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1 September 2000

Millennium Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders declares commitment to peace and support for the UN

cf. WCC Press Release, PR-00-22, of 25 August 2000
cf. WCC Press Update, Up-00-27, of 30 August 2000

An interreligious meeting held in New York 28-31 August was a significant attempt to develop a relationship between the religious community and the United Nations, according to a World Council of Churches (WCC) official who attended.

"It will be interesting to see in what way the UN can respond," said the Rev. Dr Hans Ucko, executive secretary of the WCC's team on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue, on the final day of the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders.

Ucko noted that holding the first two days of the gathering in the General Assembly Hall of the UN headquarters was a unique development. "We have prayed in their house. This shows the eagerness of the followers of the different religions to support the UN." But, despite the support given to the summit by UN secretary-general Kofi A. Annan, the attitude of the UN as a whole to the religious community remains uncertain, Ucko said.

The WCC had accepted an invitation for its general secretary, the Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, to address the summit and had supplied names of people from its constituency who might be invited to participate. "We couldn't be absent from a gathering of this kind," Ucko said.

Prepared in advance by the organizing committee and revised only slightly during the meeting, a summit declaration entitled "Commitment to Global Peace" appealed to people of all religious traditions "to cooperate in building peaceful societies, to seek mutual understanding through dialogue where there are differences, to refrain from violence, to practise compassion and to uphold the dignity of all life."

Ucko described the declaration as "quite good" and commended its tone. However, he felt the summit would have benefited from a broader constituency base. The WCC had not been invited to help organize it, and has accepted no role in its follow-up.

According to Ucko, plans to set up a steering committee to create an interreligious body that would seek to bring religious thinking and interests into relationship with UN peace efforts are premature. An indication of what the UN expects from the religious community, and what possibilities the UN has for using already established resources are needed first. The UN might well rely, Ucko said, on an established body such as the World Conference on Religion and Peace, an interreligious agency based at the Church Center for the UN, directly across the street from the UN's New York headquarters.

Ucko said the summit came at a time when the WCC is thinking about how to respond to "the many interreligious initiatives that are taking place". There is a growing push for action in this area, and the WCC will hold a consultation on this subject next year, he reported.

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.