© Marcelo Schneider/WCC

© Marcelo Schneider/WCC

Representatives from over 25 faith expressions and from more than 30 civil society organizations gathered for a public event in downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during the opening week of the 2016 Olympic games to affirm the dignity of human beings and the planet Earth and the defense of human rights.

“We are here to enable full visibility to migrants, refugees, indigenous people, and representatives of minorities who suffer all forms of discrimination and racism. Their urgent need for justice should also inspire the Olympic values that are being hailed so loudly during these days here in Rio,” said Rafael Soares de Oliveira, executive director of Koinonia/ACT Alliance and local coordinator of the vigil.

“We are here to show that we will continue to walk with those who struggle to stop the endless exploitation of the planet’s resources and to proclaim our hope for a new world, where children and elderly people will have access to the necessary conditions to live their lives with dignity, where health, education, sport, culture, leisure and basic sanitation are not a privilege of a few,” he added.

The well-attended “Vigil of Dignity” was held in Cinelândia square on 1 August. The event started in the afternoon in the “Tent of Dignity,” where exhibitions, workshops, group discussions of  climate change, racial and gender justice and rights of indigenous people were organized and related publications were made available.

The vigil started at 6 pm on the “Stage of Dignity,” where prayers led by faith leaders and statements delivered by representatives of civil society organizations were interwoven with cultural performances from indigenous people, quilombola and other Afro-descendants.

At Morro da Mangueira, one of Rio’s main favelas, a symbolic Torch of Dignity is on display during the Olympics.

The concept of the vigil was developed by an international group that included representatives from the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights Learning (PDHRE) and other international organizations.

Said Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, the WCC’s representative to the United Nations in New York City, “The Torch of Dignity was a way to promote human dignity and human rights as a way of life. From a Christian ethical point of view, human dignity is the pre-eminent concept, founded on the faith principle of all people being created equal in God's image (imago dei). From an ecumenical Christian perspective, human rights law and its related mechanisms are tools for promoting and protecting the pre-eminent value of God-given human dignity. Human dignity is also the foundational purpose and objective of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.”

The event in Rio was the result of WCC contact with local groups, following the successful outcome of the interreligious coalition collaborated in 2012 during the People’s Summit at Rio+20.

Besides Rio, “Torch of Dignity” events were organized in other parts of the world, such as India, Costa Rica, Bangladesh and Argentina.

“With the Torch and the Vigil of Dignity we are trying to reach all the people who are watching the Olympics and share with them the positive and creative thinking about what human rights are in our lives,” said Shulamith Koenig, founder of the PDHRE.

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