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. …