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News Release

Elder Rasband and Sister Eubank Address the G20 Interfaith Forum in Italy

The Apostle promotes religious freedom; Sister Eubank addresses hunger’s impact on childhood poverty

The organizers of the G20 Interfaith Forum (held in Italy September 12–14) invited leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to discuss religious freedom and its impact on minority religions.

And that’s what Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles did. In his September 13 remarks in front of global religious leaders at the forum’s session on religious freedom and minority faiths, the Apostle spoke of the beginnings of the Church — itself once a minority. From its humble 19th-century start in New York and its turbulent times in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, the Church is now a worldwide faith of nearly 17 million members.

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“When religion is given the freedom to flourish, believers everywhere perform simple and sometimes heroic acts of service,” Elder Rasband said. “We stand shoulder to shoulder in service with many of you.”

To wit, the Apostle outlined the service the Church has done with others during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021 alone, he said, this includes contributions to COVAX to provide nearly 1.5 billion COVID-19 vaccines, 26 million meals given to the hungry and 294 service projects for refugees in 50 countries.

“I hope that universal goodness prompted by faith traditions will be honored and admired,” Elder Rasband told the forum. “People around the world are blessed as we lift and encourage others through life-saving aid. May we be grateful for the opportunity to make a difference. In these ways, we fulfill and expand the truth [that] ‘God loves all his children in every nation of the world’ — even the smallest of minorities among us.”

Later in the day after his remarks, Elder Rasband met with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Greek Orthodox Church. This is the first time an Apostle from the Church of Jesus Christ has met with the Greek Orthodox leader.

“It was a wonderful meeting,” Elder Rasband said. “He expressed the desire to have a good relationship between our two faiths, and he hopes there will be many more opportunities for exchange and engagement in the future.”

Elder Rasband and those with him (Elder Jack N. Gerard of the Seventy and Sister Sharon Eubank, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency) met with many other faith and civic leaders from other countries during the three-day forum. Read more about some of these visits below.

 

Religious Freedom and the Importance of Relationships

In his forum remarks, Elder Rasband shared two teachings of Joseph Smith that underline religious freedom’s key role in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The first, canonized in the Church’s Articles of Faith, says, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

The second is a comment the Prophet made in 1843:

“If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a [Latter-day Saint] I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves. It is love of liberty that inspires my soul — civil and religious liberty to the whole of humanity.”

“Religious liberty is taken so seriously, even in the highest councils of the Lord’s Church,” Elder Rasband said in an interview with Newsroom. “We can now be more than a single voice, and the Catholics be more than a single voice, and the Greek Orthodox be more than a single voice. And instead of being soloists in different parts of the world, we can be a choir, and we can put aside the differences in our tenets. And we have differences, of course. But there are some things that we’re completely in agreement on, and that’s what we’re going to focus on together with others.”

The session in which Elder Rasband spoke touched on other topics that affect minority faiths, including the need to protect against hate speech and intolerance.

Elder Gerard told Church media that developing relationships with those who are different is crucial to creating a fertile soil of mutual respect.

“Relationships lead to true understanding,” Elder Gerard said. “We have to rise above the polarization we see in the world today. And we need to lead to remind our own members to demonstrate through example all around the world that in our faith traditions the Savior Himself was a great healer. He brought us together and encouraged others not to judge one another but to be tempered, to be measured in the way we consider each other. We can come together and rise above some of [what is] allowed in modern technology, and to find ourselves in a better place, having truly healed the hearts and souls of all mankind, regardless of their faith tradition or no faith tradition.”

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Sister Sharon Eubank meets Nasr-Eddin Mofarih, Sudan’s minister of religious affairs, at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna, Italy, on September 12, 2021.2021 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Elder Rasband said he is optimistic about the future of humanity because “healing can take place if people will humble themselves and approach [God]. God the Father is the Father of us all, and Jesus Christ, His Son is who we know Him to be.”

The G20 Interfaith Forum, which this year included comments by Pope Francis and others from around the world, is an annual event that occurs in advance of the larger G20 Summit. This year that larger summit will be held October 30–31 in Rome. The G20 comprises nations that make up the world’s 20 major economies.

How Latter-day Saint Charities Is Addressing Hunger and Malnutrition

Sister Eubank, who is also president of Latter-day Saint Charities, spoke Tuesday, September 14, about the effect of hunger and malnutrition on childhood poverty.

World hunger has risen since 2014, she said, and COVID-19 exacerbated the problem. In 2019, 135 million people suffered from acute hunger. Today, she said, that number has ballooned to 272 million — with an additional 9.3 million children likely to experience shrinking muscle mass by 2022.

Latter-day Saint Charities and many other organizations can distribute food to those in need. More important, Sister Eubank said, is to focus resources on food development.

“It is a much more complex effort to change culture around food, diet, nutrition and farming,” she said. “Change can only, in the end, be accomplished by personal relationships of trust. … Old approaches don’t always work. Like extreme weather, crises are getting bigger, longer and can only be addressed cooperatively.”

