Many often-stereotyped understandings of characteristics of young people, especially those in the 16- to 30-year-old age group, ring true and help demonstrate the value of active youth participation in many fields: energetic, open to new ideas, at home with new technologies, and better educated than previous generations, for example. Above all, young people have a stake in decisions made, as well as a shared desire and right to be part of decision-making processes. Those are important opening challenges as we reflect on the theme of International Youth Day 2021: “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health.” It is to avoid the tragic effects of the COVID-19 emergencies today, as they force many millions of people including youth into hunger and poverty. We need urgently to focus on how future generations can sustain the shocks of COVID-19 today and prepare well for a brighter future.
Mobilizing the massive global COVID-19 vaccination campaign is an all-hands job. For many reasons, including their highly trusted and ubiquitous presence, religious leaders and institutions have potentially large roles in advocating for equitable vaccine rollout, helping to reach the poorest communities, and supporting efforts to overcome the troubling hesitancy that slows vaccination progress. A new Religion and Vaccine Survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Interfaith Youth Core (IYC), offers some reassuring news, with data demonstrating that U.S. religious actors have helped to boost vaccination levels in recent months.
There is no global consensus about whether and how to integrate interfaith approaches in education programs, including core curricula and extracurricular activities. Indeed, the topic is contested in various settings, especially where religious institutions are viewed with some suspicion. Thus it is not surprising that systematic treatment of interfaith topics in national curricula range from nil (no effort whatsoever) to curricula and foundational education values permeated throughout by the teachings of a specific religious tradition. Examples of excellence are rare, though creative efforts in a number of settings offer insight and promise.
The annual “spring meetings” of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and associated events dominated global agendas from April 4 to 11, 2021. They included discussions among G7 and G20 leaders. The events highlighted the critical issues that face global leaders and institutions, centered on the COVID-19 emergencies and their impact both on health and human welfare. Environmental topics were also woven through the discussions.
Among his many qualities, Jim Wolfensohn was fearless. He took on unexpected and contentious topics during his decade-long tenure as president of the World Bank, one of them his venture into the ferociously complex world of faith and religion. He did so without qualms or hesitation.
As the torch passes from our 2020 Saudi Arabian G20 hosts to Italy, we, as the G20 Interfaith Association, affirm our renewed commitment to this vital process. Our long-term focus—both as an organization and as multilateral partners—is centered on the challenges of building a better, more just world. My remarks today focus on four questions that arise as we look to 2021 and the Bologna Forum.
Preliminary Findings on Faith Leaders’ Perspective on the Pandemic and What the World Can Learn from Them
We are now roughly eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic and there is growing evidence about the current health and economic crisis, viewed through a faith lens. In March 2020, a collaborative project between World Faith Development Dialogue, the Berkley Centre at Georgetown University, and the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local communities started a 100 + page repository that collected news articles reporting on faith and COVID-19. At its inception, we saw little formal coverage on the linkages between pandemics and faith. Months in, as more government and humanitarian actors are seeing the value in engaging faith communities in a COVID-19 response (and risks of failing to do so), we are seeing more comprehensive and diverse coverage and findings along these lines.
2020 keeps taking. Katherine Marshall just paid her tribute to a social reformer from South Asia: Swami Agnivesh, who passed away on September 11, 2020. Today I write to celebrate the life of another departed soul whose dedication to serving the most marginalized populations in Bangladesh earned him an apt reputation as the “friend of Bangladesh” —Father Richard William Timm, Superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Commemorating Father Timm’s bold and bright life and work today allows us to reflect on larger questions that are so pertinent in the middle of a global crisis: What does participatory community engagement mean in the context of international development? How do we bring positive social change in an evolving society—by empowering the neglected mass, by changing structural and political systems, or both? What can we learn from the lives and works of people who embodied both Western and Eastern knowledge, thoughts, and practices in a lifetime? And how do faith and development intersect and impact each other?
From the very beginning of the pandemic, we have heard about the effects of Covid-19 or associated restrictions on religious communities. Purim was one of the earliest events disrupted for many congregations this year. It soon became clear, from Shincheonji Church in Korea through to Tablighi Jamaat events in India, that religious gatherings may pose a risk for the spread of the virus, but also grab media headlines as super-spreader events.
What words and what examples come to mind when asked to highlight Swami Agnivesh’s example for the upcoming generation? For those who must take this extraordinary moment when the COVID-19 emergency has thrown so many accepted norms and normal patterns into questions, what can they learn from this remarkable, truly unique force of nature?