United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged religious leaders to challenge “inaccurate and harmful messages” fuelling ethno-nationalism, stigma, hate speech and conflict amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The UN chief warned a video meeting on the role of faith leaders in addressing the challenges of Covid-19 that “extremists and radical groups are seeking to exploit eroding trust in leadership and feed on people’s vulnerability to serve their own ends”.
He called on faith leaders to promote solidarity based on human rights and human dignity as well as social cohesion, mutual respect and understanding.
Religious leaders can play “a pivotal role” in their communities and beyond “to deliver solutions to not only address the pandemic, but to recover better (and) promote non-violence and reject xenophobia, racism and all forms of intolerance,” Mr Guterres said.
The meeting was also addressed by Catholic, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders and other UN officials involved in promoting inter-religious harmony.
Citing an “alarming increase in violence against women and girls” as the pandemic spreads, Mr Guterres appealed to religious leaders “to categorically condemn such acts and support shared principles of partnership, equality, respect and compassion.”
He also called on the leaders to fight against disinformation and misinformation about Covid-19 by using their networks and communications to promote World Health Organisation recommended safety and hygiene measures.
Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, told the meeting that “with the whole of humanity stumbling, we must find ourselves united in facing the pandemic.
“The way forward is to find the courage to open up the space for new forms of solidarity,” he said.
He invited people of all faiths to join Pope Francis on May 14 in a day of spiritual unity, fasting, works of charity and prayers to end the coronavirus pandemic.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Holocaust survivor and president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, called for a moment of silence to pray for the victims of Covid-19, the healing of the sick and gratitude for all those on the front-lines.
Rabbi Schneier said faith leaders “must be in the forefront of countering the hate mongerers in our midst who have invaded social media to disseminate xenophobia, anti-Semitism, bias against minorities and conspiracy theories, exploiting this tragic time for hatred and division.
“Unity and diversity, that’s what the world is all about,” he said.
Recalling the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after World War II, he also urged all sectors of society to come together an establish “a 21st century recovery plan to repair and improve our wounded world”.