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Religious leaders ask the G8 for freedom of religion for Tibet and Myanmar

by Pino Cazzaniga, AsiaNews, July 5, 2008

The request comes in a statement written at a summit of representatives from various faiths, held in Osaka and Kyoto. Major global institutions are increasingly turning to religion to understand the world's problems.

Tokyo, Japan -- About 50 visitors and 100 Japanese participated at the "summit of religious leaders for the G8", the meeting that for three years has been gathering representatives of the various faiths in view of the summit of political leaders from the major powers, and has become one of the main assemblies on the calendar of interreligious dialogue. The stated aim is that of giving a spiritual face to a summit that, although it is political, deals with topics fundamentally concerning the human heart.

From June 27-29, representatives and leaders from the main religions of the world met in Osaka and Kyoto, in view of the summit of the Group of Eight, which will be held at Lake Toyako (Hokkaido) from July 7-9, in order to send it a joint declaration.

The deputy foreign minister, the governor of Osaka, and the mayor of Kyoto welcomed the participants with cordial speeches. The conference was also supported by secular organisations like the environment ministry, the Japanese committee of UNICEF, the national federation of UNESCO, and Kyoto's chamber of commerce.

English professor Michael Shackleton, who teaches anthropology at Gakuin University in Osaka, wrote: "So much secular support confirms the conviction that many people are religious, and that the heads of the religions are obtaining more respect and support from political leaders". And he added: "As the weakness of government becomes evident, the United Nations, the World Bank, and other large representative institutions are increasingly turning to religion and religious leaders to understand and resolve the world's problems". And in fact, the main theme of the summit of religious leaders was: "Living with the Earth: Message from World Religions". The discussions focused on three areas: living with nature, living with ethnic diversity, and taking Africa's problems into consideration.

The preposition "with" recurred in the speeches and discussions like a refrain. What has led the religious leaders to meet together (through the international summit) is an awareness of their shared responsibility.

Discussions were held at the University of Osaka and at the Anglican university Doshisa (Kyoto). The latter has been engaged in interreligious dialogue for decades. The religions represented were Buddhism, Shinto, the new Japanese religions, Islam, Christianity (Protestant and Catholic), Judaism, Hinduism, and Sikhism.

Since this was a meeting of religious leaders , there were moments of prayer, especially during the visits to the Buddhist temples, like the Shitennoji temple of Osaka and the Nishi Honganji temple of Kyoto, oases of meditation amid the desert of secularism.

But almost as if to emphasise the inseparable connection between religion and life, the conference participants also visited the Airin district of Osaka, where the sad spectacle of the "day labourers" stands in sharp contrast with that of wealth and comfort, often indicated as the characteristic of Japanese society.

During the religious meeting, the most delicate moment, Shackleton observes, was when the Khambo Lama of Mongolia, who also represents the Dalai Lama in eastern Asia, asked that in the final statement the (political) leaders of the G8 be urged to condemn the oppression of religious and civil liberties in Tibet and Myanmar. The proposal was accepted. At the G8 summit on Lake Toyako, Chinese president Hu Jintao will be present alongside the other leaders.



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