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UN Chief Calls on Religious Leaders to Help Lead Faithful Through COVID-19

FILE - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference Feb. 8, 2020.
FILE - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference Feb. 8, 2020.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on religious leaders Tuesday to play a key role in addressing the coronavirus pandemic and the recovery from it.

“We know from previous public health crises — from HIV/AIDS to Ebola — that the actions of faith leaders influence people’s values, attitudes, behaviors and actions,” Guterres said at an online gathering of religious leaders and diplomats. “And with this influence comes responsibility to work together, putting aside differences, and to translate our common values into action.”

According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 4.2 million people worldwide have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 287,000 have died.

On March 23, Guterres called for a global cease-fire so the world can focus its attention and resources on fighting the virus. He thanked faith leaders for supporting his appeal, but said conflicts continue to rage in many places.

“To defeat this virus and build back a more sustainable and equitable world, we need communities to come together,” Guterres urged.

He appealed to faith leaders to challenge false and harmful messages, and encourage all communities to promote nonviolence and reject xenophobia, racism and all forms of intolerance.

Guterres said they also have a role to play in helping fight the spread of disinformation and misinformation about COVID-19 and should use their pulpits to help promote public health guidelines from the World Health Organization.

He also reminded them of their responsibility to ensure that religious activities, including worship services and funerals, comply with these measures.

The secretary-general has also appealed for domestic peace, noting that violence against women and girls has escalated as a result of lockdowns and the stress on husbands and fathers from the loss of jobs and incomes.

“This is in violation of principles common to every faith, and I appeal to religious leaders to categorically condemn such acts and support shared principles of partnership, equality, respect and compassion,” Guterres said.

Religious leaders from the three major monotheistic faiths — Christianity, Islam and Judaism — issued their own calls at Tuesday's session for solidarity, unity and fraternity in this time of global suffering and uncertainty.