By Lay Centre staff
ROME — Two Lay Centre student residents attended the International Conference on Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals, held in Vatican City March 7-9. The conference was co-organized by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
The three-day interfaith conference, which gathered religious leaders and participants from around the world, highlighted the need for faith communities to collaborate in promoting the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) for 2030. These goals include better distribution of and access to health services, education, food, clean water and energy, gender equality and resources in an effort to end poverty.
Speakers included Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Bishop Paul Tighe, secretary for the Pontifical Council for Culture, Rev. Dr Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, Vandana Shiva, Indian scholar and food sovereignty advocate, and Rabbi David Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Interreligious Affairs. Participants also had an audience with Pope Francis.
Isaias Marcano and Dewi Maharani were the two Lay Centre students to attend.
Paraphrasing Cardinal Turkson, Marcano explained the conference was about the urgency of implementing the 17 SDGs and “marshaling the moral force of religion behind nations’ and communities’ implementation” of the goals.
“We need to work together, for no source of wisdom can be left out,” said Marcano, a doctoral candidate in social sciences at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. The native of Mozambique is also a Lay Centre Leadership Scholar and the resident assistant.
Marcano said the different religious leaders addressed the suffering of the people in many countries in the world and the need for development.
He reported that Rabbi Rosen spoke about pollution being caused by the various food-producing industries. Cardinal Parolin spoke about how all religions can work together to promote peace. Rev. Dr. Junge told participants change must start from the heart. Bishop Tighe spoke about the importance of dialogue among religions in achieving the SDGs. Shiva spoke about how the free market is creating exploitation. Many people are displaced and forced to migrate, looking for new means of prosperity. She said the world produces enough food to feed everyone, but it is not getting to the tables of the world in an equal way.
The speakers emphasized that numerous injustices, climate change and the marginalization of people are evident in many countries, and people can no longer avoid these realities and say “everything is under control,” said Marcano.
During the papal audience, Pope Francis told participants “the challenges are complex and have multiple causes; the response, therefore, must necessarily be complex and well-structured, respectful of the diverse cultural riches of peoples.”
Reflecting on her experience at the conference, Maharani spoke of the importance of pluralism and of good cooperation in achieving the SDGs.
Maharani is a Lay Centre resident from Indonesia, studying in Rome on a scholarship from the Nostra Aetate Foundation of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. As a Muslim young woman, she was also among the participants at the pre-synodal meeting on youth and vocations at the Vatican last March, which included young adults from different churches and world religions.
“This vast world cannot be built by only one person or group, but all the creatures in it must contribute to it. The real action will not be realized without a concrete agreement of ideas, and agreement can occur if (people) can respect each other to receive opinions,” she said.
“A pluralist will receive any opinions or ideas from other people, which are then discussed together until an agreement is reached for real action for change towards prosperity for all humans on this earth,” she added.
“SDGs aim to create prosperity for all beings on earth,” Maharani continued. “To support these activities, it is important to instill openness to all things so as to strengthen and encourage the existence of peace.”
“Of course, every human being has their own way of thinking, but every human being is also blessed by God, (with) a heart that can feel and encourage (him or her) to empathize with others,” she said.