Interreligious gatherings have very different flavors. I have been to many in recent years and each evokes vivid yet very different memories. But all have some special, common qualities. The united presence of people from all corners of the earth, many wearing visible symbols of their faith and cultures, makes a poignant tapestry of the diversity of humanity. It is history come alive, but also today's plural reality in living color. A side product is a sea of cameras seeking to capture the color, life and diversity. Another is a vibrant feel of diversity at such meetings are particularly tough to organize as participants come with very different habits, not to speak of dietary needs, daily rhythms, and expectations. "Herding cats" is a common analogy.
That's the theme phrase for the Monterrey International Interreligious Encounter that had its formal opening last night. The event took place in Monterrey's cavernous arena, where concerts and sports events are often held; there was an eerie smell of popcorn in the air.
The streets of Monterrey were clogged this evening as Mexico's president arrived to open an 80 day named the Universal FORUM of Cultures, Monterrey 2007. The hotel lobby of the Holiday Inn swarmed with bagpipe groups in kilts, and a group that looked like medieval troubadours. I am here to participate in a first event of the Forum, which is an interfaith meeting, called the International Interreligious Encounter. A group of about 40 people from all over the world, scholars, practitioners, preachers, from a feast of different faiths, are arriving. We received a program book with a dizzying array of events â€“ plenaries, performances, panels, life stories, introductions to religious traditions, and so on. Some 15,000 people, we were told, will attend a program with up to 15 sessions running in parallel.
I participated in an inaugural event in Fes, Morocco earlier this week, focused on Sufism and Human Development. Faouzi Skali, creator and founder of the Fes Festival and Forum, is the leader and inspirer. The Festival/Forum attracted much attention, despite its newness and quite recent planning - attention from media (Moroccan and foreign), attendees from several continents, and considerable engagement from different Moroccan social and political currents .
A White House meeting on Malaria: "Controlling Malaria in Africa--The Unique Role of Faith-Based and Community NGOs," a Compassion in Action roundtable
Marisa Van Saanen (World Bank Ethics and Values unit) and I participated in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives round table on malaria, aimed at highlighting the vital and central role of faith-based organizations in fighting malaria. The participation of Mrs. Bush, Ambassador Randall Tobias, Georgetown University President John DeGioia, Admiral R. Timothy Ziemer, US Malaria Coordinator, and Jay Hein, Director of the White House Faith-Based office gave a clear indication of the level and focus of the meeting. Participants (some 100) came from faith organizations, private sector, academia, NGOs, and the US government; while the meeting focused on Africa, few if any Africans were there. The two hour meeting consisted of a series of quite short presentations that highlighted US commitment to the malaria program and tangible successes of faith led programs. The roundtable was a follow-on to the December 2006 White House Summit on Malaria hosted by President and Mrs. Bush, which launched the Malaria Communities Program, a $30 million initiative to advance grassroots malaria-control projects in Africa, as part of the PMI (a $1.2 billion program directed to 15 countries).
The Executive Group of the Council of 100 met as part of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos; the C100, briefly, is a WEF initiative (rather atypical among WEF activities) that aims to further dialogue and understanding between "the Islamic World" and "the West". At present the group includes some 86 people, and the intent is that they be drawn from both the Islamic world and western societies, and from five major sectors: business, politics, religion, media, and civil society. The C100 meetings are thus a rare place, perhaps unique, where such broad cross sector representation engages on the complex issues for West Islamic relations. The co-chairs are Lord Carey (former Archbishop of Canterbury) and Princess Lolwah (Saudi Arabia) - who recently succeeded Prince Turki. I have been part of the group over the past three years, and am an Executive Group member, with specific responsibility for an education sub-group; I was at Davos in that capacity.
Meetings Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development; Geneva, Switzerland, and in Cairo, Egypt: Back to Office Report
In accordance with the TORs dated Oct. 27, 2006, I participated on behalf of the Bank, as a panelist and speaker at two events in Geneva commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development (RTD). Both events were co-sponsored by the Frederich Ebert Foundation and the UN. The first was held as a parallel event to the third session of the UN Human Rights Council and included participants from country delegations and NGOs accredited to the Council (some 70 participants). The second was a closed experts meeting bringing together a number of speakers and senior representatives from several donor agencies, both bilateral and multilateral.
Responding to a long-standing invitation from the Institute of Social Studies, based in the Hague, I visited the Netherlands this week. The trip was essentially in my "new life" as a professor, but because the World Bank and its work, and the issues of religion and development were so very central, I summarize the discussions for both Bank and Georgetown colleagues.
An "out of the box" meeting at the UN last week presented some interesting features. Its full title was "Our Common Humanity in the Information Age: Principles and Values for Development". Full information can be found at the special website.