"It is about marshalling the moral force of religion behind the implementation of the SDG goals. We need to work together; for no source of wisdom can be left out, just as no one can be left behind!” Cardinal Peter Turkson
The G20 annual summit of leaders (representing the world’s wealthiest nations) plays important roles in setting global agendas and in addressing critical issues. From its start in 2008, it has expanded in focus (from an initial agenda dominated by economics), while retaining an informal character (for example, there is no permanent secretariat). The event and process have therefore become a focal point for different groups interested both in the overall agenda and in specific topics. Groups respond to the specific priorities defined each year by the host country, often with elaborate preparations and advocacy campaigns. Groups that engage include global think tanks (T20), civil society (C20), and business (B20), alongside various ministerial processes and specific purpose working groups. In short, a meeting of leaders has become an important global institution, one that carries hope for both creativity and meaningful use of power.
Later this month (September 26-28), in Buenos Aires, the G20 Interfaith Forum will explore the present and future of work. The 2018 agenda of the G20 (which groups the world’s wealthiest economies and their leading partners) is shaped by the year’s host country, Argentina. It focuses this year sharply on questions about labor. Excitement combined with unease about how new technologies are shaping jobs and job markets underlie the agenda. On the surface the topic is framed positively, but underneath lurk some deep concerns: technology and globalization are reshaping the world of work, with upsides but also downsides. The latter include low wages, poor working conditions, job uncertainty, unemployment, underemployment, forced and child labor (including many forms of modern slavery), sweatshops, weak social protections, and threats to a stalwart of work advocacy: trade unions.
Every three years heads of state and government from the Western Hemisphere gather to discuss common policy issues, “affirm shared values and commit to concerted actions at the national and regional level,” and address continuing and new challenges. The eighth such summit meets in Lima, Peru on April 13 and 14, focused on the topics of governance and corruption (hot issues across the hemisphere today). Georgetown University and the Berkley Center supported a meeting on the eve of the summit to explore the roles of religious actors in fighting corruption.
If you were to choose a topic for cordial, evidence-based dialogue, it probably would not be religious approaches to family planning. Yet that was on the agenda at the Ouagadougou Partnership (OP) meeting in Conakry, Guinea last week. Some 19 religious actors and leaders were among the 350 participants at the sixth annual meeting of the Partnership. It brings together the governments and civil society representatives of nine francophone West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo) with key donors, USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation among them, and various “partners” (mainly nongovernmental organizations and firms). The religious actors are slowly coming to be recognized as important players in this critically important effort to make family planning services available in the region.
Sister Agatha Chikelue exudes both determination and warmth. She’s a force of nature. Quick to smile, she minces no words when it comes to her mission, which turns around women, justice, and peace. She is visiting the United States (from her home in Abuja, Nigeria) wearing the hat of Executive Director of the newly renamed John Cardinal Onaiyekan Peace Foundation. She works closely with the remarkable Cardinal John, who himself is one of the beacons of hope for peace and above all more harmony among Nigeria’s complex and often fractious religious communities.
I am among the countless women moved by the recent news deluge about flagrant predators to resurrect memories, sometimes long buried and sometimes fresh and unvarnished. For me the central question it provokes is how (not whether) we can, collectively, do better to bring about change.
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?