Interfaith Rally in Durban
Caroline and I arrived in Durban on Saturday, for the Youth for Eco-Justice Program. This is a transformational training program for young Christians aged 18-30 years. Addressing the links between environmental and socio-economic justice, it is jointly organized by the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation in the context of UN climate negotiations in the latter part of 2011. It starts with a two-week training and immersion in the context of the international climate change negotiations (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa. In the months following the seminar, the participants will initiate and implement projects in their home context on a volunteer basis.
There are about 30 of us from all around the world, representing 6 continents (poor Antarctica…). I’m loving meeting everyone and (hopefully) making some lifelong friends! Yesterday was our first COP17 event – the big Interfaith Climate Justice Rally at ABSA Kingspark Rugby stadium in Durban.
At the Glenmore Pastoral Centre, which will be our home for the next 2 weeks, we started painting two large banners to take with us to the rally.
One read “Youth 4 Eco-Justice” and the other said “Desmond’s Durban Deal-Makers.”
And look – we were on local TV this morning! (near the end – with the Desmond’s Durban Deal-Makers banner)
The turn-out for the rally was frankly pretty disappointing. They were expecting (or maybe “hoping for” is a better word) 40,000 people, but it looked like there were only about 5000 people there. The stadium was pretty empty, but it was still a deeply moving, amazing event.
It was so inspiring to see faith leaders from around the world, from so many different faiths, coming together to act for climate justice. I especially loved what a Buddhist leader from South African said: “Let’s start changing ourselves and stop changing the climate.”
I was particularly excited to see Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Especially after everything we saw and learned in Cape Town about Apartheid, I couldn’t wait to hear from one of the men and women who brought down that horrible, awful, racist system. He’s treated a bit like a rock star, which was funny to see, for a faith leader. But his speech was amazing! Some of my favourite quotes from his speech are:
“God wants us to live in a garden, not a desert.”
“We’re meant to live together as harmoniously as one family.”
“Whether you are rich or poor, this is your only home.” He expanded on this by saying that maybe the poor will be wiped out first, but then they’ll be on the other side, beckoning the rich over as well.
After Tutu’s speech, the Climate Justice Africa Youth Caravan presented 200,000 petitions inside a second Noah’s Ark. During their journey, the travelers collected “signed Multi Faith Rally and Concert petitions from the people of Africa calling on negotiators to treat the Earth with respect and embrace a legally binding climate treaty.”
The final number of signed petitions was presented to Tutu, who then presented it to the President of the COP, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is also South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation.
Caroline and I ran into The United Church of Canada’s Moderator Mardi Tindal on the green.
She had this to say about what she was experiencing at the Rally:
I then followed the Moderator around the green, documenting some of her meetings with other faith leaders.
AND, the Moderator and I met Mary Robinson! This was seriously one of the most exciting moments for me. Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland AND was also the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2002. She’s one of my human rights heroines!
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu came back onstage to greet some of the other speakers, including Mary Robinson, who is a member of The Elders along with Tutu himself. I knew that Tutu had a great sense of humour, and a great laugh, but seeing him and hearing him in person was just an amazing experience. I think all faith leaders, all activists, all people, can learn a lot from him.
And some last words from this Great Man: “You are members of one family – the human race. The only race on Earth.”