Catholics are part of more than 80,000 people meeting for the seventh World Social Forum (WSF) in Nairobi, Kenya, to address a wide spectrum of social problems facing the world with a focus on African issues.
UCA News reports that Bangladesh Catholic university student leader, Bipul Gonsalves, is among a group of young Asian students and indigenous people's leaders who are at the meeting, which is held in parallel with the Davos World Economic Forum each year.
This year's Forum, which is the first to be held in Africa, is focusing on the theme "People's Struggles, People's Alternatives".
Sri Lankan, Meenuka Amaratunga, who is a coordinator for the International Young Christian Students in Asia told UCA News that she hopes the forum will "have greater impact and more action, not only talks."
Amaratunga said she is looking forward to discussions on AIDS, one of the forum's main topics. She added that she wants to know the approaches used by other countries to integrate HIV/AIDS awareness and sex education in the school curriculum, as well as share with other participants IYCS' initiative to develop HIV/AIDS resource materials.
Filipino delegate, Joyce Palacol, who is coordinator of the ecology and indigenous peoples' program of the Philippine Catholic bishops' National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace, said that his interest was in how people's organisations and Church groups can help curb the destruction of the environment and dislocation of communities due to mining.
"I expect that the forum can help us strengthen our resolve to demand for the accountability and responsibility of foreign investors," Palacol said.
He noted that in the Philippines, some large-scale mining companies are still allowed by the government to continue operations despite serious violations.
Meanwhile, Episcopal News Service reports that Nobel Prize laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, who will speak at the event, says "there is no way anybody is going to win the war on terror as long as there are conditions in so many parts of the world that drive people to acts of desperation because of poverty, disease
Catholic Archbishop Zacchaeus Okoth, who heads Caritas in the East African region, was also quoted as saying: "We are hopeful that the World Social Forum gathering in Africa will contribute towards a better Africa and a better world ... Africa can make a better contribution to the world."
Some people attending the Forum in the past have questioned whether it has made a difference, but church leaders say it has brought the concerns of poor communities onto the global agenda.
Ceremonies organised by All Africa Conference of Churches/Caritas Ecumenical Platform at the Forum are also being held in Nairobi's Holy Family Roman Catholic Basilica and All Saints Anglican Cathedral to mark the meeting's opening.
Among other events at the forum are workshops to explore alternative ways of distributing wealth, developing life-giving agriculture, repaying the world's "ecological debt" and the role of churches in dealing with these issues.
Young Lay Leaders To Explore Solutions To Social Issues At World Social Forum (UCA News, 19/1/07)
Tutu warns ahead of World Social Forum, war on terror cannot ignore poverty (Episcopal Church News, 19/1/07)
Churches back global justice at World Social Forum -19/01/07 (Ekklesia, 19/1/07)
Drums and dance as Africa hosts "anti-Davos" forum (Malaysia Star, 20/1/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
World Social Forum 2007 | WSF Secretariat
Sydney Social Forum
Melbourne Social Forum
Brisbane Social Forum
New Pentecost Forum
Brazilian Catholic activist awarded "alternative Nobel prize" (CathNews, 29/9/06)
Brazilian Catholic activist urges Church to forget about power (CathNews, 13/5/05)
22 Jan 2007