'Let us work together to make peace with our planet' UN head tells religious leaders

l-r Columban Fr Sean McDonagh, Mishop John Arnold, CAFOD director Chris Bain at Windsor

l-r Columban Fr Sean McDonagh, Mishop John Arnold, CAFOD director Chris Bain at Windsor

The contribution of the world’s major faiths to addressing environmental problems has been   honoured  by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at an inter-faith conference underway this week in Windsor.

Standing alongside HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in the Waterloo Chamber of Windsor Castle, he honoured faith groups who have committed themselves to significant seven year action plans “to protect the living planet”. In an address afterwards he urged the major faiths to work alongside UN bodies “to make peace with our planet, for we are all part of a larger web of life”. He told more than 200 representatives of the world’s religions who were present to lobby for political action on climate change in the lead up to December’s climate change summit in Copenhagen, and to help human society realise that it must reduce its impact on the planet’s life systems. “With faith groups running at least half of schools worldwide, you have great reach” he said “and you offer inspiration and hope”. 

The three-day conference, ‘Many Heavens, One Earth’, billed as a Celebration of Faiths and Environment, is being organised by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales was thanked for its work to push environmental audits in parishes and promote an eco-schools programme. Bishop John Arnold of the International Department of the Conference was invited to the platform, as was Bishop Richard Chartres of the Church of England Diocese of London for his church’s work to reduce its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050.

CAFOD and Operation Noah were thanked for their work to raise awareness on climate change. Other Christian groups singled out included the Presbyterian Church of Ghana for pushing eco-parishes and the Church of Norway for pushing its government to reduce carbon emissions; Catholic Earthcare Australia was mentioned for its education and advocacy work; and the Polish Orthodox Church for various initiatives, including undertaking to restore the seasonal blessing of farmland, which was thrown out during the decades of communism. Ed Wisbeh of the US Catholic Coalition on Climate Change talked of work to get Catholic bodies to invest in renewable energy and educational establishments to educate about creation care.

Jesuit Superior in Britain, Fr Michael Holman highlighted Jesuit work to help protect the Amazon rainforest, along with its biodiversity and indigenous people. Earlier in the conference he read out a message from Jesuit Roberto Jaramillo Bernal, who is based in Brazil’s Amazonia. Fr Bernal felt “the Garden of Eden is being systematically destroyed” and that religious people have a moral reponsibility to join those protecting it. The Jesuits are also running organic farms and agricultural training centres, such as Kasisi in Zambia. A new website is being set up to connect and inform Jesuits worldwide on the environmental justice  mission.

Fr Michael Higgins reported that the Franciscans are compiling a database of best practice of their members, highlighting work with fish farmers in DR Congo and sustainable agriculture with small in Indonesia and other initiatives. Fr Sean McDonagh, the author of a number of books on Faith and Environment, spoke of Columban advocacy work on water, rainforests, environmental migrants and genetically modified food. The Papal Nuncio to Britain, Archbishop Faustino Saenz Munoz was present and described the meeting as “very interesting” and “important”.

Representatives from the world’s other major faiths – Baha’ism, Buddhism, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism and Sikhism – also announced action plans. Sheikh Ali Gomma, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, spoke of an Islamic seven-year plan to address climate change, with a new organisation, the Muslim Association for Climate Change Action, being set up to implement it. The Hajj will be greened and plastic bottles banned. “It is a religious duty to safeguard our environment and advocate the importance of preserving it” he said.

Other initiatives ranged from Daoists installing solar power in temples, Hindus working to protect rivers, Buddhists establishing ecology centres in major monasteries, to Jews in the US promoting energy efficient buildings by 2015 and initiating eco-education programmes. All agreed to lobby political leaders for a strong climate deal in Copenhagen next month.

Martin Palmer, ARC’s Secretary General, said: “the world has taken sin and guilt from the world’s major religions but not their inspiration” he added. The conference was life-affirming, with prayers led by Daoist monks, Sikh environmental activists, the Baha’i International Community and others. All food was vegetarian and the Tuesday lunch in Windsor Castle was vegan.

A new short film by Mary Colwell was launched at the conference, focusing on faiths and ecology. It can be viewed on the BBC’s Religion and Ethics website.

This evening,  4th November at 7pm, speakers from the conference will be speaking at Friends Meeting House in Euston, under the title, “Many Heavens, One Earth, the Environment and Copenhagen”. All welcome.  Buffet and reception from 6pm.

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