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Bishops march in London ’walk of witness’ against global poverty


British Prime Minister Brown calls for progress on development goals.

Anglican bishops and their spouses demonstrated on July 24 in support of poverty reduction worldwide, walking in purple cassocks and native dress past symbols of British power such as the Houses of Parliament and the prime minister’s residence at Downing Street.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and other Christian and interfaith leaders were at the head of the march, walking behind a banner reading “Keep the Promise/ Halve Poverty by 2015,” references to one of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals for global progress.

The one-hour march, which created a river of violet down Whitehall Road, ended at Williams’ residence, Lambeth Palace, across the River Thames from the seat of Great Britain’s government.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking to the bishops at Lambeth, called the march “one of the greatest demonstrations of faith this great city has ever seen.”

Brown said wealthier nations are not moving fast enough to meet the development goals. “At our current rates of progress,” they will not be met by 2015 deadline set in the MDGs. Some, he said, will not be met for 100 years if the rate of progress is not increased.

“I say to you that the poor of the world have been patient but 100 years is too long for people to wait for justice and that is why we must act now. We know that with the technology we have, the medicine we have, the science we have, it is the will to act that must be found,” he said.

Williams noted that “unless we address this great gulf between human beings, we cannot expect a future of stability or welfare. As the world grows smaller, the truth is that the suffering and the needs of anyone in our global community is going to be the suffering and needs of everyone in our global community. This is not and should not be a surprise to those of us who hold the Christian faith and who have believed for 2,000 years that when one part of the body suffers, all suffer.”

Flanked by Christian and other faith leaders including Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and Sir Iqbal Sacranie, representing Islam, Williams said that the goal must be “to give to each person what they deserve in the eyes of God, not what they deserve because of their prosperity but what they deserve because they are made in God’s image and demand our respect, our love and our service without qualification -- that is justice.”

Referring to an emergency session of the UN General Assembly on the global food and fuel crises, set for Sept. 25 in New York, Brown told the rally “we need a march not just to Lambeth, we need a march also to New York.”

“I ask you to go back to your countries and I ask you to ask your governments and I ask you to ask all of civil society to tell people that on September 25 we have got to make good the promises that have been made, redeem the pledges that have been promised, make good the Millennium Development Goals that are not being met,” he said.

Brown asked the crowd to join him in asking their governments to commit to three goals. The first is that by 2010, 40 million more children would be in school “on the road to every child being in schooling by 2015.”

The second pledge would be to train medical workers and provide them with the equipment “to eradicate polio, tuberculosis, malaria and diphtheria, then go on to eliminate HIV/AIDS in our generation.”

The third is to allocate $20 billion in food aid “and not for only food aid but to give people the means -- free of the old agricultural protectionism -- to grow food themselves with help from our countries to develop a green revolution in Africa.”

Speaking after Brown, Hellen Wangusa, the Anglican Observer at the UN, said that she would bring word of the Walk of Witness to the UN meeting.

The march was organized in partnership with Christian social justice advocacy group Micah Challenge UK. Board member Paul Cook said the organization hopes to see “a roadmap” and a “global action plan” for getting back on track with the development goals’ timeline.

With a slight breeze blowing off the Thames, the demonstrators enjoyed a perfect sunny summer day. Many of the bishops’ wives wore dresses and hats or such native costumes as saris, ready for a garden party scheduled to take place in the afternoon at Buckingham Palace. Occasionally, there was a burst of hymn singing, with “We are marching in the light of God” being one selection.

Some bishops had customized the backs of their signs: one read “Derby 4 justice” and another, “British Columbia 4 justice and peace.” The march passed statues of British military leaders: Field Marshal Earl Haig, Field Marshal the Viscount Slim and one monument simply for “The Women of World War II.” As they passed the statue of Oliver Cromwell outside Parliament, the deep tones of Big Ben began to toll the hour at eleven o’clock.

The one-hour march stopped traffic on one of London’s busiest streets, with tourists gazing from the top of double-decker sightseeing buses and passersby snapping photos.

As the 600 bishops and their spouses assembled before the walk on a side street of government offices, workers hung out of the windows, taking pictures.

