UN UNITES 1,000 CLERGY
The United Nations is to extend its peacekeeping role into spiritual territory next year by hosting its first summit for world religious leaders, bringing together the likes of the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Aga Khan and the Grand Mufti live on television.
In one of the UN's most ambitious projects, more than 1,000 clergymen, from cardinals and rabbis to imams and patriarchs, will join "living gods" and gurus at the body's New York headquarters in August. Organisers of the Millennium World Peace Summit, which will take place days before the world's political leaders gather for the UN General Assembly, hope to encourage faiths to bury ancient enmities and co-operate in resolving world conflicts.
The idea for the gathering emerged from a conversation between Kofi Annan, the UN's Secretary-General, and Ted Turner, the multi-millionaire owner of CNN and the husband of Jane Fonda, who has promised to broadcast the proceedings live. Bawa Jain, the summit's New York-based executive co-ordinator, said: "Ted Turner said to the Secretary-General, 'If you want peace in the world you have to bring together religious leaders at the UN and get them to sign a declaration'." Because of the political sensitivities involved, however, the summit is being organised at one removed from Mr Annan. It has his full backing, said Mr Jain. He said: "Our dream is to get the top religious leaders to the UN so they can discuss the role they can play with the political bodies here. The gathering will not include politicians but it should feed into the General Assembly."
Against a background of friction in Kosovo, East Timor, the Middle East and Northern Ireland, the leaders would be expected to sign a common declaration pledging their commitment to reduce religious tensions. The first ever council of senior clerics could also be established to advise the Secretary-General, and its members could be "parachuted" into troublespots, said Mr Jain. He said: "These leaders could go into those places physically and use their influence to make sure no violence occurs. They could say, 'We're not going to move from here until you make peace'. Religions must exert more authority. It is a call to action." While planning was still in the early stages and much was "still up in the air", interest had been "phenomenal" and talks were under way with, for example, Lambeth Palace and the Vatican, he added.
Apart from the Pope and Dr George Carey, religious leaders expected
to be approached include Sheikh Ahmed Keftaro, the
Grand Mufti of Syria, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Alazar from Cairo, the imams of the mosques of Mecca and Medina, Dr Abdullah Salehal-Obaid, the secretary of the World Muslim League, the Israel's Chief Rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, the Most Rev Bartholomew, the Russian Patriarch, His Holiness Alexii II, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bishop Carlos Belo, the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner from East Timor.
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