- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2000

NEW YORK Hundreds of religious leaders yesterday vowed to work together with the United Nations to defuse conflict, protect the environment and eradicate poverty.
In a landmark document, some 700 to 800 religious and spiritual leaders pledged to "practice and promote inner and outer conditions that foster peace and the nonviolent management and resolution of conflict."
Scores of priests, prophets, rabbis, cardinals, nuns, swamis, monks and chieftains gathered in New York this week to celebrate their common goals and affirm their responsibility to work for equality and peace.
"There can be no real peace until all groups and communities acknowledge the cultural and religious diversity of the human family in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding," the religious leaders said in their two-page Commitment to Peace, which has been presented to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
"We accept that men and women are equal partners in all aspects of life and children are the hope of the future," declared participants of the Millennium World Peace Summit, which wraps up today.
But despite such lofty ideals, political divisions intruded on the conference over the exclusion of the Dalai Lama.
Conference organizers declined to invite the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize laureate out of respect for China's "sensitivities" regarding all things Tibetan. The spiritual leader of Tibet, which was annexed by China in 1959, did send a delegation to the conference.
Although grumbling was still heard yesterday, most of the participants were eager to get on with interfaith roundtables organized around regional and religious conflicts such as the Balkans, Middle East, Russia and Central Asia.
In their Commitment to Global Peace, the religious leaders also promised to protect the environment, work to abolish nuclear weapons, and "combat those commercial practices and applications of technology that degrade the environment and the quality of human life."
The group plans to convene an interfaith "advisory panel" to counsel the secretary-general on using religious solutions to global problems.
Mr. Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said yesterday that "he would probably be more comfortable with a less-formal yet active relationship in the future."
The secretary-general in the past three years has consistently reached out to business leaders, nongovernmental groups, high-profile sports and entertainment figures, and other segments of "civil society" to get involved with the international organization.
In his remarks to the group on Tuesday, Mr. Annan reaffirmed the universal right to freedom of religion and assembly and said "there must be no room in the 21st century for religious bigotry and intolerance."
He also challenged the religious leaders to reject religious extremism and noted that they "have not always spoken out when their voices could have helped combat hatred and persecution, or could have roused people from indifference."
Among the conferees' commitments:
To collaborate with the United Nations and all men and women of good will locally, regionally and globally in the pursuit of peace in all its dimensions.
To appeal to all religious communities and ethnic and national groups to respect the right to freedom of religion, to seek reconciliation, and to engage in mutual forgiveness and healing.
To combat those commercial practices and applications of technology that degrade the environment and the quality of human life.
To promote the equitable distribution of wealth within nations and among nations, eradicating poverty and reversing the widening gap between rich and poor.
To practice and promote in our communities the values of the inner dimension of peace, including especially study, prayer, meditation, a sense of the sacred, humility, love, compassion, tolerance and a spirit of service, which are fundamental to the creation of a peaceful society.

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