Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Washington D.C. Part II : Breakthrough Summit for Women, Faith and Development Alliance

One of the hardest realities to confront is that of inhumanity. We members of the Twenty-First Century have a hard time admitting our failures, especially when it comes to basic human rights. As the numbers of the Holocaust do not lie, neither do the current numbers reporting the world's poorest citizens. Among the 2.5 billion people who fall into the categories of either poverty or extreme poverty, roughly 70% are female. Two-thirds of the world's illiterate are female. For every ten men who have HIV-AIDS, fourteen women are afflicted. 500,000 women die each year from preventable complications of pregnancy. The numbers go on and on to illustrate the disadvantages that women face in the developing world.

On Sunday I attended the Breakthrough Summit for Women, Faith, and Development Alliance (WFDA). It was held at Washington National Cathedral and I must thank T.C. Benson for the spectacular 7th-row seats amidst the Leadership Council and various speakers and representatives. The program, which lasted from 1:30p.m. until 6:00p.m., was an inaugural ceremony for the WFDA, a conglomerate of international organizations committed to fighting global poverty.

Men and women from numerous foundations, NGOs, and Faith-Based Organizations were present to commit their support to the WFDA. In addition to these men and women were leaders from a number of nations such as United States, Canada, Ireland, Liberia, India, Republic of Congo, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and many more.

Former Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright gave the keynote address which was nothing short of brilliant. Standing no more than five feet tall, this delicate woman gave a fiery cry to put an end to the preventable causes of extreme poverty and death in our world. She confronted the many persons to whom this fight is a lost cause; those who would give a roll of the eyes and claim "there's nothing we can do." To them she stated simply and firmly: "Poverty is not a force of nature. What we have the power to choose we have the power to change."

Following the keynote address were many short orations sharing concern and commitment. One of these speakers, a Muslim woman from Northern Africa (I have forgotten her name and which country since there were so many present!) shared a wonderful Muslim Proverb:

When I saw the terror in the world I asked God if He too saw these things. He did. So I then asked Him if He was going to do something about it and He said, "Yes I am." I asked Him what He was going to do and He replied, "I made you."

This short thought is not only moving by its message, but also because it is so corresponding with the teachings of Christianity. To see the parallels between the American Christians and the North-African Muslims and the Tibetan Buddhists and the Irish Catholics - all represented at the alliance - was a promising hope for a reality in which our world can unite upon common ground.

This, to me, was one of the most inspiring facets of the Summit: the unification of a body of people with one common hope. At the end of the ceremony there stood on stage more than fifty people - men, women, and children - who have lived in different countries and cultures, who share difference and similarities, all coming together on the stage of the Washington National Cathedral.

And what did we do then? We affirmed our commitment in the best way possible: through song. A special song was commissioned by the Breakthrough Summit and was led by the St. Thomas Gospel Choir of Philadelphia. The lyrics are:

We'll gather our courage, gather our voices
Breakthrough the doubt, breakthrough the walls
Each one is blessed when everyone shares
Gather our voices, raising a song
Gather our voices together and sing!

After singing this through a number of times the postlude began as the thumping of African drums shook the cavernous walls of the cathedral. I stood watching the many faces of men and women passing me by as they marched out through the center aisle. I saw light faces and dark faces, white faces and black faces, red faces, brown faces, yellow faces, and more. And yet as all of these different faces passed, I saw the same eyes: the kind of eyes that hold vision. These are the kind of eyes that know Hope. The kind of eyes that can see the invisible. The kind of eyes that can see things that aren't there yet.

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