Religions Together for Humanitarian Action

On May 27, 2015, IIMA and VIDES attended the Symposium “Religions Together for Humanitarian Action,” hosted by the Sovereign Order of Malta, at the United Nations. The morning panel discussed the present challenges for faith-based humanitarian institutions, while the afternoon panel tackled how to prepare for the future regarding better assistance and protection for civilian populations. There were many members of a variety of religious institutions in attendance (also reflected in the panel), along with many State representatives, and members of the general public.

In his introductory remarks, His Excellency Ambassador Stefano Ronca spoke of the four goals of humanitarian aid: humanitarian effectiveness, managing resources, transformation through innovation, and, most importantly, serving the needs of people in conflict. As he explained, religion, global issues, and global poverty are inextricably related.

In the first panel, Dr Jemilah Mahmood spoke of the need for clear communication and transparency to combat the perception of bias to religious aid organizations. His Excellency Franco Frattini said that spirituality in conflict is too often ignored, leading to dehumanization of violence. Dr Hani El-Banna also spoke about the dangers of ignoring religion, whether you are personally religious or not – it is still a factor in conflict. Minister Plenary Giampaolo Cantini stressed the need for partnerships between religious and between religious and secular organizations because humanitarian efforts are chronically underfunded, while Grand Rabbi Marc Raphael Guedj took a more philosophical approach, reminding attendees that in each moment of our lives, dialogue and love must take place.
In the second panel, the members addressed how working in a faith-based organization in conflict areas can be a huge benefit. Faith-based organizations can combat xenophobia and a fear of foreigners, especially if the organization providing aid is of a different religion than those receiving it. Aleksander Alienikoff said, “We help people in need not because they are Catholic but because we are,” meaning that faith-based organizations have no right to withhold care or support based on the religions of those in need. Faith-based organizations are in a unique position to also provide much-needed spiritual healing in addition to providing material support. It’s not enough to have justice; people need reconciliation too.