Religious leaders summit call for inspired leadership

By  Doug Koop, Catholic Register Special
  • June 25, 2010
Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber WINNIPEG - Nearly 80 senior religious leaders from every region of the world gathered for the World Religions Summit in Winnipeg June 21-23 to address the “most pressing practical, ethical and strategic issues of our time.” And after many words were spoken and considered, the interfaith assembly emerged with a four-page message to the most powerful people in the world.

Winnipeg area MP Stephen Fletcher received the statement, “A Time for Inspired Leadership,” on behalf of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and was expected to deliver the document to leaders of the G8 and G20 nations meeting in  Toronto and Huntsville, Ont., June 25-27.

The document zeroes in on three of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), ending poverty, environmental sustainability and global partnerships, and urges governments to address the persistent funding shortfalls since the goals were established in 2001.

“In our diverse faith traditions we have rich histories and powerful dreams for ending poverty, caring for the Earth and being peace-builders,” state the religious leaders.

Plenary speaker John McArthur, executive director of Millennium Promise, observed that the MDGs “have really become the world’s goals,” and that they form a “remarkable fulcrum for solidarity.”

Host James Christie of the University of Winnipeg said the MDGs provide representatives of all the world’s major religions with “a common language to speak with political leaders,” a “Rosetta Stone of sorts.”

McArthur acknowledged that “governments have fallen about $20 billion short” in meeting their overall commitments to achieve the goals by 2015. But, he insists he’s “not depressed by that because I see the communities around the world taking leadership.” He points to “practical pledges” of countless people “taking ownership” by holding themselves accountable to “accessible and actionable goals.”

This development is fundamental to the success of the MDGs, he says. “By 2015 it will be even more weighted toward civil society and away from governments than it is now.”

And young people are at the forefront of these changes. “The statement lacks urgency,” said Shannon Kaur, 20, one of several youth messengers invited to provide their perspective to religious leaders from around the world. “As youth, we realize that we will suffer from consequences of actions now within 30-40 years.”  

Last-minute changes to the document did not satisfy all their concerns, but 13 youth delegates agreed to sign on to the accord.

“This is not just a table for gray hair and no hair people,” said Imam Abdul Hai Patel of the Islamic Council of Imams in Toronto.

While many were cynical that the statement would largely be lost on the politicians, Christie remained optimistic. “It’s likely that this sort of impetus helps to at least keep the MDGs on the G8 and G20 agendas,” he said. “It’s good for the general public to know that religious leaders are concerned about these things and are taking action. And it’s certainly good for the people who are here.”

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