Bahai News - Questions Remain After World Religions Summit
Questions Remain After World Religions Summit
- Received by the WFN Archive: Sep 2 2000 0:31 AM
- Source: APD_Info_Schweiz@compuserve.com
From: APD <APD_Info_Schweiz@compuserve.com>
Subject: Title: Questions Remain After World Religions Summit
Title: Questions Remain After World Religions Summit
September 2, 2000
Adventist Press Service (APD)
Christian B. Schaeffler, Editor-in-chief
CH-4003 Basel, Switzerland
Fax +41-61-261 61 18
Questions Remain After World Religions Summit:
World Peace Or One World Order?
New York, NY, USA. Meeting in New York August 28-31, the
Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders brought
together over 1,000 leaders of many faiths to debate current challenges
and to plan towards a proposed International Advisory Council of Religious
and Spiritual Leaders that would provide a religious voice at the United
Though the Summit was truly a momentous event and provided a unique
and historic opportunity for inter-faith dialogue, questions remain over
the choice of delegates and the Summit's agenda and purpose.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his address to the Summit on August
29 called for a recognition of the importance of religion and the need to
defend religious freedoms.
"Religion helps us find our place in the cosmos; it knits families
and communities together; it endows individuals with compassion and
morality," said Annan. "Religious practices and beliefs are
among the phenomena that define us as human. So let us today, from this
great center of global community, reaffirm every man and woman's
fundamental right to freedom of religion: to worship; to establish and
maintain places of worship; to write, publish and teach; to celebrate
holidays, to choose their own religious leaders, and to communicate with
others at home and abroad. Where religions and their adherents are
persecuted, defamed, assaulted or denied due process, we are all
diminished, our societies undermined. There must be no room in the 21st
century for religious bigotry and intolerance."
Similarly the Vatican representative, Cardinal Francis A. Arinze,
president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, pointed
to the need to work together for religious harmony.
"Collaboration between people of all the religions of the world
is needed for the proper motivation of hearts and consciences. Pope John
Paul II gives a personal example as a promoter of reconciliation and
harmony between peoples of different religions, cultures and languages.
The promotion of peace is part and parcel of what it means to be a
In a written statement, Pope John Paul II said that "It is a sign
of hope when religious and spiritual rldwide Faith News leaders can say to
the world with one voice that peace is possible, that peace is our sacred
duty, that peace is the future willed by God. I assure all the participants
that I am spiritually close to them as they seek to promote the good of
the whole human family."
Many other speakers shared similar viewpoints on the need for tolerance,
condemning anti-religious violence and persecution. Dr. Han Wenzao,
president of the state-run China Christian Council spoke of the need for
peace and understanding, even as the organization Human Rights Without
Frontiers was reporting on a new government crackdown on Christians in
The "China question" was at the heart over the controversial
decision by the Summit organizers not to invite the Dalai Lama, Tibetan
Buddhist spiritual leader now in exile in India. The decision-made to
avoid antagonizing the Beijing government-was eventually reversed after
pressure from religious groups, at which point the Dalai Lama responded
that he did not wish to attend in such a situation.
Other religious groups were absent from the Summit, including a number
who did not receive any invitation. Significant among the uninvited were
evangelical and Protestant churches, including the Southern Baptists, as
well as the 11-million member Seventh-day Adventist Church, a well known
Christian World Communion.
Some delegates questioned the composition of the Summit, and also its
agenda and purpose, pointing to what seemed to be an imbalance in
representation. Others took issue with the lack of true debate and
discussion in terms of drafting statements and declarations, as well as
the role and function of the proposed International Advisory Council of
Religious and Spiritual Leaders to the United Nations.
Problems debated at the Summit included the impact of religion in the
Balkan conflicts, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Sudan, and Nigeria;
inter-religious conflict in Central Asia; poverty and debt reduction;
religion and the environment; and the role of religion in world affairs.
