Running for Unity, Tolerance
Marathon across eight European countries seeks to help end religious and ethnic division
As much as terrorist attacks last fall left a trail of shock and grief, they brought a universal call for strength, tolerance and unity.
Political, religious and social leaders have asked for cooperation internationally to curb intolerant reactions to the terrorism and to prevent religious or ethnic conflict. Representatives of different religions world wide are participating in initiatives to further such aims.
In that same spirit of cooperation, athletes from eight European countries carried a message of tolerance and unity 7,000 kilometers across Europe in a marathon to advance the cause of human rights.
The runners were already preparing to embark on the symbolic runthe fourth annual European Marathon for Human Rightswhen the terrorist attack occurred. Marathon organizers and supporters from the Church of Scientology, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim faiths and human rights groups saw the marathon and its message as more important than ever.
Acts of violence start with acts of intolerance, where one fanatic spreads hatred to the many, said Andrik Schapers, a spokesperson for the marathon. The religions of the world must set an example of peace, brotherhood, and strength.
Teams of athletes from France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic took part in the three-week feat, officially launched in Budapest last September. Each national team began in its respective country, all converging in one united front in Geneva.
Each team delivered a petition to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, signed by religious, human rights and community leaders from their respective country. The petition urges all religions and people of goodwill to work together in the cause of peace, unity, tolerance and strengthprinciples embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The marathon organizers also conducted a Europe-wide essay contest for youth on the topic of human rights; children all along the route became finalists for the grand prize of a trip to Geneva for the Marathons arrival there mid-October.
In Geneva, the athletes were joined by local officials from Switzerland, an array of international and European organizations affiliated with the United Nations in peace and human rights work, and officials from more than two dozen permanent embassies to the United Nations.
All participants welcomed the runners and added their voices in support of the marathons message and goal.
The three winners of the European-wide Youth for Human Rights essay contest, who had traveled to Geneva for their awards, were also announced.
Organizers of the marathon say they will continue actions to encourage men and women of all religious and ethnic groups, across Europe, to help restore traditional democratic values, particularly freedom of conscience, belief and associationand help to make the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a living reality for all.