Remarks by Dr. William F. Vendley, Second Forum
Dr. William F. Vendley
Secretary General, World Conference of Religions for Peace
Thank you, Rev. Miyamoto and the Arigatou Foundation, for your gracious invitation to participate in this Forum and for your critical work promoting inter-faith action on behalf of the world’s children. As a Trustee of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, Rev. Miyamoto plays an important role helping Religions for Peace to mobilize religious communities to work together to prevent and mediate violent conflicts, and to advance human dignity.
Not long ago, Religions for Peace convened an assembly of African religious leaders in Nairobi, Kenya. Representatives of different faiths from all across the continent had come together for the first time to address the impact of HIV/AIDs on Africa’s children. A seven-year-old boy, Salim, addressed the religious leaders before him, in a setting something like this one. In a small but powerful voice, Salim recited a poem about losing his parents to HIV/AIDS. He then commanded the audience of two hundred adults, “Stand up.” They did. Salim asked, “Why have you left me like this? And what are you going to do about me?”
As Salim spoke, he became the symbolic child of every religious leader and every religion represented at that historic meeting. Salim spoke for the more than 12 million African children who have lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS. His problems were not an Islamic problem, a Christian problem, or an African problem. He challenged religious leaders of all faiths to work together and confront common problems with common action.
No form of cooperation has greater potential to improve conditions for more people worldwide than the cooperation of the world’s religious communities. Today’s problems – disease, violent conflict, poverty – cut across all boundaries, boundaries of geography as well as the boundaries between religions and among religious communities. As no single state can act alone to meet the needs of the entire international community, no faith acting alone can address today’s global challenges. Religious communities are advancing their own form of multilateralism through effective cooperation, with each other and with other elements of civil society, on critical global problems.
Religious networks are the largest and best-organized civil institutions in the world today. Of the world’s six billion people, five billion identify themselves as members of religious communities. From the smallest village to the largest city, religious communities are the largest social infrastructure for human care. Religious communities’ mosques, churches, temples and other social structures are located in virtually every village, district and city. These social organizations range from regularly and frequently convened assemblies designed for worship and reflection to those specifically dedicated to educational, health, humanitarian, or communication missions. Spanning this remarkable panoply of institutions is a network of communication and action that in some cases connect a village assembly with national, regional or international religious structures. Taken collectively, religious social structures represent significant channels for communication and action that, when engaged and transformed, enable religious believers to function as powerful agents of change. Indeed, religious communities already supply the front-line workers who tackle the most difficult global problems.
Religious communities are uniquely qualified to improve conditions for the world’s children. A study conducted by Religions for Peace and UNICEF in six African countries revealed that over ninety percent of local faith-based organizations surveyed are providing some type of care and support to orphans and other vulnerable children. Religious networks provide an existing infrastructure to promote children’s health; provide quality education; protect children against abuse, exploitation and violence; and combat the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS. Religions for Peace is a founding member of the Hope for African Children Initiative (HACI), which supports local religious communities throughout Africa that are feeding, educating and providing spiritual and emotional support for HIV/AIDS-affected children.
To unleash the full capacity of the world’s religious communities to improve conditions for children, much more collaborative multi-religious work needs to be done.
Religions for Peace and its worldwide network of more than fifty national affiliates have supported the growth of the GNRC since its inception. The Interfaith Council on Ethics Education for Children promises to call greater attention to the needs of children and to the untapped capacity of the world’s religious communities to meet these needs. By fostering ethics education, we strengthen the spiritual values found in every major faith tradition and plant the seeds for the next generation of multi-religious collaboration for peace. Religious communities working together are a powerful force to make real our common vision of children protected and empowered to develop their spirituality.