The bishops of the Anglican Communion yesterday brought streets in central London to a standstill as they marched en masse in a Walk of Witness, accompanied by their spouses from Whitehall to Lambeth Palace. Up to 1,500 people walked, and many carried placards urging governments to keep their promise to meet the Millennium Development Goals.
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Mr Brown told those marching that it “one of the greatest public demonstrations of faith this great city has ever seen”.
In 2000, the General Assembly of the United Nations committed to tackling eight Millennium Development Goals covering child health and education, maternal health, equality, hunger, sanitation, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2015. On current trends, however, it may be up to one hundred years or more before many of these goals were achieved.
Participants in the walk, organised in co-operation with Micah Challenge, a Christian social justice campaign, hoped it would reinvigorate interest in the MDGs ahead of a meeting of the United Nations in New York in September to review progress.
The bishops and their spouses, many of whom were in national dress, were accompanied by interfaith and ecumenical leaders, including Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor of the Roman Catholic Church, Chief Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the chair of Muslim Aid, and Dr Indarjit Singh, the director of the Network of Sikh organisations, as well as the many Ecumenical participants in the Lambeth Conference.
Mr Brown told them they had marched on behalf of the 10 million children who will die avoidable deaths from preventable disease, the 77 million who will not be able to attend school, and the 100 million who “shamefully and disgracefully” are facing famine.
It was a rare opportunity for many of those who come from the very regions and countries at which the MDGs are targeted, to send their message face to face with some of those with the power to change things. Their message was simple and clear and send “with rising force,” Mr Brown said, and it showed “that poverty can be eradicated, poverty must be eradicated, and if we can all work together for change, poverty will be eradicated.”
He reminded those gathered of the role of men and women of faith in the anti-slavery movement, in universal suffrage, in the human rights movement and the abolition of apartheid. He acknowledged that the Millennium Goals touched deeply the core of Christian mission.
“I believe you have marched because whenever you see suffering you want to heal it, whenever you see injustice you want to rectify it, whenever you see poverty, you want to bring it to an end. And has that not been the message of the Churches and faith groups throughout the ages?”
Mr Brown’s speech was acknowledged by Ms Helen Wangusa, Anglican Observer to the United Nations and a passionate advocate of the MDGs. “I don’t know whether to dance or ordain you,” she said. “Thank you for remind us that one hundred years is too long for people to wait for justice.”
“One of the great paradoxes is that while our world is in many ways smaller, yet the divisions are larger than they have ever been,” The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Williams told the rally. He said that as Anglicans, as bishops, as people of faith, those gathered were committing themselves to a system that gave to each person what it required because they were made in God’s image, without qualification.
“It is not a surprise for those who hold the Christian faith, that when on part of the body suffers, all suffer,” he said.
Other interfaith and ecumenical participants included:
Venerable Bandula, Ajhan Sumedo, Bryan Appleyard (Buddhist)
Mr Panish Jila (Zoroastrian)
The Hon Barney Leith (Ba’hai)
Dr Natubhai Shah (Jain)
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, Mr Saif Ahmad (Islamic Relief)
Mr Ramesh Pattri, Anil Bhanot, Sudarshan Bhatria (Hindu)
Mr Joel Edwards, Secretary General Evangelical Alliance