Religious Leaders Start Signing Peace Declaration
By Daniel Bases
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Religious leaders began signing on Wednesday 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 is to be signed by the 1,000 envoys before they end their four-day meeting on Thursday.
The conference alternated between the United Nations and the Waldorf-Astoria hotel where the closing ceremony will be held. It commits delegates to taking an active role in reducing war and poverty and making environmental protection a priority.
The gathering of muftis, swamis, rabbis, prophets, monsignors, patriarchs, sheiks and chieftains, many wearing gloriously colorful vestments from their respective faiths, was often overshadowed by the absence of the Dalai Lama, the 1989 Nobel peace laureate, whose presence in the United Nations was opposed by China because of his call for an autonomous Tibet.
The Dalai Lama, a Tibetan Buddhist leader, turned down an invitation by summit organizers to attend the last two days of the conference outside the United Nations and sent eight monks instead who were allowed to speak.
One delivered the Dalai Lama's official message to the "Millennium World Peace Summit" late on Tuesday after being excluded from events due to pressure from Beijing.
"The different faiths need to develop mutual respect for and understanding of each others belief and values. There can be no peace as long as there is grinding poverty, social injustice, inequality, oppression, environmental degradation and as long as the weak and small continue to be trodden by the mighty and powerful," said the message read by So Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche.
At the United Nations, Mustafa Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina, told a news conference on Wednesday he was disappointed the Dalai Lama could not attend.
"While religion should not dictate politics, neither should politics dictate faith," he said. "We have a very sorry experience from the Communist period, as well as the most recent past, where politics has manipulated religion."
Ceric was referring to a 1992-1995 war in Bosnia that led to the province being divided among ethnic and religious lines.
Earlier media mogul Ted Turner, whose Better World Fund underwrote much of the meeting's expenses, received an enthusiastic response despite his often irreverent remarks.
"What disturbed me is that my religious Christian sect was very intolerant," he said. "We thought that we were the only ones going to heaven."
"It just confused the devil out of me because I said heaven is going to be a might empty place with nobody else there. So I was pretty confused and turned off by it," Turner said."
The sessions attempted to mirror next week's Millennium General Assembly meeting of political leaders, covering conflicts in Africa, the Balkans, Russia and Central Asia, poverty and the environment, among others.
Speakers and participants noted the dearth of female religious leaders at the event even though one of the points highlighted in the declaration was that "men and women are equal partners in all aspects of life and children are the hope of the future."
"It's a big issue, but we wanted religious leaders and very few women are in the leadership hierarchy," said Dena Merriam, vice chair of the event's executive committee.
Attacks on women and the disproportionate suffering they endure as a result of violent conflicts and poverty were highlighted by several speakers.
"War has traditionally been man's work. Even at this summit, the majority of people up here speaking have been the male of the species," said Betty Williams, a Roman Catholic from Northern Ireland who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976.
"We women say 'we love you men, we really love you, but we say to you move over', and if we take the world and we make it any worse than you have, then we will give it back," she said.
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