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Fifty faith-based and policy-advocacy organizations lobbied Congress March 12, urging support for issues vital the world’s poorest children.

The lobbying effort came on the heels of a weekend international conference focusing on the status of children around the world.

Children’s Defense Fund Founder and President Marian Wright Edelman delivered Sunday’s keynote address to about 1,000 attendees of the fifth annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days Conference in Washington.

“It is sinful that over nine million children in America, the richest nation in the world, are without health insurance,” she said, quoted in a press release. “In 2007 people of faith must play a prophetic role of calling upon our nation and leaders to take the next logical, achievable and moral step to guarantee comprehensive health and mental health coverage for all children and pregnant women in America.”

Other issues tackled included HIV/AIDS and child soldiers in Africa, human trafficking, eco-justice and U.S. economic policies that hurt developing countries.

One delegation consisted of three bishops and six leaders of justice-oriented organizations from the Philippines who testified on “the deteriorating climate of fear in which friends and colleagues were being murdered in a campaign to eliminate activist leaders and silence their protests.”

Episcopal News Service reported the Filipinos likely placed their lives on the line just by coming.

The group released a report March 14 to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and to members of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, chaired by Representative Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), detailing the island nation’s escalating extrajudicial killings, environmental degradation, and labor exploitation by foreign corporations including retail giant Wal-Mart.

“The church and faith community institutions in the Philippines are under siege,” said a 90-page report titled Let the Stones Cry Out: An Ecumenical Report on Human Rights in the Philippines and a Call to Action.

More than 800 persons have been killed in extra-judicial killings and involuntary disappearance in the country since January of 2001, the report said. At least 25 church people, including 10 clergy and six lay-workers of church-based programs, have died in attacks targeting the faith community.

The report asked the United Nations to investigate and for churches around the world to call on the Philippine government to immediately stop killings, abductions, torture and other forms of human-rights violations.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice began in 2003 as a gathering of 400 religious advocates concerned about U.S. foreign policy in Africa and the Middle East. This year, participants hoped the conference would help send a message to Americans of all religious backgrounds and political stripes that ending child poverty is an essential element to the nation’s pursuit of the common good.

“During 2007 the 110th Congress will address vital legislation affecting the lives and well-being of children in the United States and around the world,” the group said in a statement. “As Christians, we call on Congress and the president to make and sustain U.S. commitments here and throughout the world to lift families out of poverty; strengthen quality education; ensure sufficient food and water for all; preserve the integrity of creation for future generations; end violent conflicts that deliver indiscriminate death and destruction to children, women and men, while demanding a continuous sacrifice of young lives; and halt the tragic procession of 30,000 children under the age of 5 who die every day of diseases we can prevent or treat.”

Sponsors included National Ministries of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.

In a closing speech Sunday night, National Council of Churches General Secretary Bob Edgar issued a challenge for the activists’ lobbying day. “We don’t have to take a vote as to whether God cares about children,” Edgar said. “Do unto elected officials as if you were elected officials. Talk from your heart about peace and poverty and healthcare and children … about the children of Baghdad and Darfur and Afghan and New Orleans.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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