Politicians attending meeting in Muskoka will get push to aid the poor, environment - 2009-03-19
When the world's most powerful government leaders gather in cottage country next year to discuss how to get the global economy back on track, religious leaders from around the world will be on hand to push them to remember the poor and the environment.
"How can the G8 ignore it if all these voices are speaking together," asks Rev. Karen Hamilton, general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches.
The Council of Churches is organizing what promises to be the biggest ever such gathering of religious leaders from around the world in a counter-conference to coincide with the annual G8 political leaders' conference planned for the Deerhurst Resort near Huntsville.
Hamilton says there will be top representatives from all the world's major faiths at the counter-conference, including South Africa's Desmond Tutu and the Aga Khan. She has also been told the Dalai Lama hopes to attend, which she says will give the meeting added clout with the political leaders.
Her group launches its countdown to the June 25-27 summit tonight with a public lecture by University of Toronto economist John Kirton at the Noor Cultural Centre on Wynford Dr. Word of the event has been spread by the centre through its network of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples.
Kirton, a world-recognized expert on the Group of Eight, says that while the group of the world's top industrialized nations has promised many times to address the needs of the poor, it has only a 47 per cent success rate in fulfilling its own promises for action.
"They just need to be held to account," says Kirton, an active member in the Anglican Church.
Left to themselves, the G8 leaders have fallen badly behind their promises to address the needs of the world's poor, he says.
Kirton points to promises made at successive summits to fight AIDS and polio in developing countries, for example, while funding for treatment programs has been cut and the diseases are once again on the rise. The same can be said for promises on global warming, hunger and numerous other issues, he says.
And with the financial crisis deepening around the world, Kirton warns, political leaders will be tempted to further cut their help for the sick and poor in developing countries. He has not, however, given up on the G8 leaders just yet.
"They really want to (live up to their commitments), they are not lying to their people," says Kirton. And that, he says, is where faith leaders can play a key role.
"We know faith-based leaders can push the G8 to go further," he says.
Unlike black-clad protesters who battle police outside the gates of each G8 meeting, it's harder for political leaders to ignore the admonitions of the world's religious leaders.
The religious counter-summit will be held at the University of Winnipeg, where school president Lloyd Axworthy, a former federal Liberal cabinet member, has donated the use of his campus.
That's a long way from Huntsville, Hamilton admits, but says that with all the security at such meetings, there is no way the religious leaders could meet at Deerhurst as well.
She is expecting more than 100 religious leaders, plus their staff and followers, to attend. It will be the largest ever such event, and open to anybody who wants to attend.
The first faith-groups meeting to be held alongside the G8 was in 2005, and organizers have typically spent only a matter of months getting ready. Hamilton and her team have been laying the groundwork since last summer when the Deerhurst resort in Muskoka was announced as the 2010 venue.
Kirton said such long preparation time will give the event added sway with the political leaders, adding the G8 tends to most respect groups that show a long-term commitment to organizing summit-related events.
Hamilton hopes that will translate into the first face-to-face meeting between political and religious leaders during the Muskoka G8.