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Rome Notes: Interdependence Day, in Rome; Linda's Story

The Man Behind a Project for World Solidarity Appreciates Church's Role

By Catherine Smibert

ROME, SEPT. 17, 2004 (Zenit) - This past weekend, through commemorative events and burial services, the world seemed to bind together in the wake of shocking events in Russia and the memory of horrors from the 9/11 attacks and beyond.

Yet this time, John Paul II's appeals of peace and solidarity for the children of the Beslan attacks and the world were not the only petitions coming from Rome to hit the hearts of the global community.

The voice of Olara Otunno, the U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, resounded throughout a Rome conference where I made up just one of many participants attending the 2nd annual Interdependence Day.

"May we work to make all our children safe," Otunno said. "And may we work to ensure that where our children predominate, in schools, in hospitals, homes and nurseries -- that these be conflict-free zones."

With representatives from a variety of faiths, institutions and citizenships, the Sept. 11-12 meeting sought answers to world violence, as the mastermind behind Interdependence Day told me: "We need to deal with the challenges of interdependence and we need a new international architecture" for it.

Benjamin Barber says that the objective behind the concept is "to construct a world where violence and terrorism are defeated and where there are no barriers between anyone ... citizens and justice without frontiers, rather than weapons and organized crime without frontiers."

A professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Barber conducted the inaugural Interdependence Day last year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Just as the American Revolution changed the world, Barber is hoping that his revolution will do the same.

"We chose this place [Philadelphia]," he said, "because back in 1776 it was there that the first Declaration of Independence was promulgated and signed and we wanted to go there 225 years or so later and say that times have changed."

"For more than 200 years, independence has been the formula -- national sovereignty," Barber explained. "But the true lesson that the globe learnt after World War II is that there's no safety in independence: no liberty, no justice."

"We need the world's civic institutions," he said. "We need the world's religious leaders, we need to work together ... we believe in liberty and national security but believe they will only be obtained if obtained for all ... that is the meaning of interdependence."

Barber, with the assistance of Mayor Walter Veltroni of Rome, managed to gather some impressive guests for the occasion, and, in honor of the day, more than 100 smaller gatherings were taking place across the planet as well.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a message reminding the conferees in Rome to look around them, consider the Pax Romana and understand that no nation can "protect itself from threats by turning itself into an impregnable fortress."

Barber was keen to express just how much the Catholic Church has been a model in recent decades of trying to recognize the interdependence of peoples.

"Of course, all religions have the vantage of looking at souls, not at national citizens," he said. "Souls know no boundaries, and the Catholic Church has worked across the world to, I think, try to create a community of good will."

Many Catholic leaders believe that Barber's message is one they have been preaching for a long time. One of these of whom he says "represents interdependence in her very soul" is Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare Movement.

Lubich, who at age 84 looks more like 60, defined interdependence as implying "a relationship of mutual exchange between two realities that condition each other reciprocally."

According to her, "this relationship cannot be lived out perfectly between individuals or among nations if it is not characterized by mutual respect and understanding; by the capacity to embrace the issues that face each other and by welcoming the others' unique gifts."

Another member of a Catholic movement present was Mario Giro. He noted the interreligious focus shared by his Community of Sant'Egidio, and the groups at the convention, and saw them as being significant steppingstones to "interconnectedness."

Where dialogue is, so is the Vatican, and this occasion was no exception. Standing with other representatives from the major monotheistic religions was the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Paul Poupard. He encouraged religious leaders to unite their efforts and proposed that the "globalization of terrorism can be fought with the globalization of committed action."

Benjamin Barber was ...

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