Bishop Henry Parsley of Alabama, who took advantage of several pedicabs hired for the marchers who found walking difficult, noted that his diocese contributes to Millennium Development Goal work. The march, he said, “is an opportunity to make a visual statement of support for the goals.” Although the United States is generous in the area of foreign aid, its environmental record is poor, he said, adding that he hoped the march “gets translated back to (President) George Bush’s office so he sees the bishops of the world care a great deal (about such issues).”

Bishop John Gladstone, Moderator of the Church of South India in S. Kerala, an ecumenical partner, said that in his area, “there are four million people who are very economically disadvantaged. The local church and diocese generate employment, attempt to attend to health care and to alleviate poverty through different ways.”

Kallistos of Diokleia from the Orthodox Church Patriarchate in Constantinople, dressed in black robes and headdress and wearing gold icons around his neck, stressed the universality of poverty. “Anglican problems are our problems,” he said. “We are here today to bear witness against worldwide poverty so many people who are pleading for a fair distribution of wealth between the rich and poor can be heard.”

The Rev. Dr. Michael Battle from Los Angeles, a chaplain at the Lambeth Conference, referred to Queen Elizabeth’s garden party later in the day and said the march “will show bishops can be relevant for the whole world. This is the first time they (the Lambeth Conference bishops) have done this. Usually it’s [just] high tea with the Queen.”

Bishop George Councell of New Jersey noted the so-called “Walk of Witness” was especially important since “later in the afternoon we have this privileged access to Buckingham Palace. I pray that we’ll carry the hunger of the world and our own hunger for justice with us.”

Bishop Ezekiel Malaandit of the Diocese of Bor in Sudan, whose primate earlier in the conference criticized the U.S. church’s inclusive stance on homosexuality, said that “We are here to help people, to be supportive, to show we are one communion. Changing minds, sharing ideas and experiences, talking and working together like this we benefit from one another.”

Bishop David Beetge of the Diocese of Highveld in South Africa said the development goals have a high profile in his area. “On HIV/AIDS, we’ve got 73 projects going: orphans and vulnerable children, early developmental childhood centers, reflecting on gender issues. We are trying to embrace the MDGs although there are eight different ones in a very holistic way to bring about a humanity and compassionate society which reflects the very heart of Christ.”

Among the passersby watching the march, Thomas Pope said he traveled from his farm in Dorset to see the parade and applauded the bishops as they passed. “They have tremendous courage to stand out and walk down Whitehall in such a dignified way. I heard the archbishop (of Canterbury) speak on the wireless (radio) this morning and thought I would come and see it.”

Another spectator, Jane Nelson, said she had come “to be in solidarity with the Episcopal Church of the USA. They have set a courageous example and I think it is sad that one of their duly elected bishops was not invited to Lambeth.”

The sexuality controversy roiling the Anglican world was not absent, with one protestor, the Rev. David Braid, holding a sign “Jesus never ordained sodomites. Neither should the church. Hitler was a sodomite.”

Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida had wrapped a rainbow flag around his sign because, he said, “when we talk about justice and mercy, we need to remember that gay and lesbian persons are discriminated against by the church and the government.”

As the march wound along the Thames, nearly 140 Episcopal and Anglican congregations in the United States, Canada and Germany -- along with many individuals -- took part “virtually” by emailing pleas to their country’s legislators, asking for their attention to MDG-related issues.

The Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN), also known as the Episcopal Church’s the Office of Government Relations (OGR), and Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation (EGR) sponsored the “Virtual March for the MDGs” to coincide with the Walk of Witness. EPPN sent an email on July 24 to its existing members and others who had registered to participate in the virtual march, asking them to contact their U.S. Senators to urge them to pass Senate Bill 2166, the Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Debt Cancellation. The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed the bill, which would continue the process of canceling the debts of many poor countries so that they can invest in achieving the MDGs, EPPN’s email alert said.

In Canada, EGR worked with the Anglican Diocese of Ontario’s social justice office to create a downloadable letter that Canadians can email to their members of Parliament, urging them to re-commit to the country’s stated goal of dedicating 0.7% of the country’s gross national product to MDG work by 2015.

In addition, the Rev. Michael Kinman, EGR’s executive director, said that the Diocese of Central Tanganyika in Tanzania has translated the virtual march’s Walk of Witness Prayers of the People into Kiswahili and will use them throughout the African diocese on July 27.


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