May. 14, 2020

UN chief appeals to common humanity across all faiths, in tackling the coronavirus

Religious leaders from various faiths gather for an interfaith prayer service in Amsterdam, July 2018. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

14 May 2020

As the UN secretary-general shared a message on 12 May with religious leaders about how our shared vulnerability to the coronavirus pandemic reveals our common humanity, World Council of Churches (WCC) leaders agreed that solidarity is a foundation of a meaningful global response.

Joined by leaders from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, the UN chief cited previous public health crises, including HIV/AIDS and Ebola, noting how spiritual leadership had been a positive benefit in terms of community values, attitudes and actions.

He underscored four pivotal ways that religious leaders can help reverse the pandemic, and aid recovery. First, he asked them to actively challenge inaccurate and harmful messages. Second, it is important to condemn violence against women and girls, which is on the rise. Third, he called on leaders to leverage their networks to support governments in promoting public health measures. Finally, as the world’s students are out of school, he urged faith leaders to support the continuity of education.

Dr Agnes Abuom, WCC moderator, said church and spiritual leaders have an unprecedented role and responsibility. “At this moment in history, our collective commitment and service must take into account the human rights of all people, even when we can’t gather together,” Abuom said. “The global health crisis has magnified the need for reassurance, accurate information and the constant push for human dignity for all people.”

Among other responsibilities, religious leaders can also deflate misleading information and promote trust in scientific knowledge, said Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary. “Every day, we see fake news about COVID-19, and this becomes the root cause of stigma and discrimination, which then grows into xenophobia and violence,” said Phiri. “Given many communities’ trust in religious leaders, it is even more important that we use our influence to lift up human rights, equality in response, and protection for the most vulnerable.”

A spirit of interreligious collaboration has and will continue to undergird the WCC’s response to COVID-19, said WCC acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca. “From calls to prayer to reaching out to brothers and sisters of all faiths, we are strengthening bonds and interreligious dialogue in many ways,” said Sauca.

The WCC invited its member churches to observe a global prayer day on 14 May, a joint initiative with the members of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, of which the WCC is part. “As we experience fear and uncertainty, we need to remind each other, and all people, that we are not alone,” said Sauca.

WCC invites all member churches to observe a day of prayer (https://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/wcc-invites-all-member-churches-to-observe-a-day-of-prayer) (WCC press release of 7 May 2020)