Hundreds of Anglican bishops, faith leaders and Christian charity representatives have marched passed Parliament and Downing Street in a call to world leaders to do everything they can to cut extreme global poverty by 2015.
Nearly all of the 670 bishops attending the once-in-a-decade Lambeth Conference took part in the walk of witness, donning purple cassocks and carrying placards saying ‘Keep the Promise’.
Joining the bishops were the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, and the head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, among other faith leaders.
Later at Lambeth Palace, Prime Minister Gordon Brown hailed the march “the greatest public demonstration of faith” ever to take place in Britain.
“There are millions of people whom you may never meet who owe you a debt of gratitude for the work that you do in upholding the cause of the poor,” he went on to tell the bishops.
“You have sent a simple and a very clear message with rising force, that poverty can be eradicated, that poverty must be eradicated and if we can all work together for change poverty will be eradicated.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, handed the Prime Minister a letter calling for world leaders to agree a timetable to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to strengthen their partnership with the worldwide church in eradicating poverty. The letter also urged governments to do more to tackle climate change, warning that it is already hitting the world’s poorest the hardest.
The walk of witness was held in partnership with the Christian anti-poverty movement Micah Challenge. The movement, an inter-denominational initiative of the World Evangelical Alliance, is inspired by Micah 6.8 which exhorts Christians to ‘act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God’.
The Archbishop called on world leaders to live out those principles, saying, “We all know with sorrow and great regret how far the achievement of those goals has slipped behind because of all kinds of circumstances.
“We would want to challenge the leaders of our world to be faithful to the promises they have made, a commitment to the poor, the willingness to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly.”
He urged the UK in particular to keep up pressure on other governments to meet the MDGs, set by world leaders in 2000 with the overall goal of halving extreme global poverty by 2015.
The special session of the UN in September would be a “crucial moment” for strengthening the resolve of governments to tackle the MDGs, the Archbishop said.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, as well as other bishops, were handed a copy of Bible Society's new Poverty and Justice Bible, which features more than 2,000 highlighted verses that reveals God's attitude to poverty and justice. The Prime Minister was given a copy of the Poverty and Justice Bible at a reception at 10 Downing Street last month.
The bishops will meet the Queen at a reception at Buckingham Palace later in the day.