March 21, 2012
By Sharon Udasin
Muslim, Jewish and Christian clerics gathered on Monday to promote cooperation among spiritual leaders regarding reinforcing the importance of environmental protection among their individual communities.
“Religious leaders and institutions have the potential to mobilize billions of followers in the global struggle to curb climate change and achieve sustainable development,” said Rabbi Yonathan Neril, founder and director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development.
The Interfaith Climate and Energy Conference, held in Jerusalem, was co-organized by The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a German political think tank. In addition to Neril, some prominent participants in the panel discussions included Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III; Archbishop of Acre, Haifa, Nazareth and the Galilee Dr. Elias Chacour; Sheik Muhammed Amara, imam of Zalafa; and Rabbi Ronen Lubitch, rabbi of Nir Etzion and lecturer at Sha’anan Religious Teachers College and at Hebrew University.
Video casts from other world leaders complemented the live addresses, including the Dalai Lama; Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church; Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger; Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The conference occurred 90 days prior to the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.
According to Neril, the religious community is crucial with regards to furthering environmental protection as “the degradation of the natural world” is equivalent to a spiritual crisis and causes a sense of imbalance for the globe’s billions of people.
“It is not a problem of the birds and the bees, the trees and the toads,” he said.
“Rather, it is a crisis of the human being and how we live as spiritual beings in a material world.”
In order to maintain a beautiful world that is riddled with vulnerabilities, human beings are responsible for ensuring that the world is a better place, added Chacour.
“Being in charge and control of this earth, it is incumbent upon us to maintain the balance of life on it, to guarantee an honest living and a dignified preservation of all elements, and everything living on the face of this earth, including its animals and plants, and non-living objects,” Amara agreed.
In Eastern Orthodox tradition, Theophilos explained, there is likewise a “moral responsibility” to ensure that all humans are able to enjoy the home they share on earth, and Christianity in general has a profound understanding of environment and creation.
When God took flesh as Jesus Christ according to Christianity, God demonstrated that “creaturely life” is holy and that a pilgrimage toward a union with him begins in this life, on this Earth, Theophilos said. The baptism that occurred in the waters of the Jordan River only testify to this idea of the importance of creation and nature, he added.
“The entire liturgical tradition of the Church rings with the imagery of creation,” Theophilos said. “The care of the environment begins with our own purification and stillness.”
Lubitch, speaking on behalf of Jewish ideals, supported this notion, adding that “viewing the world as a creation of God obligates us as humans to preserve creation. By doing so one realizes God’s image.”
As so many people draw significant inspiration from their respective faiths, religious leaders in this sense can bring about positive changes in the world, said Neril.
“World religions have a unique role in addressing climate change through education and advocacy of their billions of followers,” he said. “Let there be no mistake.”