Helen Wangusa, the Anglican Observer to the UN, addresses a press conference about the UN Millennium Development Goals.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will lead about 670 Anglican bishops, their spouses and ecumenical partners on an unprecedented walk through the streets of central London tomorrow to demonstrate their commitment to end global poverty and other priorities outlined by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The “Walk of Witness”, which will begin in Whitehall Place and wend through Parliament Square before proceeding to Lambeth Palace, is also meant to pressure governments to keep their promises to deliver the MDGs.
“The march will say to government that people matter. That people matter more than arms, that people matter more than huge bureaucracies and that people must come first,” said David Beetge, the bishop of Highveld, South Africa, where poverty and the scourge of HIV-AIDS is an everyday reality.
The Anglican observer to the United Nations, Helen Wangusa, told a press conference that the march is not being organized as either as a celebration or protest. “Progress has been made (in the implementation of the MDGs) but we’re not going to be complacent,” she said. She noted that “2008 is the mid-point” of the promise made by governments to halve extreme poverty and halt the spread of HIV-AIDS by 2015 but efforts need to be doubled to make it really happen.
Ms. Wangusa, who is participating in the once-a-decade conference of bishops here, said the walk is also the church’s “statement of solidarity… a statement of our contribution as peoples of faith to make sure that what has been promised is delivered.” She said that the march is meant to send the message to governments that the MDGs are “binding” and that “we’re holding governments and ourselves accountable.”
It is also meant to show that churches are willing to work with government to deliver the promised goals, she added.
The other MDGs include the empowerment of women, universal primary education, ensuring “environmental sustainability,” improving maternal health, reducing child mortality, and developing a global partnership for development.
Bishop Beetge said that the walk is going to be “a symbolic act for whoever sees it.” For the poor, it is a message “that the church cares about them”, he said.
He said that the MDGs have enabled governments and churches to forge a “creative partnership.” He said it has changed the way governments recognize faith-based communities and their ability to meet people’s needs. “We’re the only organization that has a place in every community and one that meets every week,” he said.
Bishop Beetge, who has been involved in HIV-AIDS work for the last 18 years, said the mission of the church is “the mission of Christ,” which is to minister to those “living on the edge.” He said that his diocese is situated in an area that is struggling with 40-45 per cent unemployment and with an HIV-AIDS rate of 40 per cent. “We’ve trained 1,100 home-based workers (for HIV-AIDS) because hospitals can’t cope,” he said. His church is also involved in other social justice initiatives, including literacy training and care for 10,000 orphans in the area.
The Walk to Witness, which will take place in what promises to be one of the hottest days in London, promises to be quite a spectacle – with 650 bishops in purple cassocks, spouses in their national dresses, faith leaders and foreign ambassadors crossing the Lambeth bridge against the backdrop of the Thames and the Houses of Parliament.