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World Religious Leaders Urged to Fight Climate Change

11/25/2013 04:10 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

Calling for an international "Sustainability Revolution," spearheaded by faith leaders from around the world, American environmental leader Christina Lee Brown Thursday implored the 9th World Assembly of Religions for Peace to address the imminent perils of climate change.

Speaking in Vienna, Mrs. Brown recalled her participation a half century ago in the historic March on Washington, where, as a teenager, she witnessed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech." She recalled the particular role of spiritual leaders of many races and faiths, joining in the peaceful march for equality.

She urged the same kind of passion and conviction to address the current environmental crisis, which threatens every aspect of life on Earth as we know it. And she urged a united effort to preserve the planet's health through protection of "Sacred Air, Sacred Soil and Sacred Water."

Religions for Peace is a global organization that has some 100 affiliates in some of the most challenging places on earth. Religions for Peace USA is the largest and most diverse multi-religious forum in America, with participants from more than 50 religious communities. All of the major faith traditions are represented. Mrs. Brown, who lives in Louisville, Ky., was with her late husband, Owsley Brown II, a charter member of the International Trustees of Religions for Peace. Together they helped inaugurate, expand and sustain the Council of Trustees, who work with the Religions for Peace World Council. It was for her leadership and vision that Mrs. Brown was selected to keynote the body on Thursday.

In her remarks, she cited the leadership of Great Britain's Prince Charles in the sustainability movement. The Prince "laments that we have for years been encouraged to think of ourselves as disconnected from nature, perhaps even the 'masters of nature,'" she observed. "As a result, we have lost touch with the holiness of nature, which has been left in our care in a very, very sacred trust."

Promoting the Sustainability Revolution, the goal is to usher in a new age, with a new paradigm of values and practices. To aid religious leaders in their teaching, Mrs. Brown provided each delegate with a "tool kit" that contains articles, poems, extracts from prominent climate-change studies and a bibliography of books, articles, websites, movies and documentaries.

Although the data - including the United Nation's Millennium Ecosystem Assessment - shows that the global climate crisis is escalating rapidly, a personal loss increased her commitment on this issue, Mrs. Brown said.

"Two years ago in September, my extraordinary husband of 43 years, Owsley Brown II, a fellow Religions for Peace International Trustee, died very unexpectedly and tragically from an extremely rare form of MRSA. His shocking and completely surprising death, I will always believe, was absolutely connected to our destruction of life's natural balance.

"So I stand before you, a widow with a broken heart, asking that you in the name of all the children and grandchildren of our globe please use this, your 9th World Assembly, to heed Prince Charles' recommendation to create and lead a global sustainability movement that will restore our world and all of its people to moral and physical wellness."

The 9th World Assembly convened on Nov. 20 and concluded on Nov. 22. Religions for Peace invites the world's senior-most religious leaders for the purpose of forging a deep moral consensus on contemporary challenges, electing a new World Council and advancing interreligious action. Also represented at the Assembly are international political, charitable and civic leaders from around the world. Together these delegates are examining examples of success in advancing peace, development and security.

Mrs. Brown's leadership grew out of her long experience as founder and leader of the first Festival of Faiths, which over the last 18 years has celebrated Louisville's diverse faith traditions and has issued clarion calls for many social issues. The Festival, which last spring welcomed His Holiness the Dalai Lama, draws participants from around the nation and world. It is coordinated through Louisville's Center for Interfaith Relations.

The Center's mission reflects the determination of Louisville, an old city on the Ohio River, to be, in the words of its mayor, Greg Fischer, "a compassionate city." Among those who articulate the goals of the organization and the urgency of the environmental crisis is essayist, novelist and farmer Wendell Berry, who lives in the nearby community of Port Royal, Ky.

In her address, Mrs. Brown cited a statement by Berry that relates to the Sustainability Revolution: "Industrial humanity has brought about phase two of original sin, making us all now absolutely complicit in the murder of Creation." But, Mrs. Brown noted: "I ask you, our religious leaders - who is listening?"