Today marks the third and last day of the G8 Religious Leaders Summit in Canada where, since 2005, up to 100 religious leaders from diverse faith traditions have gathered to discuss ways of encouraging G8 nations to remain committed to the UN Millennium Development Goals. As a complement to the G8 meeting of political leaders taking place in Toronto, Ontario from June 25-26th, the Religious Leaders Summit has gathered in the central city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
For three days, leaders of the Christian, Judaic, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Islamic, Bahá'í, indigenous and Shinto faith traditions have been drafting a statement (to be released later today) focusing on three main issues: the eradication of extreme poverty, care for creation and investing in peace. The first draft of the statement can be read here.
Of great significance for this year’s summit is the Middle Eastern, African and indigenous representation, among which is his Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia.
Likewise, the Roman Catholic contingent is represented by Archbishop James Weisgerber of Winnipeg and Bishop Pierre Morissette of Saint-Jérôme, Québec, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Due to the summit’s location in the heart of indigenous Canada, the First Nations presence has been prominent. In an interview with Salt and Light Television, Anishinabe elder and spiritual leader David Courchene said that he hopes that all those present realize the significance and influence that they hold.
“We should feel that we are alive with the highest power that exists,” he said. “All we need to do is secure the direction that that spirit is willing to offer.”
Headline Bistro spoke to Salt and Light Television reporter Kris Dmytrenko, who is covering the religious summit, to learn more about the significance of this gathering in terms of its influence on G8 politicians.
“If you consider for a moment the amount of people that are represented here by these religious leaders, we’re talking millions,” Dmytrenko said. “This is unprecedented. In terms of lobbying efforts, it will be by far the broadest collective statement that has been developed to date. If anyone can hope to influence the G8 leaders in a significant way, it will be this group.”
Dmytrenko spoke at length with Bishop Morissette, who explained that at the heart of the gathering is the desire to formulate a religious voice on many of these global issues and to do so in a spirit of humility and great conviction, recognizing on the one hand that although spiritual leaders are not economic experts, they are experts on issues of morality and ethics. As such, they bear a great responsibility to embrace their callings.
Delivering a very powerful and emotional appeal on responsibility to the leaders of the summit was retired Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, a Catholic and prominent Canadian senator, widely known as the commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in 1993 that attempted to stop the genocide in Rwanda. Drawing from his experiences recounted in his book Shaking Hands with the Devil, Dallaire challenged the religious leaders to offer a vision of what the world can be. As reported by the Anglican Journal, Dallaire said that faith communities have a “significant authority and responsibility” and, because they see a common humanity, can intervene in situations of conflict. Nations, on the other hand, are dominated by three considerations: “What am I risking politically? What’s my self-interest? Will there be any casualties?”
“What world leaders are doing is leadership by crisis management,” he said. “We are not shaping the future but reacting to it. … Who is really advancing human rights?”
Dallaire called particular attention to the plight of more than 300,000 child soldiers recruited by rebel groups and, in some cases, governments, in 30 conflicts around the world. More than 40% are girls, prized because they can fire small weapons, prepare food and act as sex slaves.
“It’s not just a crime against humanity,” said Dallaire. “It’s a sin” – and yet, he said, “I don’t see anybody rushing to the gates to stop this.”
Later today, the world religion leaders will present their message to Steven Fletcher, Canada's Minister of State for Democratic Reform, who in turn, will deliver it to the G8 Summit host, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
On the first day of the summit, when Courchene first welcomed religious delegates to the traditional territory of his people, he said, “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.
As the heads of the world’s most powerful nations gather in Ontario this weekend, let us pray that that law of love may guide their decisions.