Religionists hold meetings to reinforce UN disarmament message

The religious community is making a massive effort to undergird the UN disarmament session that opened June 7 with expressions of public support.

Besides encouraging participation in the mass disarmament rally planned for June 12, in New York, groups representing many denominations have organized events of their own in recent weeks.

A service at the Riverside Church on Sunday, May 30, with UN Center for Disarmament director Jan Martenson as a speaker, drew representatives of the government delegations from the United States, the Soviet Union, and some two dozen other countries.

Oriented to the UN session, it was part of an annual ''peace Sabbath'' observance promoted nationally by the church's disarmament program and allied groups. The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, who initiated the program in 1978, says that the peace Sabbath has grown over the years and estimates it was observed by 10,000 congregations this year.

The current drive for elimination of armaments in part is a continuation of religious groups' opposition to the Vietnam War. Mr. Coffin, program director Cora Weiss, and many of the people working for the peace Sabbath were also active in the antiwar movement.

But the drive for elimination of armaments, particularly nuclear, has drawn official Roman Catholic backing to a degree never reached by the campaign against the Vietnam war.

A Mass for Justice and Peace to mark the opening of the UN session was celebrated at St. Patrick's Cathedral here June 6 by Terrence Cardinal Cooke, archbishop of New York and vicar of all Catholics in US military forces.

The sermon was delivered by Cincinnati Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, who chairs a committee now engaged in drafting a pastoral letter on peace and disarmament for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop Bernardin said it was intended to help develop ''the kind of public opinion which is needed if bold steps toward arms control, disarmament, and peace are to be taken by our government and others.''

Meanwhile, the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine is in the midst of a nine-Sunday series of services devoted to the theme ''Disarmament or Nuclear Holocaust?''

Religious events on disarmament this week:

* A private Jewish foundation, Emet, has sponsored ''Facing the Peril of Nuclear War: A Jewish Forum.''

* A conference on ''Reverence for Life'' drawing inspiration from Albert Schweitzer and Mahatma Ghandi, is bringing together religious speakers from Christian, Jewish, Buddist, and other traditions.

* On June 11, the Religious Task Force of Mobilization for Survival will sponsor an International Religious Convocation at the Episcopal Cathedral. After the program there, participants will march to Central Park to plant a ''tree of life'' and them continue to the UN, where groups will take turns maintaining an all-night vigil. In the UN session itself, the religious community will offer presentations during times set aside for nongovernment groups.

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