The Faith and Philanthropy Summit

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From Oct. 13 to 15, around 50 world-leading philanthropists from different faiths gathered in Vatican City to talk about the world's most pressing challenges in the areas of global warming, food security, education, health, and sustainability of the entire human family.

The Galileo Foundation — on behalf of his holiness Pope Francis alongside the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists and the Jewish Funders Network — coordinated the effort to bring leaders and philanthropists together. 

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Meetings were held at the beautiful Casina Pio IV. The Casina was built in 1561 as a summer residence for Pope Pio IV, surrounded by the trees and lawns of the Vatican gardens. The Casina is a patrician villa in Vatican City, which is now home to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. As we better know that Galileo Galilei, the famous astronomer, was appointed as a member of this academy in 1610. Indeed, meeting in such a historic palace reflects the importance of this meeting by itself.

Philanthropy leaders and important religious scholars of different faith attended this Summit to share their views. The opening remarks of the Summit was addressed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope's Secretary of State. In the welcoming notes, his excellency addressed the importance of this gathering, especially in a time of pressing challenges in the world. His excellency shared that no one group can solve the problems of the world alone, so unity is an obligation.

Jeff Bezos, founder and executive chairman of Amazon, accepted the “Prophet of Philanthropy” award and gave a keynote speech. I found the opportunity to talk with Mr. Bezos. In our conversation, I smiled and said: I’m sorry to tell you this. 

“What?” he asked. 

I told him that during the pandemic, as one of the founders of a humanitarian organization, I continued to serve and distribute food packages in the streets of America in more than hundreds of cities to hundreds of people in need. There were many times when we would have only 500 food packages, and more than 1,000 people would show up and would wait for hours so we could help them, but unfortunately, we were not able to help everyone. 

At this time, he was busy investing billions of dollars in space projects rather than helping people and families that needed food. So, I told him, I used to think, “Why wouldn't you feed these needy families around the world in a pandemic instead?” 

Mr. Bezos told me the energy potential in the world is limited, and the energy potential in space is endless. To protect our planet and sustain our future, we need to think about a new “manifest destiny” where energy resources will never be a problem. After listening to Mr. Bezos, I better understood the importance and the opportunities in space and their relevance for the betterment of the future of the planet. Then Mr. Bezos smiled and told me, “You do what you are doing. It is needed, and I have to do what I am doing, and it is also needed.”

Attending this Summit made me better realize that regardless of our difference in our views, vision, and future plans, no doubt such meetings are important and relevant for our world. It is not possible for our religious group, nation, ethnicity or race to address every issue alone. We learned during the COVID-19 pandemic that humanity is connected — if through nothing else — by breathing the same air. Therefore, the threat is not to one nation or one race alone; rather, the threat is to all of humanity.

This planet is our beloved home, a gift of almighty God to humanity. If we do not work together to protect this planet and address challenges such as global warming, environmental destruction, and endless usage of energy, then we are preparing for ending life on this planet. 

If we as individuals, organizations, and communities feel responsible for saving this planet, we have to ask ourselves one question: Where will we go from here? If we consciously take responsibility — individually and collectively — to save our planet, we have to work together. We must collaborate. It is not too late for the damage control for what we have destroyed. It is not too late to preserve the beauty of the blue planet. It is not too late to leave a better world for our children.

I was glad to be invited to such an important Summit. It was an honor to share my views on how to make this world a better place to live.

Halil Demir
Executive Director