Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and teachings are an inspiration for anyone who fights for social justice. Shaun Casey, a theologian and savvy political analyst, serves as the first Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs in the US State Department. At a bold and somewhat improbable meeting of Christian religious leaders in Lagos, Nigeria that took place on January 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US, he linked King's lessons to Nigeria's fight against corruption. The State Department met the next day with a group of Muslim leaders (I was not present for that event).
News reports tell of desperate refugee journeys, as thousands flee the dangers and hopelessness of wars or hunger in leaky boats and other perilous means. Less in the news is a different face of the worldwide refugee crisis: over ten million people trapped interminably in camps that were designed only with emergency shelter in mind. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) calls it the protracted refugee situation. One of the most intractable is in eastern Africa, where millions live in a seemingly endless limbo.
Fatima Mernissi, a great woman and a dear friend, died yesterday in Morocco. She was the supreme scholar/activist, a sociologist and gifted writer and someone determined to advance the cause of the disadvantaged, and especially women. Fatima was a courageous and creative fighter, fearless in confronting folly, tireless in seeking ideas and new paths.
The AIDS pandemic challenges many religious beliefs about health (and vice versa). It has changed the ways many public health and development specialists see religious leaders and institutions and their health roles; the complex experience of religious institutions working on AIDS inspired the Lancet to devote an entire issue to the role of religion in public health. Fundamental ethical issues about human rights and human dignity emerge in stark terms, touching families and global institutions. The pandemic has forced and continues to force us to think and reassess as facts and experience jolt stubborn assumptions. Amidst unspeakable tragedies - AIDS has already claimed 34 million lives - we can catch glimmers of hope in this journey of change.
There were questions about Pope Francis' visit to the US and about women's leadership styles, but what was most riveting were the answers to a very personal question: what encounter with someone in need has most affected you?
Today is the International Day of the Girl Child. The United Nations General Assembly adopted this day in December 2011, declaring by formal Resolution 66/170 that 11 October is the International Day of the Girl Child. There's a dual theme: the rights of girls, and the unique challenges girls face around the world.
This piece was written by my friend and colleague, Mike Eldon, management consultant and author, about an event in Kenya on August 4 that I helped to organize. His basic message is that the challenges facing Kenya, and many other places, demand courageous and unified leadership, bringing together religious institutions and leaders in peace-building, and particularly engaging youth in ways that bring them hope. His personal account of the event highlights both tone and urgent appeals for action.
Over this six-month period, world leaders will meet time and time again. They face daunting agendas and the stakes are high. Hopefully they see starkly what seems so obvious: that the complex challenges are closely related one to another (peace and poverty, environment and political will) and that bold action is urgent.
Among countless interreligious gatherings worldwide, one has a special allure: the "pilgrimage of peace" organized by the Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio. For 29 years, beginning with Pope John Paul II's meeting in Assisi, each year some 300 religious leaders meet alongside political leaders and scholars, and affirm their deep commitment to peace. The event mixes substance, prayer, pageant, and a self-conscious focus on relationships that gives "networking" a different, living sense.
Jurgen Johannesdotter, a German Lutheran bishop, told me proudly that an American journalist congratulated him on the entry of a third German word into the international vocabulary (alongside Kindergarten and blitzkrieg): willkommenskultur, a culture that welcomes.