Religious Leaders Pray for Darfur

Some of the most senior religious figures from Britain's Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities gathered outside Downing Street today to offer prayers for Darfur.

Those gathered included head of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Methodist Coordinating Secretary for Public Life and Social Justice, Anthea Cox, Rabbi Danny Rich of Liberal Judaism, and Khadijah El Shayyal of the Islamic Society of Britain.

They were met by Baroness Amos, Leader of the House of Lords, who warned that the world must not once again turn a blind eye to an unfolding crisis in Africa, saying: "We do not want to see a repeat of what happened in Rwanda when the world community turned its face away."

|PIC1|Prayers written by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra were read out at 12.30pm Sunday, while a message was also sent from the Catholic Bishop of El Obeid, whose diocese includes Darfur.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, was among the leaders from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths who were at the event. He said: "The situation is catastrophic in terms of the violence, the murders, the displacement of people."

He urged governments to "do all in their power" to put pressure on the Sudanese Government, which is resisting pressure to keep an African Union force in the region and see a handover to United Nations peacekeepers.

When questioned about the furore that has broken out over comments the Pope made on Islam, Cardinal Murphy O'Connor stressed that he was not here to discuss that but to highlight the crisis in Darfur.

He said prior to the prayer: "Desperation is growing for the innocent people of Darfur. The conflict has left hundreds of thousands dead and driven millions more from their homes.

"If the humanitarian situation continues to worsen, many more will be affected. It will be on the conscience of the world if we allow Darfur to descend further into suffering."

This is the first time the three major faiths have spoken out jointly about the situation in Darfur.

Rabbi Morris Michaels, Chair of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis, said, "We must do all what we can to draw attention to what is happening in Darfur. We must not sleep walk into another Rwanda. By working with other faiths we can show that principles like the protection of civilians are universal ones."

Nigel Timmins, Operations Manager of the Disaster Response Team for Darfur at Christian humanitarian agency Tearfund, told Christian Today: "Essentially we are wanting to focus attention on the situation in Darfur.

"In humanitarian terms it is deteriorating and so we want to bring that to the attention of the world so that something can be done."

The Methodist Church called earlier in the week for immediate international action to prevent further killings in the Darfur region of Sudan. Steve Hucklesby, Methodist secretary for international Affairs, said: "We should not let the challenges of military intervention in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East cause us to fall shy of intervention in Sudan.

"We ask the British Government to continue to press for an effective UN peace-keeping force with a robust mandate to supplement the African Union troops already in Darfur."

The Global Day for Darfur has the support of both Prime Minister Tony Blair and also Rt. Hon Hilary Benn MP, International Development Secretary of State, who said the day was "a chance for us to remember all of the people who have died; the two million people who tonight once again will be living in camps; the 3 million people who are dependent on the international community for food aid; the lives that have been destroyed; the hopes that have been dashed... And we know that it's getting worse".

The prayer gathering at 10 Downing Street was organised by Muslim Aid, World Jewish Aid, Christian Aid, World Vision, Tearfund, CAFOD and Waging Peace.