I was invited to Rome by the U.S. Embassy and the Vatican’s Pontifical Gregorian University for a major one-day conference on October 12, entitled: “Building Bridges of Hope: Success Stories and Strategies for Interfaith Action.” The program’s vision was to include the Abrahamic faith traditions on three global issues panels, each of which included a Christian, Jewish and Muslim leader. The issues were: (1) Equitable and Ethical Development, (2) Caring for the Environment and (3) Preventing Conflict. Atttending the conference were worldwide ambassadors to the Vatican, Vatican Bishops and officials, seminary students from Gregorian and the international media.
U.S. Ambassador Miguel Diaz envisioned this conference as a concrete expression of President Obama’s interfaith goals. He spoke about the critical importance of having religious voices work on world issues: “We believe that interfaith strategies can solve many of the world’s biggest problems.”
A special banquet was held at the US Vatican Embassy in honor of the speakers, with kosher/halal food thoughtfully provided to the Jewish and Muslim participants. Together we shared our interreligious visions for cooperation and bold action on environmental and climate challenges, the alleviation of world poverty and hunger, and the development of courageous paths to ease world conflicts. The press was pleased to get many pictures of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders fully engaged in friendship and dialogue.
Joshua Dubois, head of the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, offered greetings from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. His keynote address encouraged faith communities to actively engage on these global political issues: “Every day, brick by brick by brick, men and women of faith continuously lay the moral and intellectual foundation of our public life and dialogue, and you are the first responders when for various reasons, that foundation is shaken.”
The vision of this conference was to turn interreligious dialogue into interreligious action. I served on a panel with Father Joseph Rozansky, the justice chair of the World Franciscans, and Fazlun Khalid, founder and director of the UK’s Islamic Foundation for Ecology and the Environment. We concurred that religious leadership from all traditions must act to alleviate environmental despoliation and the world-wide threats of climate change.
The other two Jewish representatives, each of whom sat on a panel, were Dr. Hillel Levine, founder of the International Center for Conciliation, and Dr. Edward Kessler, founder of Cambridge University’s Center for Jewish-Christian Relations. The conference ended with Dr. Levine embracing Archbishop Chacour, a Palestinian priest, on the podium after the archibishop gave an emotionally moving talk about his life in Israel. Cameras went off to capture this moment of embrace.
We were given an “insider’s tour” of the Vatican, which included the Pope’s inner sanctum behind the Sistine Chapel, and I spent a bit of time seeing the Coliseum and the Jewish Ghetto. Of course, I went to see the Arch of Titus, which bears the famous sculpted relief of the Roman soldiers taking the Second Temple’s Golden Menorah and the phrase, “Judea Vanquished.” It felt good to be in Rome in our time, where we as Jews stood in partnership with representatives of Christianity and Islam to confront our world problems.
We left united in the hope and with the commitment that the message of interreligious dialogue and action will grow throughout our communities. It was a most inspiring and uplifting conference. We focused on the positive and the doable rather than the divisiveness found too often between faith traditions.
And now it’s time for all of us to act.
Rabbi Warren G. Stone is the founding chair of the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ Committee on the Environment. Rabbi Stone represented many national Jewish organizations as the Jewish United Nations’ delegate at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, and, again, in 2009, in Copenhagen, Denmark, UNCOP15. He currently Co-chairs the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care and serves on the Global Advisory Committee for Earth Day Network. He has received a distinguished merit award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews and a Merit award for his work on Judaism and the Environment from Shomre Adamah of Washington, D.C.