The G20 Interfaith Forum (IF20), which has convened annually since 2014, brings important dimensions to the G20 process. It shares some features with other engagement groups but has distinctive aspects that relate, above all, to the widely diverse landscape of world religious communities. It serves as a place for high-level encounter and dialogue where faith communities and associated organizations can interact with public officials as well as with active scholars and civil society, building on the vital roles that religious institutions and beliefs play in world affairs.
On September 11-14, over 730 religious leaders, professionals, scholars, activists, and government representatives from across the globe gathered in Bologna, Italy for the eighth annual G20 Interfaith Forum—this year under the Italian Presidency of the G20. 231 speakers and panelists participated in 25 sessions organized throughout the four days, engaging in discussion on ideas and proposals related to a wide range of current world issues—from the refugee crisis to the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency, and more—all through the lens and experience of religion and faith.
As an engagement group officially hosted by the Italian G20 Presidency, the G20 Interfaith Forum prepared proposals to the G20 leaders, based on work, discussions, and research conducted over the past years. The analysis and proposals were submitted in July. The Forum, falling closer to the G20 Leaders’ Summit, elaborated the proposals and provided the opportunity for timely discussions on critical topics.
The central theme for the 2021 IF20 was “A Time to Heal” (inspired by a biblical verse from Ecclesiastes 3:3). Today, when the COVID-19 pandemic has left so many dead and lives disrupted, these words seem easy to understand. However, they speak to far larger challenges. The inescapable reality is that this “time to heal” follows a time of sickness or of killing. We must also recognize and reckon with the pandemics of war, hatred, and enmity (the “time to kill” that Ecclesiasticus also evokes) that devour more lives than the pandemic itself, absorb more resources than any vaccine, sow despair and fear, and feed new hatreds, new enmity, and new wars.
The Bologna interreligious and cross sectoral gathering asked in countless ways: What will it take to heal? And, in an environment far removed from the indifference that Pope Francis decries, the IF20 underscored how and why religious communities, working purposefully together, and with governments, parliaments, transnational organizations, women and men, young and old, can and will engage. We must make this a Kairos moment: a time of grace, opportunity, and movement where we act together to bring change and justice, dignity and care.
We look with great hope to the Summit of G20 leaders and their partners.