Religious leaders speak out on importance of dealing with climate change

Religious leaders speak out on importance of dealing with climate change

Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders met in Jerusalem on July 18 at the Interfaith Climate Change Forum to raise awareness about the vital role religion can play on environmental issues.

“At the heart of our faiths and maybe of all faiths is the sense that there is more to our cosmos than purely its material components,” said Rabbi David Rosen, international director of the American Jewish Committee.

“That awareness should not only lead to a sense of connectedness to everything in the world, but also to a sense of responsibility and obligation to both respect the physical world and protect it … and sustain it for future generations.”

Brought together by the newly formed Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD), Rosen, along with William Shomali, Latin Patriarchate Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem, and Haj Salah Zuheika, deputy minister of the Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, spoke of the primary challenge of protecting and preserving the physical world.

As people of faith, the awareness of the divinity of creation should lead to a sense of “appreciation and due regard”, said Rosen, noting that until now secular institutions working proactively on environmental issues have overlooked religious leaders as natural allies in their efforts.

Rabbi Yonatan Neril, founder and director of the ICSD, said that the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land recently endorsed a Holy Land Declaration on Climate Change, calling for action on the issue.

The area faces a number of ecological issues, including drought, the drying up of river beds, and devastating forest fires.

“The ecological crisis is the expression of an ethical, moral and ultimately spiritual crisis, to which we are all called to reflect and to respond,” said Shomali. He noted the specific destruction humanity has caused through acts of war and the destructive capacity of atomic and nuclear weapons. “Man is destroying creation because of selfishness and neglect … Religions have a role to educate the ethical conscience of political leaders and all educators … We will be held accountable for how we used this land.”

Zuheika noted that though the theological message of caring for the environment is clear, the application of it, and the transferring of that message to the grassroots level, is lacking. “What is missing is the application, not the absence of a clear message,” he said.

In order to further their message, Neril said the ICSD — which is funded by the Julia Burke Foundation — will launch an Interfaith Seminary Students Eco Project offering a series of ten seminars over a period of six months.

The project will coordinate an environmental speaking tour featuring Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist leaders. One goal is to convene an Interfaith Earthcare Summit, bringing together senior clerics from the world’s major religions and leading scientists, in advance of the 2012 UN General Assembly.

By Judith Sudilovsky, Ecumenical News International

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