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Millennium Goals must be met, say Lambeth walkers

by
31 July 2008

by Bill Bowder

Message for parliaments everywhere: the bishops’ demonstration crosses Lambeth Bridge; below left: Dr Williams leads the way behind the banner, with others including Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks PA

Message for parliaments everywhere: the bishops’ demonstration crosses Lambeth Bridge; below left: Dr Williams leads the way behind the banner...

A RIVER of purple-clad Anglican prelates — with just a sprinkling in white — and wives dressed in every colour under the sun flowed across Lambeth Bridge and into the grounds of Lambeth Palace in London on Thursday last week. As they did so, the Bishop of Hawaii, the Rt Revd Bob Fitzgerald, walking with his wife, Beatrice, commented: “This puts things in perspective.”

More than 650 bishops and their spouses, with an estimated 1500 other religious leaders, diplomats, and charity organisers, had walked in a demonstration from Whitehall to urge governments to keep their promises to build a better world.

They were asking the British Government to put pressure on governments that have done far less than it has itself to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have only a few years left to run. These are promises to reduce hunger and poverty, bring in primary education for all, ensure gender equality, promote environmental stability, eliminate HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB, and work in a global partnership.

A RIVER of purple-clad Anglican prelates — with just a sprinkling in white — and wives dressed in every colour under the sun flowed across Lambeth Bridge and into the grounds of Lambeth Palace in London on Thursday last week. As they did so, the Bishop of Hawaii, the Rt Revd Bob Fitzgerald, walking with his wife, Beatrice, commented: “This puts things in perspective.”

More than 650 bishops and their spouses, with an estimated 1500 other religious leaders, diplomats, and charity organisers, had walked in a demonstration from Whitehall to urge governments to keep their promises to build a better world.

They were asking the British Government to put pressure on governments that have done far less than it has itself to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have only a few years left to run. These are promises to reduce hunger and poverty, bring in primary education for all, ensure gender equality, promote environmental stability, eliminate HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB, and work in a global partnership.

When the walkers arrived at Lambeth Palace, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, he told them that they were expressing a 2000-year-old teaching: that the suffering of one was, sooner or later, the suffering of all. “Everybody who participated felt part of a rather remarkable occasion,” he reflected later.

The Prime Minister addressed the walkers at the Palace steps after they had been refreshed with soft drinks and fruit bars. The march, he said, was “one of the greatest public demonstrations of faith that this great city has ever seen”.

Their hope of keeping governments to the MDGs was not just a dream, he said. They should lobby their governments, and carry on their march to the United Nations’ emergency meeting on the MDGs in New York on 25 September.

That was something that many of the walkers discussed in their groups after returning to Canterbury. By Monday, the US Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, was signalling that provinces could make their protest locally — to save carbon.

One remarkable thing about the march, said the Bishop in Viti Levu West, Fiji, the Rt Revd Gabriel Sharma, was that “It is made up of those who can provide the resources needed to reach the MDGs, and those who are in desperate need of those resources.”

“We are not doing this walk for another group: we are that group,” said the Bishop of Peru, the Rt Revd William Godfrey. “Our people live in wattle shacks, with children who eat only every second day. We run soup kitchens and schools in poor areas.”

After the earthquake last year (News, 24 August 2007), the local response to his Church’s work of immediate and sustained support had been to offer him land for four more mission churches, he said.

The Bishop of Popondota, Papua New Guinea, the Rt Revd Joe Kopapa, who made an emergency appeal after cyclone Guba last year (News, 23 November), said: “We hope that our stand as a Church for the elimination of poverty and for justice will be taken note of by the government and international bodies.”

The Bishop of West Malaysia, the Rt Revd Ng Moon Hing, said that when he went back to his diocese he would be asking each parish to give up using cars for one day a month. “We are very far behind the targets, because not enough people are conscious of them.”

The Bishop of Chile, the Rt Revd Hector Zavala, said that he had told his fellow bishops in the Southern Cone about his scheme to help the Pehuenche Indians build new homes. This was a “One for all and all for one” project, in which eight families built a house for one family, until all had a home.

The Bishop of Massachusetts, the Rt Revd Thomas Shaw SSJE, said that the MDGs had “captured the imagination of the churches in the US like nothing else in the last two decades. It is at the heart of our spirituality. If not, our faith is hollow.”

The Bishop of Ontario, Canada, the Rt Revd George Bruce, said: “A promise is a promise, and they [the politicians] are slipping far behind. My two archdeacons are today handing in a letter on the MDGs to local MPs in the diocese, telling them to pull up their socks.”

The Supreme Bishop of the Philippine Independent Church (in communion with the Anglican Communion), the Rt Revd Tomas Millamena, said: “My country is rich, but people are poor, because it is in the hands of multinationals and in the hands of strangers. I am walking in solidarity with Anglican bishops, because I want to be a witness to the goals of the Millennium, the alleviation of poverty, and the delivery of basic social services.

“I come from a Third World country where there is a very wide gap between the rich and the poor. This is a journey to the eradication of poverty. The Church is pastor, and, as evangelists, we can do more to appeal to people in the bureaucracy and leadership of First World countries to help us as one family.”

The Bishop of Lebombo, Mozambique, the Rt Revd Dinis Sengulane, said that the MDGs were very good, but not good enough. “We say Jesus wants fullness of life. We are in the business of eliminating poverty, not just diminishing it.”

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