World religious leaders to met at the UN to promote peace
For as long as human beings have organized themselves into religious groups, those groups have found reasons to fight.
Wars have been fought in the name of many major faiths, and there was even a series of wars in 16th-century France that are known as the Wars of Religion.
Over just the past 50 years, 27 million people have been killed in armed conflicts of one form or another.
And today, many conflicts throughout the world have religious roots, including in the Balkans, Chechnya, the Middle East, and Sudan.
But now an affiliate of the United Nations is trying to harness the avowed commitment of religious leaders to peace.
Starting Monday at the United Nations, more than 1,000 religious and spiritual leaders from about 100 countries will gather for four days of meetings about combating war, poverty and environmental degradation.
Organizers hope that the result will be a permanent relationship between religious leaders and the United Nations so that religious leaders can become a force for change.
''What makes this meeting of religious leaders distinctive is it's an effort to also collaborate with the United Nations to see how religious leaders can bring the power of their own spiritual traditions to work with UN forces in the field to help reduce conflict,'' said Anne F. Glauber, communications director for the event, which organizers are calling the Millennium World Peace Summit.
The event has thus far been overshadowed by criticism of organizers' decision not to invite the Dalai Lama, the Nobel Peace-prize winning Tibetan Buddhist, to the portion of the event that takes place at the United Nations, for fear of offending the Chinese delegation. The Dalai Lama instead is sending a delegation of six high-ranking Tibetan Buddhists.
''In any effort of this kind you try to make progress, take progress as you get it, and not hold out for the absolute best,'' UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said this week. ''And I personally believe that having a thousand religious leaders here next week talking about peace, talking about our world, and praying for all of us, and praying for peace is progress.''
The conference has also been criticized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian organization, for allegedly excluding conservative voices from the United States, but organizers reject that criticism, saying a broad swath of Protestantism will be present.
The summit will bring together parties with vastly different interests, such as a chief rabbi from Israel and grand mufti from Syria, and religious leaders from warring Eritrea and Ethiopia. Attendees are also coming from the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Indonesia, the Philippines, Rwanda and the Sudan, all current areas of conflict.
The religious leaders will not be negotiating political disputes, but organizers hope they will form personal ties that can help lead to reconciliation.
''This is good for religious and spiritual leaders because it adds a note of realism to their endeavors,'' said David Little, a professor at Harvard Divinity School who is advising the summit. ''Religious leaders often talk in the air about peace, but they don't address with much concreteness the realities of how some of their traditions have evolved.''
Organizers are circulating a proposed Declaration for World Peace for religious leaders to sign that would state that the leaders condemn the use of violence in the name of religion.
And they are hoping that the summit will create a permanent International Advisory Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders to advise the United Nations on regional crises.
Among the more prominent attendees are Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, a possible papal candidate, the secretary general of the Baha'i community, the patriarch of Tendai Buddhism, the faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation, the grand mufti of Bosnia, the archbishop of Capetown and the patriarch of the Armenian Orthodox Church. Among the Americans attending are the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Coretta Scott King.
The summit is funded by Ted Turner's UN Foundation and others. It is a prelude to the UN Millennium Summit, expected to draw about 150 world leaders to UN headquarters from Sept. 6-8.
This story ran on page B02 of the Boston Globe on 8/26/2000
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