Issue 40, December 2002
Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC)
European Meeting

Lisbon, Portugal, August 7-11, 2002

Responding to the invitation of the Arigatou Foundation, an NGO founded by Rev. Takeyasu Miyamoto in 1990 to protect and improve the lives of children around the world, a group of people of faith, adults and children, coming from different religions- including Buddhism, Christianity (Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant), Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Baha’i, Vedantique- and different European countries met in Lisbon, Portugal, from the fifth to the seventh of August 2002.

The main objectives of the meeting were:

To share experiences among the participants
To reflect on the complex and multifaceted dimension of religions in Europe
To reflect on the rights of children and the challenges for religions
To explore the potential of creating the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) in Europe.

The GNRC is a global network inaugurated in May 2000 in Tokyo, Japan, at the initiative of the Arigatou Foundation. Its objective is to contribute to the well being of the world’s children through religious and ethical collaboration in order to create a better environment for children in the 21st century.

Each day began with prayers led by one of the religions present in the meeting, and there was also an inter-religious prayer for children and for peace in the world. Participants gave presentations and participated in group work. There were formal and informal discussions and a performance addressing spiritual and moral issues through dance and drama. The personal encounter made an atmosphere of friendship and conviviality possible.

Building the GNRC network in Europe
The participants decided to start the process of building the GNRC network in Europe as a dynamic and flexible group of adults and children from different religions who can work together in order to contribute to the spiritual well being of children, and towards the implementation of their rights.

1. Mission Description
We believe that children are the inheritors of the Earth and the precious treasure of humanity. They are also a source of hope and remind us of the sacredness of life. All our religions give strong emphasis to the unique value of children’s lives and the promise they represent for the present and future of humanity. All our religions share the values of peace, justice, love and mutual respect. We also value diversity and recognize the need for dialogue and effective cooperation between different religions, in order to contribute to the building of a new spiritual civilization, where children can enjoy and live with the principles of justice, compassion with all human beings and in harmony with nature.

We recognize that European religious people have not always contributed to the improvement of the life of children who suffer from poverty, marginalization, and exclusion, and also from spiritual and cultural poverty. Religions have sometimes contributed to prejudices and intolerance, thus creating suffering among children, their families and communities. We see the need for our religious communities to put more efforts into cultivating good understanding among religions, and with all people of good will, in order to contribute to the building of a better world for children.

We also recognize that many religious people, religious organizations, and institutions are making great efforts to defend and protect the lives of children. Through these actions, they are giving a message of hope to the world.

Working in inter-religious groups during the meeting, we have demonstrated that inter-religious understanding, co-operation, and respect will enhance children’s and young people’s spiritual and moral development. We also believe that all our traditions have strong and rich values that can help them to become better human beings, and contribute to peace and understanding.

In order to contribute as religious people to the well being of children, we will work for:
The implementation of global ethics and interfaith spiritual education for children.
The pursuing of fundamental solutions to the problem of poverty, health and violence.
The implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and contribute to the Global Movement for Children.

2. Purposes of the GNRC-Europe
The GNRC-Europe will contribute to:
Sharing information, experiences, reflections and stories about our work for and with children
Identifying areas of common concern and exploring the possibilities for practical cooperation
Deepening our own religious experience through the contact and interaction with other religions and people of other faiths
Promoting tolerance and respect for religious diversity and celebrating commonalties

3. Principles and Criteria
Fundamental appreciation of the infinite and unique value of every child.
Valuing the capacity of children and promoting their participation
Promoting a greater involvement of adults in their spiritual and moral education of children
Putting prayer and action together in the work for and with children
Putting into practice the principles of mutual respect and acceptance
Promoting positive experiences of encounter with people of other faiths
Incorporating children’s role models in ethical and spiritual education.
Promoting awareness about the social and cultural dimensions of the rights of the children in our society and in our religious communities
Promoting the knowledge about other religious experiences in order to foster respect and collaboration
Collaborating with other people of good will who share the same objectives
Promoting the equal participation of girls and boys
Cooperating with UNICEF, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) working with children.

4. Participants
Members of the GNRC-Europe include:
People from different faiths and religions in Europe working directly with children
Religious leaders who have a commitment for children’s rights
Religious organizations which have children as a priority
Other participants:
People from NGOs who are willing to work with religious people
UNICEF and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
Other people of good will who contribute to the cause of children

5. Main issues/priorities for the GNRC-Europe:
The meeting identified many priorities that are being addressed by organizations working with children, and which still need to be addressed across Europe. Some of these are:
Poverty and economic instability/financial exploitation
Ethical /spiritual education of children
Accessibility and availability of medical care for every child.
Violence/domestic violence
Discrimination and racial hatred
Hearing children voices and children's participation
Drug and substance abuse
Sexual exploitation and child prostitution
Refugee and Roma children

From these, three were identified as priorities that could be taken forward by the Global Network of Religions for Children Regional Forum. These are:

To address the different types of poverty that exists in Europe, and which affect all aspects of life such as economic, spiritual, social, educational and cultural.
To promote and provide ethical and spiritual education for children and adults across Europe.
To actively encourage the consultation and participation of children in education.

