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Contact: Valerie Tarico
Religious Pluralism Group Holds Peaceful Protest March for Spiritual Diversity and Biodiversity during Pope Visit to New York in Apr 2008
New York (March 6, 2008)—On April 18th, the Forum for the Protection of Religious Pluralism (FPRP) (www.protectreligions.org) is organizing a march consisting of minority ethnic religions, which will proceed at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 18 from the United Nations building to the Gandhi statue in Union Square Park. Another demonstration and parade will be held outside Yankee Stadium during the Papal address there from 1-4 p.m., on Sunday, April 20. A petition signed by members of all religions and cultures across the World will be submitted to UN Secretary General.
These events are being held in response to Pope Benedict XVI’s address to the United Nations General Assembly on April 18th as part of his first visit to the United States as leader of the Catholic Church. According to FPRP, their events are intended to voice a view of religion and politics that supports the rights of indigenous people, including their contributions to protecting the environment from mass extinctions and global warming.
The United Nations and other organizations have recently come to recognize the value of indigenous cultures and their religious beliefs in protecting and sustain a wide variety of ecosystems. In early 2006, the United Nations led a $1.7 million initiative, entitled the Conservation of Biodiversity Rich Sacred Natural Site initiative, which aims to help protect sacred sites around the world by documenting species, conducting surveys with local communities, and assessing potential for ecotourism. The initiative is predicated upon the findings by environmental experts that suggest that the preservation of sacred sites is essential to slowing the loss of animal and plant species. As part of the findings, a string of religious sites have been identified across the globe as pilot ecosystems where local customs have helped protect collections of biological richness. Likewise, the World Conservation Union’s 2005 report, “Protecting Sacred Natural Sites of Indigenous and Traditional Peoples: an IUCN Perspective”, recognized the value of including indigenous cultures and their spiritual beliefs in the protection of ecosystems that they see as sacred natural sites.
While the Catholic Church and other evangelical Christians have voiced their support of environmental protection, they have also shown disapproval of non-Christian religions participating in the effort. Both Catholic and Protestant groups have openly objected to the Earth Charter Initiative, an effort designed to promote a sustainable global environment with supporters including former Soviet leader Mikhael Gorbachev, as being “pagan”, “New Age”, “secular”, and anti-Christian. Richard Cizik, former leader of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), said during a 2005 interview with New York Times Magazine that environmentalists “have a bad reputation among evangelicals because they keep kooky religious company . . . Some environmentalists are pantheists who believe creation itself is holy, not the Creator.”
According to the events’ organizers, religious exclusivism is at the root of religious injustice and sectarian violence around the world. This includes 9/11, Rwanda and other genocides, inquisitions and many other atrocities done in the name of God. “We represent faiths, including several Christian denominations, that do not support proselytization and view the practice of it as a complete contradiction of their beliefs,” says Jonas Trinkunas from the World Congress of Ethnic Religions (WCER), one of the organizations that is sponsoring the event. “Yet the U.N. is giving a special audience to the leader of a religion that encourages the ideology that other religions as false and misguided, and that pushes indigenous groups out of the very efforts that are needed to protect their lands they see as holy. How can political leaders embrace religious exclusivism at a time when all religions should be included in the fight to save our world?”
While this event is designed to focus on the rights of minority ethnic religions, other groups are encouraged to participate regardless of their religious or non-religious backgrounds. Religious groups such as Romuva, Druids, Slavics, Greek, and other ethnic religions from Europe, Africa and various parts of the Americas have already confirmed their attendance at the demonstration, and the organizers are hoping that more groups will participate.
“We are not against any religion” says Ved Chaudhary, one of the organizers of the event. “But the religious freedoms of cultures are being abused in many countries and their ancient traditions are being lost at an alarming rate. Mahatma Gandhi called proselytizations conducted by missionaries as the deadliest poison that ever sapped the fountain of truth. We can no longer afford to live in a world in which some religions spend billions of dollars each year to spread intolerance and injustice under the guise of humanitarian aid while ancient traditions disappear as the result. If religious pluralism is to have a future, we must act now.”
Detailed information along with petition can be found at www.protectreligions.org.