Interfaith effort for global problems

Think globally, act locally" is a mantra for activists of all kinds seeking to improve their communities and shape a better future. The United Religions Initiative (URI) - which was launched officially this week in Pittsburgh, Pa., with a charter-signing ceremony - has already patterned this theme on six continents.

During the organization's four-year gestation period, local groups have organized some 160 projects aimed at what they have defined as the URI purpose: to promote enduring interfaith cooperation, end religiously motivated violence, and create cultures of peace, justice, and healing.

In Pakistan, for example, where religious intolerance has spawned physical attacks and killings, a multifaith caravan traveled 2,000 miles across the country earlier this year to galvanize public and government attention.

This week several hundred grassroots representatives are meeting in the fifth URI global summit at Carnegie Mellon University. Karimah Stauch, a Muslim in a Sufi order in Bonn, Germany, is a member of the URI European executive committee. She became active after attending last year's meeting, she says, because she was impressed with the unusually open atmosphere and the way in which shared aspirations were identified across faiths as a basis for action.

Now she is involved with an international team planning a conference for 2001 in the city of Mostar, Bosnia. Another team member, Vjekoslav Saje, of the Center for Religious Dialogue in Sarajevo, says the project is aimed at restoring the former way of life in Mostar, which remains a divided city years after the end of fighting.

"Most people don't want to continue to live in ghettos," says Mr. Saje, a Catholic married to a Muslim. "But they are forced to get used to the status quo" because nobody is trying to effect a change. The URI project would bring different religio-ethnic groups together, and work with the Mostar-based Pavorotti Center on cultural events with multifaith participation. Committed to restoring coexistence in Bosnia, Saje says URI enables "people of good will from other places to help in confronting the forces of evil."

"Locally rooted but globally connected" is how Charles Gibbs, URI executive director, characterizes it. The "web of connectedness" URI is building, he says, will allow the Cooperation Circles (local interfaith groups) to act locally, regionally, or globally, depending on the issue and the need. Some 75 founding CCs, with from 7 to 500 members each, are signing the charter in Pittsburgh and other venues around the world.

The initial inspiration for URI came from Bishop William Swing, of the Episcopal Diocese of California, who was asked in 1993 to host an interfaith service to commemorate the United Nations' 50th anniversary. Given the role religion was playing in many civil conflicts, Bishop Swing began talking with other people of faith about becoming a force for change.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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