As an African woman attending this week's World Religions Summit at the University of Winnipeg, Rev. Suzanne Membe Matale is convinced the issues affecting her people are issues for everyone.
"Our poverty is their poverty because we live in one world," the Methodist minister from Lusaka, Zambia said Monday. "If they (other countries) don't help with these issues on a global level, next time poverty will be knocking at their door."
Representing the Council of Churches in Zambia, Matale is one of 71 delegates from two dozen countries representing at least seven faith traditions meeting at the downtown university until Wednesday. The group intends to write a statement to encourage G8/G20 leaders meeting in Ontario next week to honour their commitments to the UN Millennium Development Goals.
The goals include eliminating extreme poverty and hunger, establishing universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, combating HIV/AIDs and malaria, ensuring environmental sustainability and creating a global partnership for development.
Matale said she travelled to Winnipeg to ensure the voices of African women are heard in the discussions around poverty, the environment and peace.
"It was important to come as an African woman and a religious leader because the issues on the African continent are so serious that we think it is important to come to put our issues on the table," said Matale, scheduled to be keynote speaker tonight.
Two officials from Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Islamic Affairs, attracting much attention with their long robes and head wear, said this summit is an opportunity to work toward peace in the Middle East.
"The most important (issue) for us in the Middle East is peace and security, more than environment and poverty," said Abdullah Al lheedan of Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Islamic Affairs, referring to the summit's goals of promoting peace and security, eradicating extreme poverty and addressing climate change.
"In the Middle East, there is conflict and extremists on both sides want to portray it as religious. We don't think it is religious, we think it is political."
Al lheedan and his colleague Zeid Aldakkan, first-time visitors to Winnipeg, are attending their fourth consecutive summit.
Despite the afternoon downpour, the summit opened Monday in the university's inner courtyard with the lighting of a sacred fire by Anishnabe spiritual leader David Courchene of Sagkeeng First Nation.
"You are the people of the heart, because you're responsible for carrying spiritual life," Courchene told the crowd gathered in the university's cafeteria. "You are what is needed in this world."
In addition to the delegates, 140 people are registered as observers, including Juno award-winning Canadian children's entertainer Raffi Cavoukian, of Salt Spring Island, B.C., who is hoping religious leaders will support his online campaign to honour children. "I think they (faith leaders) have a unique role to play in respecting the personhood of children," said Cavoukian.
This is the sixth time religious leaders from across the faith traditions have met in advance of the G8 summit, and the first time this event has been in Canada.
Today's speakers include Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine and a religious adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, and Sen. Romeo Dallaire.
The event is closed to the public but streamed live on the web at www.faithchallengeg8.com.