6. Plan of Action

Prayer for children
The importance of prayers in working for children's rights, as people of faith, was affirmed. In order to strengthen our desire to pray together for the well being of all children and for peace in the world, it was agreed to hold devotional meetings including a daily one-minute prayer for peace at 12:00 (GMT). This invitation is open to all people of good will.

Education for children and their families was strongly affirmed as a priority for the GNRC Europe with a twin focus:

  • The promotion of ethical and moral values

  • The promotion of programs to address violence and facilitate peace
  • In relation to this priority it was agreed to create a European Working Group on Ethical and Spiritual Education for Children. The Working Group will develop a more specific plan of action for the work of the network in this area.

    Building and strengthening relationships
    In the midst of isolation and the fragmentation of communities, the need for increasing contacts and relationships was identified as a priority. This building and strengthening of relationships will involve:

  • Spiritual communities and groups

  • Religious organizations, and institutions on a local level

  • Children from different religions
  • At a more practical level it was recommended:

  • to invite GNRC members to work on interfaith calendars

  • to promote meetings of children of different faiths
  • Advocacy, lobbying and communication on Children's rights
    It was recognised that religions and religious people have the moral authority to speak out on issues affecting children, and they also have the responsibility to advocate for their rights. They need to develop collective strategies involving other national and international organizations. These strategies may include publicity about positive actions being taken by religions or religious people, lobbying on specific problems affecting children, etc. This initiative needs to involve:

    Press and Media
    Political institutions
    UNICEF and the UN Committee on the Right of the Child

    In order to strengthen communication among the members of the GNRC Europe it was recommended:

  • to keep in contact with the Arigatou Foundation

  • to use the web page of the GNRC Europe to keep in contact and promote children's rights

  • to interact with other members of the network in Europe
  • Reflection on religious perspectives
    The problems of intolerance, rejection and discrimination are very much based on the lack of appropriate information about other religious traditions and perspectives. Very often adults transmit their own prejudices about other religions and cultures to children. It was recommended to deepen the reflection on our own religions and on other religions’ basis and perspectives, contributing to the celebration of commonalties and valuing and respecting differences. This will contribute to:

  • Enhancing common ethical and spiritual values

  • Improving mutual understanding of different faiths

  • Deepening our reflection on children from our religious perspectives
  • 7. Ways of promoting children's rights
    In relation to methodologies of work for the GNRC Europe, the following was recommended:
    To share information, experiences, reflections and stories about the work for and with children
    To establish working groups around issues that are a priority for the European region
    To involve children at all levels
    To use the GNRC web site and the web page for Europe
    To mobilise the human resources and the existing capacities among the members of the network

    The following specific recommendations were made in relation to families, schools and community centres:

    “Invite your neighbour”, creating opportunities for children to interact with other members of the community, in particular with people of other faiths, races and cultures
    Find ways of reaching parents´ generation, using different methods for different settings
    Involve children in family activities and decisions
    Encourage positive attitudes towards other religions

    Prepare inter-religious material for schools
    Organize visits to places of worship with school classes
    Develop ways of working with schools in the developing world– these are different from schools in Europe and the U.S.A.
    Foster a good knowledge and understanding about other religions as well as solidarity among children and young people

    Community centres:
    Provide open-house arrangements in religious community centres on a regular basis.
    Organize social programs like arts, literature, dance, cooking, handicrafts, etc. using them to enhance children's understanding of other cultures
    Sharing of social events in order to contribute to deepening the human and personal contact between people from different religions, races and cultures.

    Final remarks
    Special thanks were given to the Arigatou Foundation for their effective support to the realization of this first meeting of the GNRC in Europe. Thanks were also expressed to the coordination of the meeting, to the moderator and other GNRC members who contributed in different ways to the success of the Portugal meeting. The presence of the representatives from UNICEF and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child was higly valued. We were reaffirmed in our conviction that we share a common vision of a better world for children based on the best of our common ideals and principles: love, justice, compassion and harmony among all living beings and nature.

    It was a privilege to meet at the Convent Irmãs Franciscanas Hospitaleiras da Imaculada Conceição that provided the right spiritual and physical environment for a harmonious relationship among all the participants. The love expressed by the Catholic sisters and by members of the Bah'ai and Buddhist communities in Portugal and their readiness to help us and be with us was very positive. Children and adults who participated in the meeting felt inspired by the achievements we were able to have at the end of the meeting and dedicated the result of our work to God in a simple and emotive closing ceremony.

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