CANADA: Faith leaders gather to push G8, G20 nations for change

June 21, 2010

[Anglican Journal] Some 100 world interfaith leaders have gathered in Winnipeg, Canada, to push their political counterparts -- who will be meeting at the upcoming G8 and G20 summits in Huntsville, Ontario, and Toronto -- to address poverty, climate change and armed conflict.

"The current economic and political crises in the world weighs heavily on the poor," said the Rev. James Christie, a minister with the United Church of Canada and one of the organizers of the 2010 World Religions Summit being held at the University of Winnipeg June 21-23. Religious leaders from the G8 and G20 nations have gathered to express their solidarity with the poor and to call for social change, said Christie in his opening remarks.

Anishinabe elder and spiritual leader Dave Courchene, who welcomed delegates to the traditional territory of his people, called on religious leaders "not to get caught in intellectualizing the problems" of the world. He said that unless political leaders can achieve "spiritual resolution" and recognize that "the greatest power is spiritual law," change will not come.

"We are all suffering because of our inability to practice the law of spirituality, the law of love" which calls on people to perform acts of sharing and respect, said Courchene. He also brought attention to the plight of aboriginal people in Canada saying "we are still marginalized in our land."

The Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia and primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill I, sent a message calling for renewal and the creation of societies "built on a solid ethical and moral foundation." Today's world has a "utilitarian attitude to human life" and this has made it easy for nations to go to war and violate human rights, he said in a message read by his representative, Hegumen Phillip Riabykh.

Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has created a foundation aimed at promoting respect and understanding about the world's major religions, sent a video message to the summit, saying that the work of interfaith leaders has kept the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on the world's agenda. He said governments "are recognizing that faith communities are key players in accomplishing social change in difficult economic times.

At their meeting, faith leaders will finalize a statement, "A Time for Inspired Leadership," which will be presented to G8 leaders who are meeting in Muskoka, Ontario, June 25-26, and to G20 leaders, who are gathering in Toronto June 26-27. "We expect leaders to put first the needs and values of the majority of the world's population, of future generations and of Earth itself," say faith leaders in a draft statement. They also note that half of the world's population lives in poverty. "A record one billion people are now chronically hungry -- one in seven does not have the food needed for basic life."

The G8 is composed of seven of the world's leading industrialized nations -- France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States, and Canada -- plus Russia. The G20 is made up of finance ministers and central bank governors of 19 countries, plus the European Union, which collectively comprise 85 percent of the world's gross national product.

This is the sixth annual World Religions Summit since 2005, when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Rev. Jim Wallis, a leading American evangelical, led faith leaders in urging G8 nations to fulfill their commitment to the MDGs. Adopted in 2000, the MDGs range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education by 2015.

The summit is "not a case of saying [to G8 leaders] 'You failed, you failed,'" Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said in an earlier interview. "What we want to do is say, 'Let's ... really make some serious renewed effort towards significant steps of realization.'"

Hiltz leads the Canadian delegation which includes: Dave Courchene, Anishnabe Nation; Salvation Army Commissioner William Francis; Susanne Tamas, National Spiritual Assembly of Baha'is; Pandit Roopnauth Sharma of the Hindu Federation; Lois Mitchell, Canadian Baptist Ministries; Imam Abdul Hai Patel; Bruce Clemenger of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada; Mardi Tindal, moderator of the United Church of Canada; aboriginal elder Katherine Whitecloud; Bishop Pierre Morissette, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops; Rabbi Adam Scheier of the Canadian Jewish Congress; and Bishop Bagrat Galstanyan, Armenian Church of Canada.

-- Marites N. Sison is staff writer of the Anglican Journal.