Mr. Miguel Moratinos
The High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC)
High Level Meeting on the Role of Religious Leaders in Addressing the Multiple Challenges of COVID19
New York – 12 May
Distinguished religious leaders,
It is a great pleasure to be here. At the outset I wish to start by thanking the Secretary-General for his leadership and guidance since the outbreak of this global health crisis. I salute The President of the General Assembly Mr. Tijjani Muhammed Bande. It is certainly very challenging to be navigating the world body during the pandemic. And last but not least, I wish to thank Amb. Omar Hilale for inviting me and for hosting this timely meeting. I seize this opportunity to commend the Kingdom of Morocco and leadership of His Majesty King Mohamed VI for the work done in moderating religious discourse and promoting interfaith dialogue and peaceful co-existence. The mosaic pattern of the Moroccan society with its rich cultural and religious diversity, cannot be overlooked. I still recall the words of His Holiness Pope Francis during his visit to Morocco in March last year when he re-affirmed “the need for cooperation in giving new impetus to the building of a world of greater solidarity, marked by honest, courageous and indispensable efforts to promote a dialogue respectful of the richness and distinctiveness of each people and every individual”. Promoting dialogue based on respect and acceptance of all people regardless of their religion, belief, culture, race or gender is at the heart of the mandate of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.
I am truly inspired by the words of all the distinguished speakers who preceded me. The COVID19 pandemic, as the Secretary General described it on several occasions, is a global human crisis. People are in the epicenter of this crisis. It is imperative to have a coordinated, decisive, inclusive action from state and non-state actors including religious leaders and faith-based organizations.
As such, it was heartening to see how many religious leaders and communities of faith swiftly acted and placed themselves in the frontlines providing valuable services to their communities. His Holiness Pope Francis, The Grand Imam of Al Azhar and many others heeded the appeal of the Secretary-General for a global ceasefire using their moral voice to promote peace. The Appeal of Conscience Foundation and its President and founder Rabbi Arthur Schneier echoed those words by calling for unity, not only to deal with the pandemic , but to build peaceful societies based on respect.
Yet, isn’t that what is expected from faith actors in these trying times?
We share the Secretary-General’s call for global solidarity and the need to take into account the needs of vulnerable populations and marginalized communities, as well as his concern about growing stigma and hate speech. Indeed, all this impede the fully mobilized UN response strategies and efforts that the Secretary General has been leading in the past few months. That’s why on 26 March, Mr. Adama Dieng and myself issued a joint call for Solidarity, Compassion and Unity and warning of the adverse impact of division and stigma on social cohesion.
Member States demonstrated their commitment to international cooperation by endorsing 2 important resolutions: A/74/270 on multilateral cooperation and the most recent resolution A/74/274 that was drafted by Mexico calling for global action to scale up manufacturing and equitable access to medicine and vaccines.
In life-altering crises when people are desperate and uprooted from their lives, faith has often been their anchor and the place they turn to for consolation and hope.
This is where the role of religious leaders come into play.
Faith actors are deeply rooted in the communities they serve and as such they are often the first responders. Since the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic, local faith institutions, religious leaders and other faith-based organizations have been responding to the needs of their communities as humanitarian actors as well as leveraging their moral authority to share positive health messaging and guidance, as informed by government health institutions.
Around the globe, as millions of people have been placed under lockdown and were obliged to practice social distancing to reduce transmission of the virus and halt rates of infection and death. The impact of such isolation is far reaching beyond its economic dimension. From a faith perspective, religious practices and rituals are being curtailed triggering debates among faith communities around religious rights. Passover, Easter and Ramadan, the three holy occasions which crisscrossed each other in April were marked differently this year in the context of social distancing. Governments and health institutions worked closely with prominent religious leaders who provided guidance on observing religious rituals in isolation while encouraging them to demonstrate solidarity and compassion.
Many religious leaders have a mobilizing capacity as well as the trust of the communities they serve. They have the responsibility of promoting messages about gender equality, challenging stigma and hate speech , dispelling misinformation and rumors, championing attention to and inclusion of vulnerable populations including minorities, migrants, refugees, internally displaced persons, indigenous peoples, prisons, people with disabilities, and members of other marginalized groups by creating supportive environments; advocating for their rights and access to diagnosis, treatment. and vaccines; sharing evidence-based accurate information; and publicly standing against statements and acts that encourage violence and human rights violations.
There are existing frameworks and institutional tools that serve the purpose.
We are also informed by the historical Document of Human Fraternity, World Peace and Living Together signed by His Holiness Pope Francis and His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al Azhar last year that the “authentic teachings of religions invite us to remain rooted in the values of peace, to defend the values of mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious coexistence … to reawaken religious awareness among young people so that future generations may be protected from the realm of materialistic thinking and from dangerous policies of unbridled greed … that are based on the law of force and not on the force of law.”
The document professes guidance on numerous issues raised here from building peaceful inclusive societies with equal citizenship rights to the protection of women and children , promoting mutual respect and acceptance and rejecting violence and extremism.
Last week, his Holiness Pope Francis and His Eminence the grand Imam of Al-Azhar endorsed the call for Prayer For Humanity launched by the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity inviting all faiths on May 14 to join in prayer, fasting and supplication for the good of all humanity. Mr. Guterres joined the Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar in their support for the initiative. I will, myself, join them in their prayers for humanity, solidarity and hope.
Moreover, the UN Inter Agency Task Force on Religion and Sustainable Development issued a joint statement, endorsed by its Multi-Faith Advisory Council comprising 40 faith-based organizations, calling on religious leaders and faith-based organizations to extend their support and – within their respective spheres of influence and authority – promote and advocate with Member States and other stakeholders for the United Nations Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID- 19.
Building on the momentum created in today’s meeting, I wish to announce that my office and the office of my friend Mr. Adama Dieng, the Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide in collaboration with the Croatia which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, together we plan to organize a meeting with religious leaders and faith-based organizations to explore a results and an action-oriented global pledge by them in response to the Secretary-General’s repeated appeals for solidarity and unity. The meeting will include a wide range of confessions and faiths and provide the space to explore and identify areas of action and concrete result-oriented initiatives that religious leaders and faith-actors can undertake in response to COVID19. We have identified a tentative date for the meeting on 28 May.
I very much look forward to a continued and fruitful engagement with religious leaders and faith-based actors to ensure that the response to the pandemic is based on a whole-of-society, human-centered approach that leaves no one behind.
Distinguished religious leaders,
The Abrahamic faiths have teachings that profess the importance of taking action to assist others and save lives. Doing the common good as in : “Love of God and Love of Neighbor” is at the heart of these 3 monotheistic religions.
- The Bible encourages followers to : “show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works”.
- The Quran tells us: “If anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole humanity.”
- In Judaism, the preservation of human life takes precedence over all other commandments, as emphasized in the Talmud.
In the spirit of doing common good for our one humanity, I thank you and I look forward to your interventions.