She noted the Church’s infusion of funds to the World Food Programme (WFP) to distribute critical supplies during the pandemic.

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Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks with Dr. Azza Karam, the Secretary General of Religions for Peace, at the 2021 G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna, Italy.2021 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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“[WFP has] three global hubs, five regional hubs. And 45,000 tons of medical supplies and food passed through these hubs in just the last few months,” Sister Eubank said. “This is critical because supply chains have been disrupted globally by the pandemic at a rate never before seen. [This] network is open to many humanitarian organizations to use. It increases efficiency, decreases duplication, speeds up response time and focuses on purchasing locally, which builds communities.”

Sister Eubank said Latter-day Saint Charities has also worked with International Development Enterprises (iDE) to help women become agricultural leaders. She shared a photo of one beneficiary in Zambia named Beatrice. This woman connects female farmers with affordable seed suppliers and stable markets so they can improve their gardens and increase their income. When the pandemic hit, Beatrice, now a community leader, was trained by Zambia’s Ministry of Health officers on how to spread awareness among her farmer clients about COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread.

Additionally, Latter-day Saint Charities has begun to support community action councils in some of the areas where malnutrition is most prevalent. For example, in France and the Philippines these councils succeed by sharing simple, locally developed health and nutrition lessons with parents, Sister Eubank said. They also help families plant gardens or raise small animals to supplement nutrition.

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Elder Ronald A. Rasband chats with Nasr-Eddin Mofarih, Sudan’s minister of religious affairs, at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna, Italy, on September 12, 2021.2021 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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“Families become more resilient with knowledge,” Sister Eubank said. “These are for the most part low-cost, low-tech interventions that produce a huge benefit.”

Making Friends with Global Faith Leaders

In addition to the meeting with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Elder Rasband, Elder Gerard and Sister Eubank met with many faith leaders from other countries throughout the forum.

On Saturday, they met Haji Allahshukur Hummat Pashazade, sheikh ul-Islam and grand mufti of the Caucasus.

“It was a tremendous opportunity to meet and, at their request, make new friends,” Elder Rasband said. “We have members of the Church that live in their country. Their very first comment today [at the G20 forum] was an invitation for leaders of our Church to come to their capital city and to visit with their president and their religious leaders.”

Invitations to visit went both ways, Elder Rasband added. He noted that some Azerbaijani leaders have already visited Salt Lake City and came away with favorable impressions.

Church leaders told the grand mufti of their faith’s humanitarian work in Azerbaijan. “I was pleased that the grand mufti said, ‘Thank you. Those are all wonderful and important things. But more than anything, we want you to be our friend.’ And that’s still resonating with me,” Elder Rasband said. “I legitimately feel that we made new friends today in a country that is becoming very open and tolerant of all religions — and they want us to be one of them.”

Elder Rasband relished the grand mufti’s comment that we are all the children of Abraham. “We love that,” Elder Rasband said. “Part of what he was trying to share with us is the importance of tolerance and understanding for all of God’s children. And that’s a great message that we shared in our meeting together.”

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Elder Ronald A. Rasband greets Imam Ahmed Tabaković at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna, Italy, on September 11, 2021.2021 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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On Sunday, the Church leaders connected with Nasr-Eddin Mofarih, Sudan’s minister of religious affairs.

Mofarih is no stranger to the Church. In May 2021 he visited Church President Russell M. Nelson on Temple Square. And in March 2020, he was visited in Sudan by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Mofarih said Latter-day Saint Charities and the Sudanese government are working together on several humanitarian projects. These include kidney dialysis centers, wheelchair initiatives, neonatal care and self-reliance projects that help students receive education through Brigham Young University.

“There are many great similarities between Islam and the Church of Jesus Christ with regards to their profound faith in God and the importance of family within the church,” Mofarih said. “They distance themselves from immoral acts, and they invite people to be honest and humane. And that is what Islam invites us to do. [These] are the great values that the messengers and prophets have come with. The objectives are the same.”

Church leaders also had fruitful conversations with Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad, Bishop Robert Jarjis; and Tiguhan Tagay Tadele, secretary general of the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia; and his deputy secretary, Messaud Adem.

In the meeting with the Ethiopian delegation, topics of discussion included ways the Church can continue to provide emergency support to Ethiopia. The Church has a special connection to the country: On January 27, 1985, Latter-day Saints around the world fasted and raised funds to help famine victims in Ethiopia. This marked the beginning of what is now known as Latter-day Saint Charities.

“These are true friends,” Elder Gerard said of the Ethiopian delegation. “They knew us quite well, as did the others. They speak very highly of the Church. … They invite us to come to their country to continue to work on not only humanitarian efforts, as we’ve been doing there, but to continue to build a true relationship of trust and mutual understanding.”

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Elders Jack N. Gerard and Ronald A. Rasband meet Faisal Bin Abdulrahman Bin Muaammar (second from right), Secretary General of the International Dialogue Center, at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna, Italy, on September 13, 2021.2021 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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