"This Summit of religious leaders, held before the Millennium
Summit of world leaders next week, is a defining moment for the humanity
of the world," commented Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Appeal of
"This is a key event in the United Nations decade of culture and
dialogue between nations," added Russian mufti Ravil Gainutdin.
"It will be interesting to see in what way the UN can respond,"
said the Rev. Dr Hans Ucko, executive secretary of the World Council of
Churches' (WCC) team on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue, on the
final day of the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual
Ucko noted that holding the first two days of the gathering in the
General Assembly Hall of the UN headquarters was a unique development.
"We have prayed in their house. This shows the eagerness of the
followers of the different religions to support the UN." But, despite
the support given to the summit by UN secretary-general Kofi A. Annan, the
attitude of the UN as a whole to the religious community remains uncertain,
The World Council of Churches had accepted an invitation for its general
secretary, the Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, to address the summit and had
supplied names of people from its constituency who might be invited to
participate. "We couldn't be absent from a gathering of this kind," Ucko
The Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of
Churches (WCC), told the gathering of religious leaders that he hoped they
would "deny the sanction of religion to those who seek to make it a
tool of violence".
"All true religion wills justice, peace and harmony," he said to an
international interreligious audience which filled the UN General Assembly
Hall. "Yet, as we engage here in dialogue, we are conscious of the facct
that wars are being fought in many parts of the world appealing to the name
Raiser said summit participants were gathering at a time of movement
away from "an age of secularism which tended to despise religion", and
when people were again looking to religion as a source of spiritual
values. But religion continues to suffer misuse by powerful people "whose
interests have little to do with religion, faith or the spirituality of
believers," he said.
In a passage that drew applause, he lamented "the lack of civil courage
and statesmanship of many government leaders who have been more concerned
about the preservation of national self-interests - and often their own
personal privileges - than for the collective interests of the peoples of
the United Nations".
"We must know and respect each other, and talk to each other," said
Archbishop of Newark, Theodore E. McCarrick. "In our different religious
traditions we have the answer to conflicts. We are brothers and sisters
in God's human family. Religious leaders must be courageous, must speak
out when it is difficult to do so, and must remain faithful to God."
Prepared in advance by the organizing committee and revised only
slightly during the meeting, a summit declaration entitled "Commitment
to Global Peace" appealed to people of all religious traditions
"to cooperate in building peaceful societies, to seek mutual
understanding through dialogue where there are differences, to refrain
from violence, to practise compassion and to uphold the dignity of all
Ucko described the declaration as "quite good" and commended
its tone. However, he felt the summit would have benefited from a broader
constituency base. The WCC had not been invited to help organize it, and
has accepted no role in its follow-up.
According to Ucko, plans to set up a steering committee to create an
interreligious body that would seek to bring religious thinking and
interests into relationship with UN peace efforts are premature. An
indication of what the UN expects from the religious community, and what
possibilities the UN has for using already established resources are
needed first. The UN might well rely, Ucko said, on an established body
such as the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP), an
interreligious agency based at the Church Center for the UN, directly
across the street from the UN's New York headquarters.
Ucko said the summit came at a time when the WCC is thinking about how
to respond to "the many interreligious initiatives that are taking place".
There is a growing push for action in this area, and the WCC will hold a
consultation on this subject next year, he reported.
"Religion can provide the vision and unleash the spiritual energy
necessary to guide humanity to a New World Order worthy of its destiny,"
stated Dr. Albert Lincoln, Secretary-General of the Baha'i International
Religious leaders signed a declaration committing themselves to global
peace, declaring all religions equal and recognizing equality between
women and men. The document, titled, "Commitment to Global Peace,"
condemns all violence committed in the name of religion and has been
signed by the 1,000 envoys before they ended their four-day meeting.
The Summit concluded with a ceremony of "sharing of the waters
from around the world," together with many commitments to continued
discussion and dialogue between religious faiths. (267/2000)
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