Religious leaders express solidarity with people affected by leprosy.
British religious leaders representing the major world faiths met in London on January 26 to voice strong international support for the Global Appeal 2009 initiative, which calls for the recognition of the human rights of persons affected by leprosy. Specifically, the inter-faith gathering emphasized the need to eliminate social discrimination associated with the disease.
The launch of the fourth Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy was held at Church House, adjacent to Westminster Abbey. The event was timed to coincide with World Leprosy Day. Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish leaders in the United Kingdom each spoke on behalf of their faiths in support of the Global Appeal initiative. Representing people affected by leprosy were Kofi Nyarko of Ghana and Farida of Indonesia.
The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend John Robert Hall, gave a welcoming speech to an audience of over 100, including his religious counterparts, the mass media, and representatives of various NGOs that work worldwide to eliminate leprosy. The walls of the conference room in which the event took place were decorated with dozens of vibrant, colorful paintings produced by men and women affected by leprosy.
'EXTREMELY DAMAGING TERM'
Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for the Elimination of Leprosy, gave the keynote address. In it, he appealed for an end to the use of the word "leper," which he described as "an extremely damaging term." Pointing out that people affected by leprosy have demanded that the word no longer be used, he added that it"carries the meaning of a pariah, or social outcast. Once that label has been applied, it sticks for the rest of a person's life. The stigma remains, even after he or she has been cured."
This year's Global Appeal, which follows appeals by world leaders (New Delhi, 2006), leaders of people affected by leprosy (Manila, 2007) and human rights NGOs (London, 2008), was signed by 17 religious leaders. They included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, the Chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulamas, the President of the Japan Buddhist Federation, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, the President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care at the Vatican, and the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches.
Time out to admire paintings from the Bindu Art School
Sasakawa said that removing discrimination from society "requires the cooperation of society's most influential members. Therefore, I ask the religious leaders who have signed this year's Global Appeal to convey its message to their believers and followers."
Global Appeal 2009 was truly an inter-faith gathering.
Leaders of the various religious faiths in Britain and others visiting London to attend this Global Appeal conference each then rose to voice their individual organizations' support for the initiative.
These representatives included Dr Bayan Alaraji, Representative of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq; Sheikh Ahmed Babikir, Imam of Islamia Schools of London, on behalf of the Islamic community; His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain; Sanjay Jagatia, Secretary-General, National Council of Hindu Temples UK, representing the Hindu community; Dr Manoj Kurian, Programme Executive, Health and Healing, World Council of Churches; Father Edward J. Lewis, Chaplain to Her Majesty the Queen, on behalf of the European Network of Health Care Chaplaincy; Tsering Tashi, representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Office of Tibet; and Reverend Mgr Brian Udaigwe, Counsellor of Nunciature, on behalf of the President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care at the Vatican.
In summary of the united thoughts and feelings of the conference, Kofi Nyarko and Farida read together the Global Appeal message, which calls for the end to social discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and appeals for the recognition of their basic human rights. "All of us," they read," must be part of the social healing process."