UN chief calls on faith leaders to fight 'inaccurate and harmful' coronavirus info

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The United Nations chief urged faith leaders Tuesday to challenge misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic by promoting the World Health Organization and complying with its recommendations.

The comments come as a report reveals the CIA believes China put pressure on the WHO to scale back coronavirus warnings as the country stockpiled medical supplies from other countries, including the United States.

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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned during a video meeting that “extremists and radical groups are seeking to exploit eroding trust in leadership and feed on people’s vulnerability to serve their own ends."

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, pitcured in Dec. 17, 2019, urged faith leaders Tuesday to pushback on misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, urging them to promote the World Health Organization.  (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, pitcured in Dec. 17, 2019, urged faith leaders Tuesday to pushback on misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, urging them to promote the World Health Organization.  (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)

Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim leaders, along with other U.N. officials, play a "pivotal role...to deliver solutions...to promote non-violence and reject xenophobia, racism, and all forms of intolerance," said Guterres.

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He also urged them to comply with the WHO recommendations for worship and religious ceremonies, such as funerals.

Miguel Moratinos, high-representative for the UN Alliance of Civilization, pointed out that religious practices and rituals across the three major religions during Passover, Easter, and Ramadan have been "triggering debates among faith communities around religious rights."

Ahmed Abaddi, secretary general of Morocco's influential Islamic organization, the Mohammedan League of Scholars, said the burden falls on religious leaders "to confront turmoil and challenges" in difficult times.

Abaddi, a counterterrorism expert, said "radicalists and extremists" pretend to speak in the name of religion and they announce needs, grievances, and arguments pointing to religious teachings.

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"We need to face those claims and ...respond to the expectations of the masses, how to live religiously in the 21st century," he said.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Holocaust survivor and president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, called for a moment of silence to pray for victims of the pandemic, the healing of the sick, and to give thanks for frontline workers.

“As faith leaders we must fervently denounce and stem the scapegoating, the finger pointing and blaming others,” said Schneier, the senior rabbi at New York’s Park East Synagogue. “We must isolate the lepers of bias, heal the divisions and strengthen those forces committed to uniting a divided human family through mutual acceptance and respect and peaceful co-existence.“

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Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, invited people of all faiths to join Pope Francis on May 14, in a day of fasting and prayer to end the coronavirus.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.