for the Study of World Religions. Dr. Tucker is the author of Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase and Ecology and Religion as well as co-editor of the volumes on Confucianism and Ecology, Buddhism and Ecology, and Hinduism and Ecology.
If you would like to join the discussion, you may contact Council on Foreign Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Georgia Kinsley at 212.434.9837, and we will send you the toll free dial-in number and password. This invitation is transferable, but limited to religious leaders and scholars; we invite you to forward it to any colleagues who might be interested.
Parliament Representative Sara Rahim Delivers Keynote Address to United Nations for World Interfaith Harmony Week
Special Event of the President of the General Assembly on the occasion of World Interfaith Harmony Week
World Interfaith Harmony: Multi-religious Partnership for Sustainable Development
6 February 2015, Trusteeship Council Chamber
Ms. Sara Rahim, Representative of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
UN Under-Secretary General,
President of the General Assembly,
Ladies and gentlemen,
And distinguished guests.
Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim.
Thank you very much. I am humbled and grateful for this opportunity to celebrate World Interfaith Harmony Week with you and thank the President of the General Assembly for bringing us all together. As a young person addressing this special event, I am obliged to pay tribute to all of the wisdom and experience that is present in the room today. We come from a variety of faith and philosophical backgrounds, and we are here together to support one common idea. That idea is that we can use interreligious cooperation and understanding as a vehicle to improve our communities working towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
As UN Youth Representative, I bring my greetings from the Parliament.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions, which gave birth to the interfaith movement at its initial gathering in 1893, is holding our next Parliament in Salt Lake this October 2015. Ten thousand people from 10,000 networks, over 80 countries and 50 different religious and spiritual traditions will come together to share, learn, network and celebrate. This year’s Parliament theme “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity: Working Together for a World of Compassion, Peace, Justice, and Sustainability” aligns with the heart of UN World Interfaith Harmony Week. It is a global call to action for our faith and non-faith networks.
Too often, religion is misused as an instrument for division and injustice, betraying the very ideals and teachings that lie at the heart of each of the world’s great traditions. However, at their best, religious and spiritual traditions shape the lives of billions of people in wise and wonderful ways. When our diverse communities work in harmony for the common good, there is hope that the world can be transformed.
2015 not only marks the first US Parliament in over 20 years, but also the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 SDGS are set to help shape the Post-2015 Development Agenda in a more tangible, feasible way. The role of our faith and spiritual communities is crucial towards building sustainable partnerships that can help implement these goals into reality.
All of us in this room must invest to make that a reality.
How has faith personally been a part of my life?
I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up as a first generation Pakistani American Muslim. Like many other children of immigrants, I saw my parents work tirelessly to create a better life for their family. My faith and culture are an integral part of who I am – they have shaped my values and impacted the way I see the world and interact with others.
For the first 10 years of my life, I never found myself at odds with my Muslim identity. Going to the mosque was a normal part of my day, as routine as going to school or playing with my friends. However, the first time my reality was challenged was a day that will be etched in all our hearts and minds: September 11, 2001.
I remember waking up that morning and getting dressed for school. At the time, I was attending an Islamic school and was in 4th grade. As usual, I watched the TV playing in the background, and it was then that the first plane crashed into the tower. It seemed like nothing more than a tragic accident. I was unable to process what had occurred, and went to school as usual. Soon after, I knew that something was not right. A second plane had crashed into the building, and the group claiming responsibility was “Muslim”.
To grow up as a Muslim youth in a post 9/11 America has forced me to re-evaluate what my own faith means to me. In a way, my faith itself had been hijacked, and the Islamophobia that plagued our nation following the tragic events could not allow for my complacency. I realized that the only way to challenge those very stereotypes that breed at that level meant putting myself out of my comfort zone.
Upon graduating high school, I decided to experience life in the Arab Muslim world for the first time, and I received a merit-based scholarship from the U.S. Department of State to serve as an intercultural ambassador between the U.S. and Egypt in Cairo. During that summer, I witnessed interreligious cooperation on a global level for the first time. Coptic Christians and Muslims worshipped and lived peacefully, side-by-side, during a time of civil unrest.
Beginning College that fall, I sought a new way of looking at my faith identity. I became involved with the interfaith organization on my university’s campus, and met like-minded individuals who were inspired by their faith or their philosophical tradition in order to improve their communities.
