Jerusalem Religious Leaders on Environment

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Religious leaders in Jerusalem urged peoples of all denominations to take their faith-based commitment to the stewardship of God’s creation to the U.N. Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil June 20-22.

“We need to bring an invitation for all religious leaders from all faiths” to speak publicly, with determination, “so that we turn religion into a part of the solution rather than … risking more and more becoming part of the problem,” Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour of Haifa told Catholic News Service at the March 19 Interfaith Climate and Energy Conference coordinated by the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development.

People have an “immense power” to respect the beauty of nature through the expression of their faith, Archbishop Chacour said, and by using this faith they can work toward forming an alliance with others to protect the earth and its natural resources.

“I don’t (care) if others believe in what I believe in … but I would like them to consider my positive attitude toward creation. When God created not only the planet but the entire cosmos, he said, ‘This is very good.’ He created man and woman both in his likeness, and he commissioned them to go and care for the world as if he is saying to them: ‘You be my place-taker,’” the archbishop said.

“For me as a Christian the environment is not a modern topic, it is one of the most ancient topics on earth,” he added.

If read attentively, Christian theology and philosophy can be used to lead the faithful toward a positive attitude not only for their environment, but also for the entire cosmos, he said.

“This is a starting point,” he said. “And this will be reflected around us, in our homes and in our societies.”

Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III noted that religious leaders not only can influence the faithful in their communities but also all aspects of political life.

“There are people who hold (political) positions who are believers and do follow instructions from their religious leadership,” he said. “There must be harmony between humanity and creation.”

On a more practical level, said Rabbi Yonathan Neril, founder and director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, religious leaders and institutions have the potential to mobilize billions of followers in the global struggle to curb climate change and achieve sustainable development, not only through their congregation but also through their educational institutions.

“Religious leaders are some of the most influential leaders in the world at the grass-roots level … part of their work is to leverage their moral authority of world religious leadership to promote a more sustainable planet,” said Neril.

Archbishop Chacour said Mar Elias College in the Galilee village of Ibillin can serve as an example of the impact that education in church institutions can make at a grass-roots level. Twenty years ago, he said, garbage could be found everywhere — except in the garbage bins — in the school’s playground. Today, students know they must to use the garbage bins if they want to keep their school clean.

In addition, Rabbi Daniel Sperber, professor of Talmudic research at Bar Ilan University, noted that, through pension funds, many faith groups control billions of dollars that could be used as leverage to influence the environmental policies of governments and industries.

The conference, which was co-sponsored by the Julia Burke Foundation, also marked the launch of the Interfaith Seminary Students Sustainability Project, bringing together Muslim, Christian and Jewish seminary students in a closed session of the first in a series of seminars on faith and the environment.

“If all religious people would pressure their governments to take steps forward on environmental issues, governments would respond,” the Rev. Yohanes Harold, a native of Germany currently working as assistant pastor in Jerusalem’s Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, noted following the seminar. “If we believe in God as the creator of earth, we have a responsibility toward other parts of creation too. We can’t believe we are the kings of creation.”

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