Spiritual Leaders Tap Future of Peacemaking: Women ; 500 Religious Leaders and Businesswomen Met in Geneva This Week for Thethe Global Peace Initiative

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When Toni Maloney, a nonpracticing Catholic, left here this week, she was "all 'spiritualed' out," she said with a smile.

The New York City businesswoman was returning home - her horizons widened - from a conference the likes of which she had never attended before: 500 women religious leaders from around the world had gathered in a search to inject a spiritual dimension into peace- building, and to harness women entrepreneurs to their effort.

She had come to the three-day Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders, she says, because "peace right now has a certain urgency about it in the US," and because, as a successful marketing consultant heading her own company, "It's time for me to give something back."

Others came to discuss ways in which they could bring their moral authority as spiritual leaders to bear on conflict zones.

"Rich countries know how to call for economic resources to rebuild" nations fractured by war, says Dena Merriam, convener of the initiative. "But what about the international community's spiritual resources? Who tends to the spiritual healing?"

Behind the initiative, explains Bawa Jain, secretary general of the World Council of Religious Leaders, lies the hope that spiritual leaders can join their voices to influence politicians.

"I want to experiment with religious diplomacy," he says. "We are seeking a collective voice with moral authority that politicians will have to listen to. First we have to scout the religious world for those with authority, and then seek political leaders who will acknowledge it. There won't be peace until you have the political will and the religious commitment. I don't know whether they exist."

"Are we willing to trust our world to politicians alone?" asks Ms. Merriam. "I would have more confidence if people of wisdom who have dedicated their lives to the service of humanity were brought in to provide moral guidance."

The conference, which closed on Wednesday, set up an international Womens' Negotiating Corps, designed both to help stave off conflict and to speed reconciliation after a war. In its preventive role, the corps intends to support official diplomacy through fact-finding missions on the ground; in its healing role, it might oversee one of the conference's proposals - that peace- education in schools be made a condition for reconstruction aid.

The meeting also called for greater recourse to collective prayer, which Sister Priya, a nun with the Self Realization Fellowship, which practices yoga meditation, calls "the greatest untapped resource we have.

"We can change the world, we are already changing it, those of us who pray and act," she says. …