My Muslim faith is my call-to-action and inspires me to serve my community, just as much as my friends’ beliefs inspire them to give back. This common thread of service is something I have come to realize as one of the most powerful tools to build those bridges. In parts of the world that suffer from religious or social conflict, there is the potential to invest in societies and use the existing diversity as a catalyst for change, rather than division. This comes through the process of voicing one’s values, engaging with others across traditions, and acting on those shared values to improve society.
As our communities move forward with implementing the SDG’s in 2015, I believe that multi-religious partnerships can create lasting outcomes that we have been unable to tangibly reach or measure before. The Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund once stated, “People are the center of Development.”
More often than not, we forget the inherent link between human rights and development.
Historically, faith groups have led the way towards building collective community action.
From Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement
to Mahatma Gandhi during Indian Independence
to Nelson Mandela during the fight against Apartheid
to the faith leaders that are currently mobilizing their communities in Ferguson, Missouri:
All of these interfaith leaders before us have shown the power of mobilizing on shared values and taking action. Interfaith groups can continue to pave the path towards community building in a way that ensures that all voices can be a part of the conversation.
Tapping into the potential of our youth and women is another crucial element of successful community development. It is imperative that we bring the voices of young people and women to the table, so that they can be a part of the solution.
Her Excellency Ambassador Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of United States to the United Nations, stated that encouraging civic society to work more closely with government would require an outcomes-driven process. The need for setting measurable, concrete goals for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda is dependent on focusing on peace and global governance as a basis for development.
Passing just laws and creating credible institutions is one of the most sustainable ways to improving development. I envision this as a means of tapping into multi-religious partnerships and collaborating across multiple sectors. The issues that our countries are facing cannot be viewed through a single lens. Access to education impacts the health outcomes of women and youth, which can in turn affect the socioeconomic growth of our communities. The interrelatedness of these critical issues must challenge us to think of new partnerships in innovative ways.
Similarly, we cannot deny the role of young people towards creating action and wanting change. One of the biggest root issues that plague our global community is the lack of outlets that young people have to voice themselves and create those changes. We must help develop civic society so that young people have channels to properly voice their concerns and demand systematic reforms from their local institutions. Young people are interconnected, multilingual, and globalized. Our communities must ensure that we are investing in local, youth-driven initiatives for change. Young people have the answers, and they can be a part of the solution.
As someone who is passionate and deeply committed to building community impact through interfaith partnerships, I encourage all of us to tap into the youth in our networks.
The development community, particularly interfaith and faith-based organizations, must continue to think in innovative ways to collaborate across sectors and be inclusive of all minority voices.
During the 1999 Parliament in Cape Town, Nelson Mandela stated: “No government or social agency can on its own meet the enormous challenges of development of our age. Partnerships are required across the broad range of society. In drawing upon its spiritual and communal resources, religion can be a powerful partner in such causes as meeting the challenges of poverty, alienation, the abuse of women and children, and the destructive disregard for our natural environment. We read into your honoring our country with your presence an acknowledgement of the achievement of the nation and we trust in a small way that our struggle might have contributed to other people in the world. We commend the Parliament of the World’s Religions for its immense role in making different communities see that the common ground is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide. It is in that spirit that we can approach the dawn of the new century with some hope that it will be indeed a better one for all of the people of the world.”
I hope that World Interfaith Harmony Week will serve as a call to action for all the voices in our communities, including youth, women, and minorities, to work towards sustainable development. May all faith, non-faith, and spiritual traditions commit to seeing the best in each other and working collaboratively across all sectors as we move forward with our Post 2015 Development Agenda.
Thank you very much.
By Leo D. Lefebure, Trustee Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
This essay will be published in Interfaith Spirituality: The Power of Confluence. Ed. Ambrogio Bongiovanni, Leonardo Fernando, Gaetano Sabetta, and Victor Edwin. Delhi, India: SPCK, forthcoming 2015. © all rights reserved.
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About Dr. Leo D. Lefebure
Leo D. Lefebure is the Matteo Ricci, S.J., Professor of Theology at Georgetown University and a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. He is the author of four books, includingRevelation, the Religions, and Violence and The Buddha and the Christ. His next book will be Following the Path of Wisdom: a Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada, which is co-authored with Peter Feldmeier. He is an honorary research fellow of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.