A historic online summit was organised by Global Interfaith WASH Alliance and Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, 2020.

The event with the theme ‘planting seeds for a new normal’, has brought together faith leaders of all the world’s major religions, heads of the world’s largest and most powerful interfaith organizations, the UN and other international partners with one vision of how humanity can move forward post COVID-19 into a period of healing and harmony with ourselves and the mother nature.

The webinar was organised in partnership with UN Environment Programme, Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), Religions for Peace International, Parliament of the World’s Religions, United Religions Initiative and Faith for Earth, as well as Unify and Uplift.

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji moderated the webinar.  In her opening remarks she said that the single-point focus on military has created a situation where we have lots of missiles but no masks, lots of guns and no gloves.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made many things clear. First, we realise that threats come not only from missiles, bombs and guns but also from viruses, bacteria, climate change and pollution. We need, together, to create a new normal. The vision and implementation must be united, collective, cohesive and cooperative,” she said.

Maulana Mahmood Madaniji of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind said: “Today let us stop, slow down and take care of the external as well as the internal pollution within our minds and mindsets. Let this time be one where we clean out  our minds and change our lifestyles so that our new tomorrow is sustainable not just for a few but for all.”

Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji shared, “We need to focus and commit ourselves to taking care of our culture, our nature and our future. Not our individual culture of different countries or colors or creeds, but our universal culture of oneness and peace.  We need to take care of our nature, protect and preserve the Earth, and that will take care of our future.”

In a unique gesture, Pujya Swamiji and Maulana Mahmood Madaniji pledged that together with Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, the Global Interfaith Wash Alliance, Parmarth Niketan and Interfaith Leaders would plant at least one million trees in India during this monsoon. They reflected on the last Hariyali Yatra of 2019 in which they reached 1,000 madrasas, gurukuls, mandirs, masjids, railway stations and public locations and this time reaching many more.

“You cannot love God until you love God’s creation. Religious leaders have a great responsibility to emphasis the importance of earth and environment. COVID-19 is a wake up call for us,” said Rabbi David Rosen of Interreligious affairs of the American Jewish committee.

Rev Dr Michael Bernard Beckwith of Agape International Spiritual Centre has converged scientific, shamanic and mystical traditions in his address. He led an Earth Day Meditation.

Faith-an agent of change

Heads of leading faith-based and UN organisations have participated in the second session of the summit on ‘faith as an agent of change’.

Dr Azza Karam, secretary general of Religions for Peace began the panel discussion.

He said: “The COVID-19 pandemic shows us, more than ever before, the threads that connect us all. With increased cooperation and partnership we must all do our part to selflessly plant the seeds for a new tomorrow.”

Audrey Kitagawa, chair of parliament of World Religions said: “We must see our role in society, not as consumers, but as selfless servers to work towards the betterment of others. Our relation with others should be based on love, care, gratitude and that is what all religions teach us.”

“The earth teaches us that no one is the center- no one species is higher or lower than the other. We are interconnected. We are all one,” said Rev Victor Kazanjian, executive director of URI.

According to Iyad Abumoghli, director of faith for the Earth programme of UNEP, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing not only the views of the world but our actions towards a better future.

“Even the current crisis – the Corona Epidemic- is an ecological catastrophe. We are one earth family on one planet. Healthy in our diversity and our interconnectedness and sick when that is violated, “said Dr Vandana Shiva, while speaking during the panel discussion on ‘sacred activism’.

“Mother Earth is crying and this crisis, this disaster can also be an opportunity – a wakeup call. We can do better things, it’s a time to reflect to do a stocktake” said Bhai Saheb  Mohinder Singhji.

Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, shared, “The whole world is one family – one Earth community and we have 10 years to accomplish the Sustainable Development Goals. Let us act today.”

Father Paul Moonjely, Executive Director of Caritas India, closed the last panel. He said: “The new normal needs to be centered around the 5Ps- People, Planet, Prosperity, Partnership and Peace.The nature of our future depends on the future of our nature.”

Andrew Harvey, author, speaker, and founder/director of the Institute of Sacred Activism , Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, founder of Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values, Co-Founder Green Cross International and Matteus Van Der Velden, manager, Asia regional Unit of WSSCC , Geneva have also participated.

The event concluded with chanting by world renowned artists Deva Premal and Miten.