Religious leaders, peace activists pray, chant, sing for nuclear disarmament

May 1, 2010

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was among religious leaders and activists gathered in New York May 2 at the Church Center for the United Nations for "For Peace and Human Needs Disarm Now!" -- an interfaith convocation for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

"It's a very important witness by many, many faith communities from around the globe to the difficulty and the problem of nuclear weapons," said Jefferts Schori, when asked about the convocation's importance. "People have gathered here in advance of the U.N. meetings this coming week to express their concern and to call for an end to the possibility of nuclear war."

Other faith leaders participating in the standing-room-only interfaith convocation in advance of the May 3-28 U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference included the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; Roman Catholic Archbishop of Nagasaki Joseph Mitsuaki Takami, a survivor of the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan; Haruko Yaguchi, coordinator of Japanese Religionists for Peace; and Swami Parameshananda, international representative of Bharat Sevashram Sangha.

For peace walkers, the convocation was a destination, acknowledged Mark Johnson, executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

At least four groups of peace walkers arrived on foot in New York for events scheduled around the U.N. meeting.

Claire Gelinas and Deborah Crump didn't walk to the May 2 convocation, but were inspired to come by peace walkers who rested at their church, First Universalist Church of Norway, Maine, they said in an interview before the convocation.

Pessimism, Gelinas said, almost stopped her from making the trip to New York. "But then I decided I wanted to be around people who are feeling hopeful and who want to make the change happen," she said.

Crump had a different reason: "After I read that the U.S. is the only country in the world to have dropped a nuclear weapon, I felt it was my responsibility as a U.S. citizen to come," she said.

The convocation included the reading of prayers and sacred texts that call for nonviolence, as well as chants, hymns, the reading of faith statements of opposition to nuclear weapons and the reading of statements of responsibility for moving beyond the bomb.

Kinnamon, in his remarks near the end of the convocation, made it clear that nuclear weapons are not a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Native American, Hindu problem, but a human problem. A gathering of people of such diverse differences and beliefs sends a loud message to the U.N. that says "we long for a day when nuclear weapons are removed from the face of the earth," he said.

Each person attending the convocation was to receive a green leaf on which to write their wishes upon leaving the chapel. The leaves were to be posted onto a banner and carried in a rally. Toward the close of the convocation, the presiding bishop urged people to be specific in writing their wishes.

"It will take the peacemaking of entire communities to abolish nuclear weapons," said Jefferts Schori. "We must share in that work together, and we have an opportunity -- each one of us -- to enter in today. Thanks be to God."

After the convocation, the group was scheduled to join a walk and rally ending on Second Avenue and East 47th Street in the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza for the International Peace & Music Festival. The May 2 interfaith convocation and rally were part of a larger schedule of weekend events taking place in New York in advance of and coinciding with the U.N. conference.

The Episcopal Church most recently supported nuclear disarmament in July 2009 when General Convention adopted Resolution D060 commending President Barack Obama's invitation to nations to scale down the world's nuclear weapons stockpile; calling upon U.S. policy makers to determine a timely process for dismantling the nation's nuclear weapons while urging other nations to do the same; and urging the president and Congress to explore a moratorium on production of new nuclear arms.

In his Jan. 27 State of the Union Address, Obama referred to nuclear weapons as perhaps the "greatest danger to the American people." He convened a 47-nation conference on nuclear security in Washington, D.C., in April.