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Religious leaders to gather at Vatican
Will attend symposium on male, female roles
An extraordinary gathering of world religious leaders -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist -- will assemble at the Vatican in mid-November to affirm the complementary roles of men and women in marriage. - photo by

An extraordinary gathering of world religious leaders -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist -- will assemble at the Vatican in mid-November to affirm the complementary roles of men and women in marriage.

Faith leaders representing 14 faith traditions from 23 countries will participate in the three-day event, Nov. 17-19, that will open with remarks from Pope Francis, who last year said, “It is very important to reaffirm the family, which remains the essential cell of society.”

The website for the event, titled Humanum: An International Interreligious Colloquium on The Complementarity of Man and Woman, said speakers “will draw from the wisdom of their religious tradition and cultural experience as they attest to the power and vitality of the complementary union of man and woman.”

The conference comes amid a continuing global debate over same-sex marriage and the role of marriage in society. An October decision by the Supreme Court of the United States paved the way for a number of states to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

‘A positive direction’

Helen Alvaré, a family law professor at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, said Cardinal Gerhard Müller presented the idea for the upcoming conference to Pope Francis a year ago.

“Considering that you can look at the law, the culture, the news coming out of almost any country, and marriage is experiencing considerable difficulty, this (conference) is a good start,” Alvaré said. “There’s a lot of conversation in the world and the media about men and women, but not a lot to enlighten and support.”

Alvaré said much of that conversation is “sensational,” as opposed to “helping billions of people to find their way to the institution that becomes a make-or-break component of happiness for themselves and their communities.”

She hopes the Vatican event “will move people in a positive direction.”

In addition to 30 presentations by various faith leaders, the colloquium will include the premiere of six short films about men and women and marriage around the world, including “The Destiny of Humanity: On the Meaning of Marriage” and “A Hidden Sweetness: The Power of Marriage Against Hardship.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput, who heads the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, will make a presentation on the 2015 World Meeting of Families, a Catholic event, scheduled Sept. 22-27 there.

The colloquium will close with the presentation of a declaration on marriage, organizers said.

The presenters

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, will make a presentation. Dr. Janne Haaland Matláry, the former secretary of state of Norway, will give a presentation titled, “The Family -- Still the Basic Unit of Society.”

Also presenting will be President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who will be accompanied by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Bishop Gérald Caussé of the Presiding Bishopric, according to an LDS Church news release.

Other speakers will include the Rev. Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He wrote about the conference Monday on his blog.

“I am willing to go anywhere, when asked, to bear witness to what we as evangelical Protestants believe about marriage and the gospel, especially in times in which marriage is culturally imperiled,” he wrote.

Moore also wrote that he “has been charitably (I hope) critical of Pope Francis,” including last month during the widely publicized Vatican Synod on the Family, held Oct. 5-19.

That conference sparked media reports that the Catholic Church was softening its teachings on gays and lesbians, but the final synod report pulled back on that language.

The Rev. Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life” and senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, is expected to present at the event.

Warren urged last month’s Synod on the Family to defend traditional marriage, in an open letter to Pope Francis also signed by 47 other Christian ministers and scholars.

One suggestion in that letter was to support efforts to “restore legal provisions that protect marriage as a conjugal union of one man and one woman.”

Another American participant in the upcoming Vatican event said he hopes the conference will help change the tone of discussions about the nature of marriage and the male-female relationship.

Supporters of marriage from different faith traditions “are talking past each other in some ways,” said Luis Tellez, president of the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, “but we need to pay attention to what each one brings to the table, and this has been lost in the conversation we have been having in recent times.”

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