BOLOGNA, Italy — The world needs religion to inspire healing acts of service and people of faith to stand together against persecution, a Latter-day Saint apostle said here Monday at the G20 Interfaith Forum.
“We share with many of you a commitment to God and charity,” said Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “True religion prompts us to help those in need. There is no question that the world needs all of us and our desire to go ‘about doing good,’ with the promise that God will be with us.”
His booming baritone voice echoed through a medieval palace hall as he spoke to global government and religious leaders during a themed session about religious freedom and protecting minorities.
Minorities are the targets of most hate crimes, said another panelist, Fernand de Varennes, the United Nations special rapporteur on minority issues. That theme was repeated by several of the session’s 10 speakers.
Elder Rasband shared the history of persecution and violence suffered by his own minority faith in the 19th century. That background informs the church’s robust global efforts to support and encourage religious liberty.
“Once a very persecuted minority, today we reach out to others around the world in partnership and relationship,” he said. “Like the lowly mustard seed described by Jesus Christ in the New Testament, today we are a tree with branches that extend refuge and succor to many. Many other minority faiths have similar stories to ours.”
Elder Rasband also said religious freedom is a foundational part of the church’s theology and history, noting that church founder Joseph Smith said he was willing to die to defend the religious liberty of those whom he said “may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.”
Elder Rasband said faith animates all believers to do the same.
“No matter the culture, color, creed or country, God’s love unites us to stand together to face down religious persecution,” he said.
That belief also inspires charitable service, Elder Rasband said on the second day of the three-day Interfaith Forum that has brought world government and religious leaders together in Bologna, the cradle of European university education. The Interfaith Forum, also known as IF20, is crafting joint, faith-based recommendations to provide to leaders who will attend the Group of 20 meetings in Rome at the end of October.
Through the first two days of the forum, speakers have referred frequently to a study that shows 84% of the world population are people of faith. Elder Rasband shared data on the economic impact of the charitable works of his faith and the world’s believers.
“The good of religion, the reach of religion and the heroic acts of love which religion inspires only multiply when we protect religious freedom,” he said. “We stand shoulder to shoulder in service with many of you.”
“When religion is given the freedom to flourish, believers everywhere perform simple and sometimes heroic acts of service,” he added. “As we go about ‘doing good,’ we contribute to the growth and stability of diverse countries. A study in 2016 from the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation reported that ‘religion contributes about $1.2 trillion of socioeconomic value annually to the U.S. economy,’” more than the global annual revenues of Apple, Amazon or Google.
“If that is the impact of faith in America, imagine what faith can do across the entire globe,” Elder Rasband said. “That’s why protecting all faiths, even small, minority faiths, like we were and like we are, is critical. When people feel confident that their beliefs will always be protected, they will reach out to others in significant ways.”
He said the Church of Jesus Christ has partnered with other faiths and non-profit organizations to provide humanitarian aid in 160 countries this year, including significant contributions to COVAX, the global effort to provide 1.4 billion COVID-19 vaccines.
The church also has delivered 26 million meals this year and conducted 294 projects to help refugees with shelter, health care and resettlement in 50 countries, he said.
“Religious belief and practice are excellent predictors of service,” Elder Rasband said, noting the charitable works of Catholic, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and other Christian organizations. “I hope that universal goodness prompted by faith traditions will be honored and admired,” he added.
The Monday morning session was held in the Palazzo Re Enzo across the Piazza Maggiore from the Basilica of San Petronio near the historic University of Bologna, the world’s oldest, continuously operated university. Participants wore masks unless speaking at the podium and adhered to physically distanced seating. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a theme throughout the first two days of the conference and helped prompt the forum’s theme, “Time to heal: peace among cultures, understanding between religions.”
“Your willingness to live your beliefs and to protect others in the public square desiring to do the same stands as a beacon of courage and goodness everywhere,” Elder Rasband told the forum’s attendees.
The CEO of the Conference of European Rabbis, Gady Gronich of Germany, issued a spontaneous call at the end of the session for religions to speak with one voice to create swifter reforms.
“Let’s join forces and move together,” he said.
Immediately after the session, Elder Rasband and Gronich spoke about possible collaboration, and the apostle invited the rabbi to visit Latter-day Saint leaders in Utah.
Elder Rasband has met with religious and government delegations from multiple countries over the past three days, creating new relationships with potential partners and building on previous relationships.
This is the fourth consecutive year a Latter-day Saint apostle has addressed the G20 Interfaith Forum.
- Elder D. Todd Christofferson spoke in 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He said the world has an interest in protecting religious freedom because it is fundamental to societal well-being and both protects other fundamental rights and promotes civic virtue and nurtures strong families.
- Elder Gerrit W. Gong spoke in 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. He said religious communities offer unique connections between international and local organizations and contribute to peace. He shared empirical evidence dispelling the myth that religion inherently leads to violence, saying religion instead provides inspiration, discipline, transcendence, faith, hope and goodwill.
- When the 2020 forum was held virtually due to COVID-19, Elder David A. Bednar told participants that some government officials had failed during the pandemic to understand “how and why religion is fundamental to the lives of billions of people.” He also said governments should recognize that religious leaders can be helpful in the fight against the coronavirus, including the sharing correct information about the effectiveness of vaccinations.
Sister Sharon Eubank, president of Latter-day Saints Charities, will address the forum tomorrow. She has participated in seven of the past nine Interfaith Forums, including the past three. Last year, she described how faith is as essential as food.