Every year, 30 times now since Pope John Paul II brought religious leaders together in Assisi in 1986, the lay Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio organizes an ambitious meeting that they call a prayer, or a pilgrimage, for peace. The meetings draw a cadre of recognized world religious leaders: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Shinto, Buddhist, and so on. World political leaders also attend. The meetings combine a never-ceasing flow of inspirational and aspirational words, warm and symbolic hugs among different leaders, some intellectual challenges and grist, moving personal witness, countless back channel efforts to address bitter conflicts, and pageantry: there is music and large candelabras that travel from place to place. This is a phenomenal organizational effort by a unique group that is deeply Italian in origin and verve but truly global in its reach and vision. Literally thousands of volunteers care for each invited guest, translate the events into at least six languages, smile when it rains, and facilitate networking by bringing people together.
Many unsung heroes in international organizations contend daily with problems whose global and human impact is all too often distilled into mind-numbing statistics. Dr. Luiz Loures, a Brazilian physician who works in the United Nations AIDS program (UNAIDS), is one of them. His career has focused on the HIV and AIDS pandemic, starting when he practiced medicine in Brazil in the epidemic’s early days, now as a UN civil servant in Geneva. Lessons he draws from his experience are well worth taking to heart.
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Exemplified in Jesus’ compelling call in the Sermon on the Mount, working for peace is vital to many religious traditions. But what is involved? Who in our complex modern world is a peacemaker?
“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” James 2:17
“Where is the moral outrage?” A questioner at a recent Washington event demanded some explanation for the seeming indifference in the United States to hunger that affects tens of millions of people in Africa and the Middle East. Is it lack of knowledge? Citizens numbed by an unending deluge of horrifying news? A hardening of spirit accompanying Americans’ turning inwards?
An extraordinarily demanding agenda will face the leaders of the G20, the world’s richest and most powerful nations, when they meet in Hamburg, Germany in early July. The global response to the crisis of forced migration belongs right at the top of their agenda. And the G20 leaders should take some lessons from the example of world religious communities, both in their common concern for refugees and in their practical commitment to action that will move us beyond the current grievously inadequate global response to the crisis.
There’s a palpable sense of urgency as leaders of the world’s largest economies prepare to meet in Hamburg, Germany early next month for the G20.
Mental health is something of a frontier zone in public health in many world regions. I have heard people scoff at Western preoccupations with the topic as a luxury of indulged societies. But mental health is a universal challenge, accounting for an estimated six to seven percent of the global burden of disease. It causes untold suffering, with effects that ricochet across societies. Stigma and discrimination accentuate the problems, arising both from lack of understanding and the grip of ancient beliefs and taboos.
Every five minutes a child somewhere dies a violent death. Speaker after speaker cited this and other horrifying figures relentlessly during a three day event organized by the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) in Panama City last week. The sobering realities of violence take many forms: child marriage, child soldiers, bullying, abuse, gang pressures, female genital cutting (FGM/C), sexual exploitation and trafficking, and on and on. Even listening to the litany is painful.
Katherine Marshall recently spoke with John Allen Jr. of Crux ahead of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign, an annual push to raise awareness of and increase appreciation for religious liberty around the world. During the interview, they touched on the diversity of definitions and understandings of religious freedom that exist. Conversation then turned to the timely issue of proselytism, and particularly, ethical concerns about any conditionality in humanitarian situations. Katherine also spoke about perceptions of the religious dimensions of conflict with Boko Haram in Nigeria and highlighted the key roles that faith actors played during the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
A family member asked in some bewilderment why on earth I posted a photo on Facebook showing an officer of the Fairfax County Police Department looking intently at a figure holding a Hindu holy book. The answer? I was fascinated by an event where I was speaking earlier this week: the 11th Annual Inter-Agency Chaplains Conference at Fort McNair in Washington DC. It brought together a mix of military chaplains from each of the military branches as well as public safety chaplains (police, fire, EMS) and other civilian chaplains from around the National Capital Region and beyond. My photo showed an opening Hindu prayer.