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Katherine Marshall Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, where she leads the Center's program on Religion and Global Development. After a long career in...
This blog features an ongoing conversation among Georgetown students, staff, faculty, and community members involved in interfaith service, as well as their efforts to further interreligious understanding and engagement with communities in the Washington, DC area and beyond. The blog supports the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, an invitation to institutions of higher education to commit to interfaith and community service programming on campus. Read more about interfaith service at Georgetown here.


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Common Ground for the Common Good: Revitalizing the United Nations


February 14, 2012

This is a speech given by Katherine Marshall at the Celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week at the United Nations General Assembly on February 7, 2012.

Interfaith harmony evokes our ideal of a peace that “passes all understanding”, a peace inspired by the mind, the heart, the soul, and the hands, working as partners in true harmony. That harmonious and diverse embracing of partnership is what a vital United Nations needs.

Our interconnected world demands a deeply intelligent understanding of what partnerships involve. Partnership is about far more than contracts and targets built on comparative advantage. Achieving the Millennium Development Goals, applying our responsibility to protect, building systems that render justice to all citizens, fighting disease, and acting on climate change must engage a mosaic of partners, public and private, large and small, secular and religious. That’s our ferociously demanding challenge.

Here today in the great General Assembly Hall we highlight and celebrate the rich array of partners that are too often neglected: the remarkable, enormous worlds of faith. Leaders, institutions, and communities inspired by their religious beliefs should be the strong allies of the United Nations across countless dimensions. Without them important goals, among them reconciliation of bitter enemies and equality between women and men, are far harder to achieve.

The riches include gifts of the mind. The finest traditions of faith are grounded in a deep love of learning, creative education, a constant quest for understanding, and insatiable curiosity. Education for all cannot succeed without this ancient and modern wisdom. Partnerships built on zeal and ideals alone rarely work. They need smarts and constant learning.

Justice and mercy, compassion and charity, caring and community: these gifts of the heart call us to pay constant heed to the suffering and frustrated hopes of the poorest among us. Without caring, partnerships tend to be dry and rather hollow. When they draw on reservoirs of communities they can achieve what seems unachievable.

The Fes Festival of Global Sacred Music has an inspirational theme: “giving globalization a soul”. This remarkable annual event in Fes, Morocco gives life to the important insight that spirituality is part of statistics, malaria campaigns, delivery of clean water and sanitation, creative enterprise, building peace in communities shattered by war, and ending child labor. Spiritual and material are inextricably linked.

And hands? Ideals and declarations need to be implemented. There too faith communities bring vast resources: a capacity to mobilize the energies of millions, to give purpose to programs, and to sustain the alchemy of ideals.

World Interfaith Harmony Week and the International Day of Peace offer us chances to engage people and institutions in the spirit of the United Nations. It’s a way to give life to the noble aspirations on which the United Nations was founded and the living ideal of true peace. Together, though, we need to convey three important messages. The first is that ending poverty and building peace are feasible and within our grasp. The second is that we truly believe in peace and an end to poverty. And third, that, truly, we are determined, through partnerships and alliances, to grasp the possibility. It’s about aspiration, inspiration, and application.