IN THE NEWS #444 - World Religious Summit

By Cynthia Kirk

This is the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

More than one-thousand representatives from all the world's religions met this week at the United Nations in New York. They were there to attend to the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders. It was the first time such a meeting has ever taken place.

The conference brought together leaders from many religious faiths, including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism. There were religious leaders from areas of current conflict, including Bosnia and Sierra Leone. The religious leaders did not negotiate political disputes. Organizers say they were hoping to form personal ties that would help lead to unity.

The conference opened Monday with prayers and music. Then, leaders of more than seventy religious groups gave speeches on such issues as world peace, the environment and conditions of poor people. They talked about ways to reduce violence and build trust. Discussions also included the treatment of minority groups, women, and religious freedom.

U-N Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke on the second day of the conference. He called on the world religious leaders to speak out against the use of religion as a tool for hate and violence. He urged them to seek justice, equality and unity.

Conference organizers hope the meeting will lead to the forming of a group of religious leaders to advise the United Nations. The organizers say such a group could help prevent and settle disputes. They say religious leaders could be a force for change.

But some religious leaders criticized the organizers for not inviting Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama. The Nobel Peace Prize winner did send some representatives.

Organizers said that the presence of the Dalai Lama would lead to political questions about the future of Tibet. But critics of the conference say not inviting him was a political decision made not to offend the government of China.

China accuses the Tibetan Buddhist leader of creating conflict in Tibet. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in Nineteen-Fifty-Nine after an attempted rebellion against China's occupation.

A coalition of religious organizations and Ted Turner's U-N Foundation organized the international conference. Mr. Turner created Cable News Network in Atlanta, Georgia. He suggested that Mr. Annan invite religious leaders to the United Nations to work for world peace. Mr. Turner has given one-thousand-million dollars to the U-N in the past.

A statement, "Commitment to Global Peace," was released at the end of the four day conference. It calls for religious leaders to work for freedom of religion, environment protection and lessening the difference between rich and poor.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by Cynthia Kirk.

Voice of America Special English