Faith Leaders urge the UK to embrace diversity ahead of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

Leaders of the largest faith groups in the UK have joined forces to highlight the importance of celebrating our Commonwealth links.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of Westminster and Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, are amongst the high-profile religious leaders supporting Commonwealth Big Lunches – an initiative aimed at bringing people together right across the Commonwealth.

In a display of religious unity, 10 faith groups have sent messages in support of the initiative launched by the Prime Minister and created by educational charity the Eden Project, in partnership with the UK Government.

Faith groups have expressed their support ahead of leaders from across the 53 Commonwealth countries gathering in London to encourage more people to come together in celebration of our shared Commonwealth connections.

The religious backing follows royal support from TRH’s The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, who all attended Commonwealth Big Lunch preparations last month.

Commonwealth Big Lunches of all shapes and sizes have been taking place since Commonwealth Day on 12 March, and are expected to continue until Sunday 22 April as part of the official celebrations ahead of and during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this month.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in a letter to all Diocesan Bishops, said:

“As the part of the Anglican Communion, the body of Christ, we are connected with our brothers and sisters across the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Big Lunch is a wonderful opportunity for parishes in your diocese to celebrate the Commonwealth diaspora in their local community, as the Big Lunch can be teamed with a street party, discussion, sports, debate, or other event to bring the community together. “

Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster said:

“I am sure that many Catholic parishes will be holding parish lunches. Special occasions like this can build enduring warmth, friendship and understanding between people. I hope many people will take part and I send my prayers and best wishes to all involved in organising it.”

Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth said:

“I am delighted to send my very best wishes to all those ‘breaking bread’ with one another, as part of the Commonwealth Big Lunch, from 12th March to 22nd April 2018. In Jewish tradition, when we make a blessing over bread, we thank God, “who brings forth bread from the earth”. Yet, as we know, God Himself does not provide the bread. He provides the grain and the natural conditions from which people are able to make bread. The blessing teaches us the powerful lesson that the Almighty expects us to meet Him halfway. If we take responsibility for investing the effort into growing the crops, processing them into ingredients and then taking the time to mix and bake them, only then will we be rewarded with the staple food for our physical sustenance?”

Maulana Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi, representing the Muslim community said:

“I find hospitality core to our common values. There is something deeply human in sharing a meal. The compassion which hospitality is rooted in can be a way of joining hearts together and this in turn develops friendships. Friendships create trust and trust leads to hope. The Commonwealth is in a unique position with its network of cultures, languages, religions and shared values for dialogue to begin. Therefore, Commonwealth Big Lunches are a wonderful opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds to come together and partake in their common humanity.”

Ibrahim Mogra, representing the Muslim community said:

“I am delighted to support the Commonwealth Big Lunches that facilitates the coming together of neighbours near and far. I am very proud that there are communities from every country of the Commonwealth living in the UK. I myself migrated from Malawi. Sharing of food is something that comes naturally to all human beings. When the earliest Muslims became refugees and had to flee Makkah for the safety of Yathrib (modern day Madinah in Saudi Arabia), the Prophet Muhammad instructed them to: 1. Spread peace, 2. Feed others 3. Pray at night whilst the people are asleep.”

Trupti Patel, President of the Hindu Forum of Britain said:

“Local participation is one of the most important ingredients for local communities to coexist and flourish, and what could be better than The Big Lunch.  All attempts to understand each other start from the home and the local neighbourhood, and these can spread like sun rays to bring warmth and safety to communities. The Commonwealth is also important to us as a community because of our links to India, whether we were born there or have family there today. As Hindus, we have a special prayer for togetherness and it is hoped that the Commonwealth Big Lunch will build the bonds between local communities in the UK and throughout the Commonwealth.”

Jasvir Singh, Founding Chair of City Sikhs said:

“Food is an intrinsic part of the Sikh identity, and every gurdwara in the Commonwealth and beyond has a langar or community kitchen which serves free vegetarian meals to everyone, Sikh and non-Sikh alike. By feeding whoever comes through the doors, the langar creates a true sense of unity between different people. The Commonwealth Big Lunches are a marvellous way of bringing together local communities with that same sense of hospitality, service, and friendship. We all have a lot in common with each other, and there is no better way of celebrating that commonality than over a shared meal.”

The Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala, Head Monk, The London Buddhist Vihara said:

The Commonwealth has been a global family that brings together peoples of differing faiths, languages and traditions who are linked by common threads of enduring values and history. As Buddhists we unite with other spiritual leaders in supporting the ideals of the Commonwealth in fostering, upholding and promoting compassion, reconciliation, tolerance and peace amongst people from across all boundaries. Therefore I whole heartedly endorse the Commonwealth Big Lunch, its aims and objectives.” 

Dr Natubhai Shah, Chair and CEO of the Jain Network said:

“53 nations of the Commonwealth have similar administration, justice system, shared culture and heritage. It has been a treat for me to participate in the Commonwealth Service on 2nd Monday of March at Westminster Abbey for more than 20 years to pray for varied issues facing the nations such as non-violent way of life, compassion, equality, eradication of poverty, employment, environment and co-operation between nations. We support Commonwealth Big Lunches to strengthen the cordial relations between the people of commonwealth, which has the oldest and biggest democracies of the world.”

Malcolm Deboo, the President of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe said:

‘Towards a Common Future’ is the theme for Commonwealth Day 2018.  Zoroastrians recognise:

There are many religions, but God is one! There are many countries, but world is one! There are many races, but humanity is one! There are men and women, but they are equal as both can think good, speak good and do good. We must all strive to improve our world and overcome evil. Today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better than today, because of our cumulative goodness.Organising and participating in Commonwealth Big Lunches is good. Breaking bread together will bring us closer!”

Patrick O’Mara, Secretary – National Spiritual Assembly of The Baha’is of the United Kingdom said:

Today, more than ever before, we need to align ourselves to the path of integration and common purpose.  The Commonwealth Big Lunch offers a wonderful opportunity for neighbours across the UK to come together in unity, embracing their diversity and common humanity.  By increasing such bonds of friendship, a shared sense of belonging and a common vision for the wellbeing of a neighbourhood can grow, leading to strong, resilient communities.

With 2.4 billion citizens across the Commonwealth spanning 53 countries and six continents, Commonwealth Big Lunches will provide a unique opportunity for people to unite over their shared Commonwealth links.

This initiative builds on the Eden Project’s annual Big Lunch, made possible by the National Lottery, which launched in 2009 as a way to connect people with their communities over a shared meal. It has since seen millions of people get involved, including for The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The Big Lunch will take place later this year on Sunday 3 June.

Vicci Moyles 

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