Religious presence to be felt at G8

By 
  • June 19, 2008
{mosimage}When G8 leaders meet in Japan July 7-9, they won’t be alone with their diplomatic and economic advisors. Fifty-nine religious leaders, including Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ president Archbishop James Weisgerber, will be in Japan tackling the same agenda.

It will be the second Religious Leaders Summit held in parallel with a G8 Summit. At Cologne in 2007 the religious leaders pointed out that the world’s leading economies were not on target to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, and that sub-Saharan Africa has been left out of the benefits of globalization.
No one should doubt that religious leaders have important things to say about the world’s economy, said Weisgerber.

“We have globalization of the economy, but we also need to have globalization of solidarity,” said Winnipeg’s archbishop. “Symbolically, that’s really, really important — that there are deeply moral and religious issues involved in these things that are before the G8. We wanted to be there as a symbol and a signal that these things need to be taken seriously.”

Religious leaders meeting in Hokkaido expect to speak with several of the official G8 delegations, including the prime minister of Japan. For both the official G8 conference and the Religious Leaders Summit, Africa will top the agenda.

Urgent action on behalf of Africa is essential, said Sheldon Fernandez.

“It is the sin of inaction and omission,” said the recent graduate of a Regis College master’s program in theology working with the African Jesuit AIDS Network in Nairobi, Kenya. “It is the guilt of watching a house burn down when we had the means to prevent it. It is a most basic failure of humanity.”

A first-hand experience of Africa has taught Fernandez how many First World solutions for Africa’s problems go wrong.

“Take the HIV/AIDS issue,” Fernandez wrote in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “So much of the North American solution revolves around teaching them about contraception without really understanding the economic, cultural and social stigma aspects of the situation. As a result, purely North American efforts are often unsuccessful because they jump to an assumed solution without really understanding the central challenges.”

For North Americans the Religious Leaders Summit may be a footnote or sideshow to the serious business of the official G8 Summit, but Africa expects religion to be involved in its vital interests, said Fernandez.

“A local priest knows far more about the needs of his people than an accomplished economist across the world.”

The religious leaders aren’t solely interested in how much they can influence the G8 Summit, said Weisgerber.

“It’s important for the churches and the religious groups to do this for themselves,” he said. “How much effect it will have on the actual G8 gathering is another question.”

For Catholics it’s very clear why the church has to engage the worlds of economics and politics, said Weisgerber.

“The Catholic Church is very, very clear that the goods of the Earth belong to all the people of the Earth,” he said. “To be used more efficiently, they’re carved up into national pieces and individual ownership and stuff like that, but the basic thing is that we are one human family and the world is ours — all of ours. Solidarity is a recognition of that.”

Participating in yearly G8 Summits now will make the Canadian church ready to host when the Religious Leaders Summit arrives in Canada along with the G8 Summit in 2010, he said.

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