Inter Press Service English News Wire STAFF; 04-03-2001

LISBON, Apr. 3 (IPS) -- Concerned by the growing concentration of wealth in a few hands, representatives of the world's largest religious groups pledged to use their influence to counteract economic globalization.

Their pledge came yesterday at the close of a two-day international seminar organized by the Council of Europe's Lisbon-based North-South Center and co-sponsored by the Portuguese Catholic and Islamic hierarchies and the Lusiada University in Lisbon.

The seminar gathered representatives from the Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and Greek-Orthodox churches, the Baha'i International Community, the Vatican, followers of Shinto, Ishmaelists, Jews and Buddhists of different branches.

Delegates expressed concern at the pace with which economic globalization was leaving two-thirds of the world's population in poverty.

They unanimously agreed that spiritual values contained in all religious doctrines constitute a "universal" patrimony of peace, solidarity and tolerance, which could exert a healthy influence on the process of globalization.

Aye Aye Win, of the North-South Center, recalled Buddhist values acquired in her childhood in Burma, of which the concept of "meta" -- "love, compassion towards those you don't like" -- is nowhere to be found in today's globalization process.

The "scandal of billions of people thrown to poverty is not just a phenomenon of the South," she said. "It is also visible in the streets of the world's richest capitals. Where is 'meta' there? There are resources in the world to eradicate poverty and build a globalization of values: human rights, equity and social justice."

Exclusion always hits women the hardest, who often suffer the double impact of their gender and their belonging to an excluded social, racial or ethnic group, said Elvira Falbo, of the Auxilium Catholic University in Rome. "White women suffer in a different way from black women, and those of industrialized countries differently from those of Asia and Africa," she said.

The extreme individualism promoted by the market system has particularly revolutionized the lives of women, who traditionally were given a greater role in the private sphere of human beings, such as the family, said Falbo. "Social and private links -- family, friends, children, religious confession, partner and political commitment -- in this context are just obstacles: they demand time, slow down the production process, do not improve competitiveness," she added.

Speaking of the role religion plays in Japanese life, Yoshimi Umeda, Director General of the Shinto Foundation, noted that "in Japan people pray for the health of their companies and the Japanese economy owes its prosperity to these practices."

The meeting agreed to establish an informal "contact group" to follow-up the experience, which will be coordinated by the North-South Center.

©Copyright 2001, Inter Press Service English News Wire

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