written on December 20, 2011 In the course of the year we have in our work been particularly drawn to the intertwining of the local and universal. As the Earth Charter notes in its preamble: "We are at once citizens of different nations and of one world in which the local and global are linked". The Day of Respect was celebrated for the sixth time on November 10, 2011 and again reached three thousand schools all over the Netherlands.

The celebrations were not confined to the classrooms but extended to the wider public; especially in Amsterdam and Rotterdam were the schools organized public events in their city centers where they expressed their mutual respect in dance and song. The widening circles of the Day of Respect activities are a source of inspiration in an increasing number of countries, notably Scotland and Aruba, where partner organization are preparing to introduce the Day of Respect in their national school systems.

End of October I had the opportunity to speak at the annual meeting of the organization of Eco-Schools that brought together representatives from 41 countries in Cracow, Poland. It was my privilege to sign a Memorandum of Cooperation on behalf of the Earth Charter Initiative. It is my hope that the Day of Respect will develop into a joint activity. 

In February an initiative was taken in the Netherlands to hold an interreligious solidarity walk in an area in Amsterdam where anti-Semitic incidents had taken place. The simple walking together from a mosque to a church and then to a synagogue drew an overwhelmingly positive response. And only three weeks ago, on December 12, 2011, we took the initiative to organize a similar walk in the center of The Hague which concluded with a meal at the mosque.

I am convinced that these tender expressions of a desire to make natural togetherness visible, facilitating an interfaith learning experience on the local level will within a short time inspire similar activities on the global level.

The same applies to the Faith and Leadership Course that was concluded with a wonderful celebration this week. This was intergenerational cooperation at its best. My colleagues and I sat down with talented young people who wanted to assume leadership roles in the area of interfaith dialogue and collaboration and felt the need for a comprehensive course that would enable them to take up this task.

On the basis of groundwork done by our former co-worker and now board-member Ira Goldberg an original format was found. In the process teachers became students and students became teachers. The participation in the inter-spiritual celebration before the opening of parliament, the attendance at services in the houses of worship of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Jews and the interactive discussions afterwards with leaders in the respective communities was the mainstay of the course.

As a result a platform of young people has been formed and initiatives are taken place to adapt this format to other cities. We are grateful to the municipality of The Hague for their financial support. In all this the importance of the Feather Project in which the experience of the elders and the vision of the young are being combined by sharing authentic stories has been shown. We are happy to see that more than 30.000 people have so far been reached by the uplifting video messages of spiritual elders and visionary young people that have been produced by the Feather Project. 

Within 2012 we are advancing towards the Rio + 20 Conference to be held in June 2012 that provides an historic opportunity for the governments to put the world on a sustainable track. We all know we cannot afford another failure. 

I remember very well how immediately after the conclusion of the Earth Summit in 1992 politicians approached us at a large meeting of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders for Human Survival and said: "Please continue to prod us to take measures that on the short run seem to contravene national self interest but are necessary to safeguard the community of life on Earth". Since then, the urgency of this appeal has only increased. We need to engage our religious and spiritual traditions in issuing a unified message to the governments reminding them of what is at stake if the historic opportunity provided by the Rio + 20 Conference would be lost.

We therefore crafted the statement "Towards Rio + 20 and Beyond - A Turning Point in Earth History" that calls for bold and courageous decisions by governments at this conference and enlists personal commitments to make our appeals more credible. Our vision is to refine this statement in an international consultation and present it as a powerful and unified called in a central event in Rio de Janeiro that will bring together leaders of the different religious and spiritual traditions as well as governmental representatives following the example of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders held at the Rio Earth Summit twenty years ago.

We have many plans for the conference, including helping organize a joint assembly of the different faiths and beliefs following the example of the Global Forum of spiritual and parliamentary leaders held at the Rio Earth Summit twenty years ago that would present our universal appeal.

We envision an avalanche of walks of togetherness in cities and villages on all continents as a movement of hope, respect and compassion leading up to the central event during the Rio + 20 Conference.

My dream is that for the first time in the history of these global negotiations leaders of the world's religious and spiritual traditions would even be invited to start the proceedings with a moment of prayer and meditation. 

May the light of hope and compassion break through the darkness of indifference and despair. May the Source of All being bless us with the wisdom and courage to embrace the universal dream of peace and justice and may we continue to draw strength from each other.

The Soetendorp Institute


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