Thursday, July 24, 2008

670 Anglican Bishops March Through London: "Halve Poverty By 2015"

In a welcome break from all the tensions stewing at the Anglican Communion's on-going Lambeth Conference, Episcopal Life Online covers an encouraging moment of unity and outreach: Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams--flanked by other faith leaders including Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Islam representative Sir Iqbal Sacranie, and other ecumenical partners--led most of the 670 bishops attending the conference through the streets of London, followed by 1,500 lay leaders, to protest international paralysis on the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals for global progress. Portions of the report follow.

The BBC also has excellent coverage of the event, including some impressive aerial footage of the march as it paraded through London.

Anglican bishops and their spouses demonstrated on July 24 in support of poverty reduction worldwide, walking in purple cassocks and native dress past symbols of British power such as the Houses of Parliament and the prime minister's residence at Downing Street.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and other Christian and interfaith leaders were at the head of the march, walking behind a banner reading "Keep the Promise/Halve Poverty by 2015," references to one of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals for global progress.

The one-hour march, which created a river of violet down Whitehall Road, ended at Williams' residence, Lambeth Palace, across the River Thames from the seat of Great Britain's government.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking to the bishops at Lambeth, called the march "one of the greatest demonstrations of faith this great city has ever seen."

Brown said wealthier nations are not moving fast enough to meet the development goals. "At our current rates of progress," they will not be met by 2015 deadline set in the MDGs. Some, he said, will not be met for 100 years if the rate of progress is not increased.

"I say to you that the poor of the world have been patient but 100 years is too long for people to wait for justice and that is why we must act now. We know that with the technology we have, the medicine we have, the science we have, it is the will to act that must be found," he said.

Williams noted that "unless we address this great gulf between human beings, we cannot expect a future of stability or welfare. As the world grows smaller, the truth is that the suffering and the needs of anyone in our global community is going to be the suffering and needs of everyone in our global community. This is not and should not be a surprise to those of us who hold the Christian faith and who have believed for 2,000 years that when one part of the body suffers, all suffer."

Flanked by Christian and other faith leaders including Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and Sir Iqbal Sacranie, representing Islam, Williams said that the goal must be "to give to each person what they deserve in the eyes of God, not what they deserve because of their prosperity but what they deserve because they are made in God's image and demand our respect, our love and our service without qualification -- that is justice."

Referring to an emergency session of the UN General Assembly on the global food and fuel crises, set for Sept. 25 in New York, Brown told the rally "we need a march not just to Lambeth, we need a march also to New York."

"I ask you to go back to your countries and I ask you to ask your governments and I ask you to ask all of civil society to tell people that on September 25 we have got to make good the promises that have been made, redeem the pledges that have been promised, make good the Millennium Development Goals that are not being met," he said.

Brown asked the crowd to join him in asking their governments to commit to three goals. The first is that by 2010, 40 million more children would be in school "on the road to every child being in schooling by 2015."

The second pledge would be to train medical workers and provide them with the equipment "to eradicate polio, tuberculosis, malaria and diphtheria, then go on to eliminate HIV/AIDS in our generation."

The third is to allocate $20 billion in food aid "and not for only food aid but to give people the means -- free of the old agricultural protectionism -- to grow food themselves with help from our countries to develop a green revolution in Africa."

With a slight breeze blowing off the Thames, the demonstrators enjoyed a perfect sunny summer day. Many of the bishops’ wives wore dresses and hats or such native costumes as saris, ready for a garden party scheduled to take place in the afternoon at Buckingham Palace. Occasionally, there was a burst of hymn singing, with "We are marching in the light of God" being one selection.

The one-hour march stopped traffic on one of London's busiest streets, with tourists gazing from the top of double-decker sightseeing buses and passersby snapping photos.

As the 600 bishops and their spouses assembled before the walk on a side street of government offices, workers hung out of the windows, taking pictures.

Bishop John Gladstone, Moderator of the Church of South India in S. Kerala, an ecumenical partner, said that in his area, "there are four million people who are very economically disadvantaged. The local church and diocese generate employment, attempt to attend to health care and to alleviate poverty through different ways."

Kallistos of Diokleia from the Orthodox Church Patriarchate in Constantinople, dressed in black robes and headdress and wearing gold icons around his neck, stressed the universality of poverty. "Anglican problems are our problems," he said. "We are here today to bear witness against worldwide poverty so many people who are pleading for a fair distribution of wealth between the rich and poor can be heard."

The Rev. Dr. Michael Battle from Los Angeles, a chaplain at the Lambeth Conference, referred to Queen Elizabeth’s garden party later in the day and said the march “will show bishops can be relevant for the whole world. This is the first time they (the Lambeth Conference bishops) have done this. Usually it’s [just] high tea with the Queen.”

Bishop George Councell of New Jersey noted the so-called "Walk of Witness" was especially important since "later in the afternoon we have this privileged access to Buckingham Palace. I pray that we'll carry the hunger of the world and our own hunger for justice with us."

Bishop Ezekiel Malaandit of the Diocese of Bor in Sudan, whose primate earlier in the conference criticized the U.S. church's inclusive stance on homosexuality, said that "We are here to help people, to be supportive, to show we are one communion. Changing minds, sharing ideas and experiences, talking and working together like this we benefit from one another."

The sexuality controversy roiling the Anglican world was not absent, with one protestor, the Rev. David Braid, holding a sign "Jesus never ordained sodomites. Neither should the church. Hitler was a sodomite."

Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida had wrapped a rainbow flag around his sign because, he said, "when we talk about justice and mercy, we need to remember that gay and lesbian persons are discriminated against by the church and the government."

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