(RNS) — Faith leaders from across the globe and from numerous faith traditions gathered together on Tuesday (July 20) both on Zoom and with some 100 participants in person on the National Mall in Washington to urge President Joe Biden to share COVID-19 vaccine stockpiles and to advocate for equitable global distribution of vaccines.
“Unless the pandemic is over for all of us, it is not over for any one of us,” said Mathews George Chunakara, the general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, addressing the assembly via Zoom.
Besides demanding equitable distribution of vaccines, the Interfaith Vigil for Global COVID-19 Vaccine Access called on the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property rights for vaccine manufacturing in order to enable more countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines domestically. Laura Peralta-Schulte, one of the organizers, said the vigil was scheduled to coincide with meetings of the World Trade Organization in Geneva this week.
“World leaders have to make a decision,” Peralta-Schulte said in a phone interview with Religion News Service. “Are they going to protect pharmaceutical companies’ profits or share vaccine technology and end the pandemic?”
For the better part of two hours, secular advocates and faith leaders of 70 different organizations, from Jewish to Islamic to Christian and from Amsterdam to the Fiji Islands, urged listeners to fight for vaccine equity and emphasized human solidarity in the global struggle against the virus.
“It’s called an international pandemic for a reason,” said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat.
Schakowsky is one of nine signatories of a letter appealing to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to join with the Biden administration in supporting the waiver. The German government currently opposes relaxing intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.
Schakowsky spoke to the crowd in Washington about the necessity of working together as a global community. “Would you try to patent the sun?” Schakowsky asked.
“Viruses recognize no borders, color, creed or nationality,” said César García of the Mennonite World Conference. García preached on the question posed by Cain in the Bible’s Book of Genesis: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
García ended his remarks with a prayer for forgiveness. “God of mercy, we are sorry. We have not cared enough for all people. Forgive us, through Jesus,” he prayed.
The vigil, which was attended by representatives of mostly liberal-leaning groups, opened and closed with the Christian hymns “O God Our Help in Ages Past” and “God’s Got the Whole World,” and included a song of lament in the middle of the afternoon, in commemoration of lives lost to COVID-19.
“In a global emergency, profits and politics need to be set aside for the good of the people,” said Don McCrabb, executive director of the United States Catholic Mission Association.
“The coronavirus is not the Titanic, everyone can live — there are more than enough lifeboats for every person on the planet.”