featherRabbi Soetendorp, Michael Slaby and Feather Project Cinematographer Ashley Young participated at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ("Rio + 20") that took place in Rio de Janeiro from June 20 - 22. They presented the interreligious statement "Towards Rio + 20 and Beyond - A Turning Point in History" at several different side events and hosted an intergenerational Feather Ceremony at the Peoples Summit in collaboration with the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers.

Here is a short summary of their activities:

One June 16, Michael Slaby gave an outline of the interfaith activities of the Institute at a Green Cross International full day event: "Green Cross Returns to Rio: Building the Safe and Sustainable Societies of the Future" where he joined a panel on the importance of ethical values for sustainable development. Around 50 people participated in the event.

On June 17, the Soetendorp Institute co-hosted the interfaith side event "Interfaith Response to Sustainable Development: A Vision of Ecological Civilization" that was organized by the Temple of Understanding. Among the panelists were the Indian social activist Dr. Vandana Shiva, Brahma Kumaris Euopean Coordinator Sr. Jayanti and Temple of Understanding United Nations Representative Sr. Joan Kirby. Michael Slaby participated on behalf of Rabbi Soetendorp and highlighted the important contribution that religious and spiritual organizations could make to advancing the transition to sustainable development.

On June 18, we took part in a reception hosted by the Prime Minister of Bhutan where the next steps for the global initiative for defining a new economic paradigm based on "Gross National Happiness" were discussed. 

novaterraThe following day - June 19 - we joined a group of distinguished spiritual leaders and indigenous elders at an interfaith reflection on the "Inner Resources for the Transformation of the Global Economy" organized by the Global Peace Initiative of Women. This reflection saw the participation of the Buddhist leader Ven. Mae-Chee Sansanee from Thailand, the evangelical environmentalist Richard Cizik and others and took place at the beautiful Nova Terra ("New Earth") Ecovillage in the Atlantic Rainforest above Rio. A summary of the event can be found here

The same day, Rabbi Soetendorp spoke at a special event organized by Earth Charter International that was attended by over 300 people. He concluded the event by quoting the statement. The famous theologian, author and fellow Earth Charter Commissioner Leonardo Boff gave his support to the manifesto. 

An interreligious Earth healing ceremony was organized by the Wisdom Keepers Council in the early morning hour at the Nova Terra Center on June 20. Several indigenous elders from North and South America led the ceremony. The 150 participants who got up at 6 am to participate in the sunrise ceremony were invited to say some prayers for the health of Mother Earth over small portions of water that then were poured on the ground so that the good wishes could indeed sink deeply into the ground. The indigeneous elders then handed over to high-level Buddhist leader from Bhutan who led an ancient Tibetan Earth healing technique where a "dharma vase" filled with sacred objects was buried into the ground, which is considered to function as an "acupuncture for the Earth".  

On June 21, a real highlight of our journey took place: We organized an intergenerational Feather Ceremony in partnership with Grandmother Maria Alice Campos Freire and Grandmother Mona Polacca of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. The 12-years old Earth Guardian Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and his 9-years old brother Itzcuauhtli participated as young people. The deep sharing of the visions of the young and the wisdom and life's messages of the elders moved many in the audience to tears. Please find here a report of the ceremony that soon will be published in the SGI Quarterly

On June 22nd, I had the opportunity to present our statement at the official side event of the World Council of Churches on "Ethical and Religious insights on 'The future we want'" that was co-organized by Caritas Internationalis, the Lutheran World Federation, and Religions for Peace. The room was fully packed with 150 people or more. Michael Slaby's speech where he quoted and explained essential passages of the statement was entusiastically received by the participants. Afterwards he was interviewed by several media representatives who attended the meeting, including the Thomson Reuters Foundation which quoted Michael Slaby as a positive example of civil society leadership despite political inaction from the governments. The statement has also been included into the official press release of the World Council of Churches that has been send to its over 400 member churches and has been translated into many languages. 

Rabbi Soetendorp also handed the statement to the Dutch Minister for International Cooperation Ben Knapen who was leading the Dutch delegation. Parts of the statement have also been included into the Peoples Treaty on Ethical and Spiritual Values for Sustainable Development. The drafting of the treaty was coordinated by Dr. Rick Clugston, the coordinator of the Earth Charter Task Force on Religion, Spirituality, and Ethics. The treaty was adopted by several ethical, spiritual, and religious organizations involved in the Rio + 20 process.

Feather Project cinematographer Ashley Young produced two interviews with Rabbi Soetendorp where he explains the background of the interreligious statement: 


Right before Rabbi Soetendorp rushed off to the airport he commented on the outcomes of the summit.

Please visit the picture galleries on our Feather Project's facebook page that illustrate our journey.

The interreligious statement is still open for endorsements.  

We intend to use the statement and the signatures it receives as a basis for approaching governments and international institutions that are involved in the Rio + 20 follow-up process. 

The Soetendorp Institute


Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values
Van Wijngaerdenstraat 21
2596 TW The Hague
The Netherlands