Remarks at High-Level Video Conference entitled, "The Role of Religious Leaders in Addressing the Multiple Challenges of COVID-19"
The pandemic has no regard for religious or spiritual distinctions.
Let me begin by thanking Ambassador Omar Hilale of the Kingdom of Morocco for this very timely initiative. It is heartening to see so many religious leaders joining forces today in a spirit of solidarity.
Our world faces a crisis like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a global health emergency. It is a human crisis that is upending lives, destroying livelihoods and deepening mistrust around the world. But something else is coming into view. As the virus wreaks havoc and disruption on a scale not seen in generations, we see a dawning awareness that the differences that so often divide us pale in significance. After all, the pandemic has no regard for religious or spiritual distinctions. It does not care about national borders. We are all vulnerable — and that shared vulnerability reveals our common humanity. It lays bare our responsibility to promote solidarity as the foundation of our response – a solidarity based on the human rights and human dignity of all. And it highlights the crucial role of religious leaders in your communities and beyond. We know from previous public health crises – from HIV/AIDS to Ebola – that the actions of faith leaders influence people’s values, attitudes, behaviours, and actions. And with this influence comes responsibility to work together, putting aside differences, and to translate our common values into action. So today I would highlight four areas where religious leaders in my opinion can play a pivotal role to deliver solutions to not only address the pandemic, but to recover better.
First, I thank religious leaders for supporting my appeal for a global ceasefire so that we can together focus on fighting our shared enemy — COVID-19. Yet we continue to see conflicts rage in many places — along with a rise in ethno-nationalism, stigma and hate speech targeting vulnerable communities and exacerbating suffering. Meanwhile, extremists and radical groups are seeking to exploit eroding trust in leadership and feed on people’s vulnerability to serve their own ends. I ask faith leaders to actively challenge inaccurate and harmful messages, and encourage all communities to promote non-violence and reject xenophobia, racism and all forms of intolerance. Second, I also made an appeal for peace at home. Across the globe we are seeing an alarming increase in violence against women and girls as this pandemic spreads. This is in violation of principles common to every faith, and I appeal to religious leaders to categorically condemn such acts and support shared principles of partnership, equality, respect and compassion. Partnership also means ensuring women’s equal voice and representation in all spheres. I can share with you from my personal experience – in government and in the United Nations — that when we have a balance of perspectives, we have greater capacity to achieve our goals. Third, as we fight the spread of disinformation and misinformation, I ask religious leaders to leverage your networks and communication capacities to support governments in promoting WHO-recommended public health measures — from physical distancing to good hygiene — and to ensure that faith-based activities, including worship, religious ceremonies and burial practices, comply with these measures. Fourth, at a time when the vast majority of the world’s students are out of school or university, I urge faith leaders to support the continuity of education, working with education providers to find solutions so that learning never stops. Excellencies, Dear Friends, To defeat this virus, and build back a more sustainable and equitable world, we need communities to come together. That is also the spirt of our Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites and the Plan of Action on Hate Speech which we launched last year. Thank you for joining forces to promote social cohesion, mutual respect and understanding, unity and solidarity. Thank you for re-affirming faith in our common humanity.