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LMU Conference, Sep '09

Topics: Interfaith Dialog


by Doris Benavides

Interfaith religious leaders gathered recently to discuss ways to encourage Americans in advocating for the world's poverty reduction by increasing government foreign aid.

"Peace, stability and prosperity are indivisible," said Rebecca Tobias, program coordinator of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics, during her presentation at the Sept. 9 Point 7 Now Interfaith Leaders' luncheon sponsored by the Vesper Society, Catholic Relief Services, Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Solis and Loyola Marymount University.

Point 7 refers to a commitment made by developed countries to increase 0.7 percent of its national income to aid poor countries that promised reforms to improve transparency, democracy and anti-corruption efforts to reduce poverty.

The 70 religious leaders met at LMU to pledge their support to the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, an eight-point campaign to eliminate the world's poverty by 2015.

Tobias said a "prompt, decisive and coordinated effort is needed to reduce poverty. "The poor suffer more from this financial upheaval," she said.

Using statistics, Tobias, a global council trustee of the United Religious Initiative, explained the importance of fulfilling the goals set by the United Nations for this millennium.

"1.4 billion people are living on less than $1.25 per day," she said regarding Goal 1 --- eradicate extreme poverty and hunger --- citing data published by the World Bank.

On Goal 2 (achieve universal primary education), Tobias noted that "half the 22 million children living in poverty have never been in school."

Improvement has been made on Goal 4 (child mortality reduction), but "there is still more work to be done," she said. And on Goal 5 (improving maternal health), she said, "It is a privilege of the rich. The key relies on skilled health workers who can be there on time of birth."

In regard to Goal 8 --- develop a global partnership for development --- Tobias urged interfaith leaders to promote the use of Internet connectivity to reduce the gap with poor countries and help reduce poverty.

The other U.N. goals are: promote gender equality and empower women, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and ensure environmental sustainability.

Feeding the poor

"Let me introduce you to Musah," said David Gist, regional organizer of the nonprofit Bread for the World.

"He was a farmer in Senegal, who struggled every day thinking there wouldn't be enough rain for his crops or food to provide for his family," he continued.

It was hard for Musah to make ends meet, until the organization that Gist represents helped the Senegalese and his community by providing the necessary infrastructure and training to grow their crops and feed their families.

"Musah and people in his community have benefitted by irrigation and planting techniques taught to them. They can eat today, tomorrow and the years to come," Gist said.

Examples like Musah's abound in the world, including the United States, where people living below poverty levels increased to 39.8 million in 2008 from 37.3 million in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Eight million people die each year because they are too poor to survive, the World Bank reports.

"Our concerns and voices have been heard in Washington before," said Gist, "there are lots of signs of encouragement and progress in our leadership, but there's also skepticism and cynicism. Right now aid is dead," he said, noting that some aid is wasted by the countries that receive it and some of the money is "recycled" in Washington, "not going to people it needs to go to."

"Foreign policy is poised to change if we speak up," he said, citing several bills addressing poverty reduction that have been introduced in Congress. An example: the bipartisan Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009 (S. 1524), which promotes global development, good governance, and reduction of poverty and hunger as a U.S. policy.

"We can choose to say nothing and vote to keep the status quo, but we can truly partner to help the world," he told the leaders.

Local need

"There is a great deal of power in this room," George Wesolek, director of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Office of Public Policy and Social Concerns, told the religious leaders representing Muslims, Buddhists, Catholic and non-Catholic Christians, and Jewish communities.

"What would happen if we'd go to every legislature in our country and advocate?" he asked.

Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis, suggested a local approach.

Diamond said several synagogues are concerned about local poverty and have partnered in an outreach to fill "Fed up with hunger" bags with food for L.A.'s underserved communities.

According to the 2007 study "Poverty, jobs and the Los Angeles economy" published by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, poverty in Los Angeles County increased 40 percent in 2006. About 20 percent of children were living in extreme poverty.

During the meeting, Cardinal Mahony and other leaders signed the "Interfaith Statement to End Global Poverty" and pledged to contribute in different ways with the interfaith coalition, including participating in legislative advocacy, holding education programs in their communities, and sending a delegate to the interfaith meetings to be held every other month.

"We don't have a choice but to support," Ameena Qazi, deputy executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) told The Tidings. "We have waited and the world has debilitated. We are unable to move forward without lending a hand."

For more information on Point 7 Now, go to www.point7now.org.


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