A reflection provided by Professor Priyankar Upadhyaya, UNESCO Chair for Peace and Intercultural Understanding.

The All-pervasive impact of COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every aspect of human life, causing unprecedented uncertainties and anxieties. This existential threat, in turn, has brought together people from all over the globe and from all walks of life. Scientists, health workers and caregivers are working in unison across borders to save humanity against the scourge of coronavirus. Amidst this momentous struggle, we see a pivotal responsibility of our religious leaders and faith communities to nurture the spirit of solidarity at all levels. Indeed, a  significant majority of people look more towards religious leaders than the health authorities about what to believe in a crisis. Thus, the religious and faith actors have a vital trust relationship with their followers  offer trust which is crucial to dispel misinformation, fear and anxieties and above all to give them hope.

Thus the UN Secretary-General has aptly urged religious leaders of all faiths to join the everyday battle to defeat COVID-19 and to renew “our faith in one another.”

The UNESCO Chairs especially within the network of   Inter-religious Dialogue and Intercultural Understanding (IDIU) have a unique role in facilitating the much-needed partnership between faith-based entities with concerned  civil society actors, government and  UN bodies and academia to synergise new forms of harmony at this critical juncture.

Today, many faith communities are poised to bring together science, society and spiritualism to explore innovative pathways of sustainable development that doesn’t erode the natural world. Many of us are partnering with such concerted efforts to consolidate inter-religious and inter-cultural solidarity to cope effectively with the spectre of coronavirus.

It is also helpful to highlight and disseminate current endeavours at local levels wherein faith-based organisations and houses of worship have adapted themselves to cope with the situation. Many have been running extensive live sessions on social media as a frequent dosage of guidance and blessings for their tech-savvy followers, organising multi-stakeholder and interfaith call and interviews addressing social issues like environment, migration, health and hate speech etc.  They are actively involved in nurturing the spirit of service/Sewa/Khidmat by providing relief to the distressed and vulnerable population without discriminating the recipients, re-energising their networks of followers to raise resources for helping the destitute, encouraging medical research and devising health-centred solutions to the pandemic.  

There are of course several humanitarian interfaith networks which are at the forefront in nurturing interreligious solidarities to respond collectively to ward off the  cloud of isolation through the power of “soul connecting”. The long list may include the United Religions Initiative (https://uri.org/coronavirus), Religions for Peace ( https://rfp.org/multi-religious-covid-19-hub/urgent-multi-religious-response-to-coronavirus-covid-19/ and  GreenFaith Greenhttps://greenfaith.org/newsitem/Join-us-for-Faith-Community-Calls-for-Care-and-Resilience-during-the-COVID19-Crisis

Similarly many India based interfaith entities like the Art of Living, Parmarth Niketan, Hare Krishan Movement, Charities India, Jamaat e-Islami Hind, Christian Coalition for Health, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and many Sikh Gurudwaras are actively harnessing the power of the religion and faith to alleviate human sufferings in their respective domain. Many humanitarian interfaith organisations like Green Faith, Religions for Peace etc. have also been actively inspiring faith-based grassroots communities to create an inclusive and accessible ecosystem for all human beings and mother earth. Indeed there is an unending list of such faith-based initiatives from across all religions and regions.  UNESCO Chairs in our network must be engaged in supporting such efforts. It would be rewarding to learn from each other’s experiences and stories regarding our common struggle against Coronavirus pandemic.

The following links of institutional websites exemplify some of the initiatives mentioned above.

Earth Day 2020 – Planting seeds for a new normal

Online Interfaith meeting organised by Sphere India and UNICEF – Live Global Prayer organised by the Indian Yoga Association

Special online webinar on Proactive Faith Leadership in Times of Crisis in Africa and India – In Responding to COVID-19

Youtube – How can the COVID-19 crisis help humanity find harmony with Nature? Live Interaction with Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Twitter connection with Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

United Religions Initiative (URI) – URI Responds to the Coronavirus Pandemic – Together

Religions for Peace – Multi-religious Response to COVID-19

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