The Third Forum of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) was held in Hiroshima, Japan from May 24 to 26, 2008 (watch opening video presentation about the GNRC). The Forum brought together 353 religious leaders and others committed to children's well being from around the globe, including 42 young people aged 13 to 18. Participants came from 63 countries and 8 world regions, representing the Baha'i faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and many other religious and spiritual traditions. As always, the young people made a major impact throughout the Forum program. They met in a special pre-meeting from May 22 to 23 to prepare for the various presentations, speeches, and other forms of participation they added to the Forum.
Also present were top United Nations officials, including UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, and UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman, as well as other senior officials from key GNRC partners like UNICEF, UNESCO, and WCRP.
On hand to welcome these guests to Japan were Hon. Yohei Kono, Speaker of the House of Representatives of Japan, Hon. Yuzan Fujita, Governor of Hiroshima Prefecture, Hon. Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima City, Rev. Takeyasu Miyamoto, inaugurator of the GNRC and President of the Arigatou Foundation, and about 1,000 interested citizens from all around the country. Several ambassadors to Japan and heads of UN agency offices in Japan were also in attendance.
Several distinguished guests from overseas also spoke at the opening ceremony. Read transcripts of their remarks:
- Hon. Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and President, Servicio Paz y Justicia
- H.E. Seyed Mohammad Ali Abtahi, President, Institute for Interreligious Dialogue, former Vice President, Islamic Republic of Iran
- Rev. Dr. Ofelia Ortega, President, World Council of Churches
- Rev. Nichiko Niwano, President, Rissho Kosei-kai
The program of the Third Forum was intended to give participants an opportunity to revisit the original spirit of the GNRC, inspire one another to a renewed commitment to children's rights and peace, and engage together in planning for another four years of interfaith cooperation to build a better world for children. Read more in the one-page prospectus for the Third Forum and the welcome message from Rev. Takeyasu Miyamoto, from the Third Forum program.
The main theme was Learning to Share: Values, Action, Hope. Participants first divided into groups to hear three thematic keynote speeches and discuss three ethical imperatives -- to end violence against children, to ensure that no child lives in poverty, and to protect the earth - developing shared convictions and recommendations for action. Read the three 20-minute speeches by eminent authorities:
- "The Ethical Imperative to Ensure that No Child Lives in Poverty" -- Dr. Kul Gautam, former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF
- "The Ethical Imperative to End Violence against Children" -- Dr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Rapporteur on Children's Rights, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, OAS, and former Independent Expert, The United Nations Secretary General's Study on Violence Against Children
- "The Ethical Imperative to Protect the Earth" -- Ms. Henriette Rasmussen, Earth Charter Commissioner and former Minister of Culture, Education, Research and Church, Greenland
Next, participants met in groups representing the seven GNRC regional networks -- Africa, the Arab States, Central Asia and the Caucasus, Europe, Israel, Latin America and the Caribbean, and South Asia -- to agree on action priorities and develop specific action plans.
The Third Forum was the first GNRC forum to feature the launch of a major new original resource intended for worldwide use -- Learning to Live Together: An Intercultural and Interfaith Programme for Ethics Education. This innovative curriculum and resource manual, endorsed by UNICEF and UNESCO, is available now for download in three languages and soon in three more. (Watch video about the Learning to Live Together process.) It was developed in the four years between the second and third forums and thoroughly tested in the diverse cultural settings of the seven GNRC regions by the Interfaith Council on Ethics Education for Children, which Rev. Miyamoto established in 2000, true to the pledge he made when he spoke on behalf of the GNRC to the UN General Assembly's Special Session on Children.
The Forum also featured a report on the ongoing GNRC-UNICEF joint study on "Children in World Religions."
Another significant new outcome of the Forum was the proposal, adopted by all in attendance, for a new Day of Prayer and Action for Children by the World's Religions to take place every year on November 20 on the International Day of the Child, the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Senior leaders from the major traditions of the world religions met to discuss the proposal and were enthusiastic about its potential. The first pilot events are expected to be held in GNRC regions in 2008.
A new logo for the GNRC was also introduced at the Forum.
On the last day, the participants adopted the Hiroshima Declaration of the Global Network of Religions for Children, which described their shared convictions on the three ethical imperatives and committed the GNRC to promotion of Learning to Live Together and the Day of Prayer. The closing passage of the declaration captured the heart of the GNRC in these words:
The call to pray, meditate, worship, and contemplate is at the heart and soul of all religious and spiritual traditions. There is a hope and vision reflected in prayer that people of every faith embrace and share. The call for prayer for children brings together our shared anguish at the suffering of children, and offers our collective hope for their dignity and integrity. And we recognize that with every prayer comes a new commitment to action. Honoring the spirit of the Arigatou Foundation, we recommit ourselves to "prayer and practice" to implement these pledges as we go forth from the Third Forum in Hiroshima.
The full reports of the three thematic groups and the action priorities and plans developed by the seven regional groups are an integral part of the declaration. Links to all of these are available at the bottom of the Declaration.
The Forum came to a close with a Special Session: Dialogue with Global Leaders, featuring Ms. Migiro and Ms. Veneman. There was a lively exchange of views with the distinguished panelists on stage as well as members of the audience. Like the opening session, the main hall of the International Conference Center Hiroshima was packed to capacity by more than 1,300 people.
Immediately following the closing ceremony, which featured a moving thank you speech by Rev. Keishi Miyamoto, participants joined in an Interfaith Prayer for Peace. The prayer gathering ended with all joining in a Walking Pledge for Peace to the Hiroshima Flame of Peace. Rev. Takeyasu Miyamoto and Deputy Secretary General Migiro headed up the procession through the city. Arriving at the Flame of Peace, participants offered flowers and prayers on behalf of the victims of the atomic bombing and for a future of lasting peace.
In addition to the messages and documents linked to above, there are many other significant texts from the Forum available at this website. Visit this page to select the link of your choice to read transcripts of the various speeches and messages given.