Northern Irish and US faith groups tackle environment, poverty and peace

By staff writers
March 1, 2008

Faith groups in Northern Ireland and America have been seeking to learn from one another about making peace in the human and the physical environment together. Earlier this month a US interfaith group visited the province.

The Americans met with church leaders, non-governmental organizations, and government officials in Belfast from 12-14 February, with the aim of discussing how global climate change can relate to the peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland.

The delegation also met with community development groups, religious relief agencies, and elected officials including First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

The interfaith delegates represented the National Council of Churches USA, the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

"Because global climate change will effect us all, and those in poverty the most, it transcends religious and political divides and provides vibrant opportunities for faith communities to come together to address this global concern," explained Cassandra Carmichael, eco-justice programme director for the National Council of Churches USA.

The delegation, sponsored by the British Consulate in New York, presented US perspectives on faith engagement on environmental issues to church leaders in the Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, Church of Ireland, and the Catholic Church.

"Working on climate change is an opportunity to move beyond the past and to work together for the global community to create a stronger peace at home," said Liore Milgrom-Elcott, project manager for the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

The inter-connectedness of climate and poverty was a key message that the delegation brought to religious and political leaders in Northern Ireland.

"The focus of our work on has been on the disproportionate impact climate change will have on people in poverty here in the US and abroad," said Dan Misleh, executive director for the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change.

The delegation noted signs of cooperation on environmental issues already happening in Northern Island including the eco-congregations, which has engaged both Catholic and protestant congregations.

"We hope that our presence here in Northern Ireland can be a catalyst for increased dialog and cooperation not only within the faith community but the throughout the wider community," said Renee Rico, of Presbyterians for Restoring Creation.

The National Council of Churches is the ecumenical voice of America's Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace churches. These 35 communions have 45 million members in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.

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