Mr Dieng has had his fair share of witnessing atrocities in countries such as Rwanda, Sudan, Burundi, Sebrenica. He has heard witness statements that described the rape of women as old as 84 years and as young as 4. He has heard stories of terrible atrocities between people who at one time would have been friends and neighbours, of competing affiliations that obstructed dialogue and work for reconciliation. He spoke of the growing retreat from multi-lateralism into national concerns that were governed by selfish interest. It was all very overwhelming. What a world we inhabit. Can anything be done about it? Can that great institution, the United Nations do anything about it? Part of its work I suppose is to alert us to the reality of the world in which we live, to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, to disturb our false sense of peace and comfort. It can speak out against atrocities and call for peace but often these are simply ignored. And then it can write reports and action plans setting out steps to prevent atrocities and create peace. But what happens to these reports. Many of us who have worked with government bodies are aware of how easy it is to write reports and plans of action for them to simply be a tick box exercise and then be put on a shelf and forgotten about.
Reports demand good publicity, good distribution and a strategy for implementation. Often they rely on the enthusiasm of the people who were consulted in the writing of them as the ones who have really engaged with the issues. That’s how this particular visit by Mr Dieng came about. The report is aimed at religious leaders - seen as important and significant in promoting peace and preventing incitement to violence. This may not appear to be so obvious in a Europe that is becoming more secular but the United Nations with its global vision recognises the importance of religious teaching and practice in accomplishing many of its sustainable development goals. Mr Dieng himself did say that what was needed was more spirituality.
What I think he was asking for was a change of heart, a conversion that recognises our solidarity and interconnectedness as part of the human family, that is convinced we are all affected for good or for ill by what our fellow human beings do, that we all have an investment in the future of our planet and can no longer afford to get caught up in selfish concerns whether these be personal, national or international. We need a sense of inclusivity, solidarity and a shared vision of peace and cooperation. It’s like the feminist slogan ‘the personal is political’. If only the whole world was converted to such a vision. There are, of course, many people who are or who struggle to make this a reality in their lives. People, communities, organisations working to eradicate poverty, overcome disease, establish justice for all, dialogue across ethnic, cultural and religious divides. There’s a lot of good going on and it’s important for me to remember this and not get bogged down in evils and atrocities that render me feeling helpless and hopeless. Christians often describe these activities as working for the Kingdom of God and I once heard it said that Christians should become Kingdom – spotters. If we look around we can see the Kingdom everywhere – in big ways and small. What helps me is to see these incidents as part of a great whole, to feel that my little efforts are part of this whole and can contribute to it in some way. I think intention is important in all of this. It’s good to realise that everything we do can be for the benefit of humankind and the healing of the nations and to begin our day by having that intention, either in prayer or meditation or simply by having the intention for the day. I know this as a morning offering. Once made, we live our lives normally, giving and receiving as we all do in our daily lives. What it does is, it gives us a vision by which to live, a sense of purpose and partnership in the great work of healing the nations and contributing in some small way to peace. And it’s not only empty words. The intention to have all that we say and do contribute to this vision must surely affect how we act and relate to one another even if we often fail.
All religions have sense of the brokenness of our world and put before believers a vision and practice for contributing to its wholeness and well-being. Over and over again I think the world needs more religion – but good religion. In all religions there is a spirituality, a pearl of great price which is often hidden and obscured by the institution but once found is a source of real inspiration and hope.