Religious at the UN

As part of my spring ministry experience, I was incredibly lucky to be able to tag along for a week at the UN with one of our Sisters who is one of our Congregation's NGO representatives. Our main task was to attend the 16th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (more on that later). For me, it was also an eye opening first hand exposure to the role of religious communities at the UN. It turns out that there was a front page article in the Tablet last month on exactly this topic! I'm going to quote the article to give some background if you don't mind:

Hundreds of Catholic organisations, lay and Religious, from all over the world are accredited to the United Nations systems in New York, Geneva, Paris, Vienna and Nairobi. ... Catholic organisations are very vibrant at the moment," says Sr Dorothy Farley, a Dominican who has headed the International Catholic Organisation Information Centre for the past 13 years.

Her office provides Catholic agencies at the UN with accreditation details, advises them about whom to talk to on what issues, and sets up briefings with national Catholic staff and experts on health, education, environment, development and poverty matters, often in dialogue with diplomats and UN executives. …

NGOs are accredited to the department of public information or to the Economic and Social Council, or to both. "Catholic NGOs at the UN have been active advocates on the alleviation of poverty, access to primary education, empowerment of women and climate change," says Isolda Oca, information officer at the Department of Public Information. "They are effective. They come to conferences, briefings, workshops, and high-level meetings at the General Assembly." …

The nuts and bolts of being a representative mean submitting briefings to UN committees, attending NGO working groups, meeting General Assembly and Security Council members and, most significantly, giving them off-the-record briefings. Achieving change can at times seem a slow, laborious process, but this has borne fruit in the past. Caritas representatives at Special Sessions on HIV and Aids at the UN General Assembly have helped to lobby governments to increase funding and commit to providing universal access to prevention, treatment and care. Their words have been incorporated in final declarations.

The key to success is not being part of a Catholic ghetto, but working in partnership with other colleagues across the NGO spectrum. Catholic NGOs stress that they are not part of a bloc, but are there to represent the issues that are vital to their organisations on the ground. However, they do bring an important moral dimension to their work.

So, that's why we were there - the "nuts and bolts" of having NGO status. The Sister I was with focuses on environmental issues, and in particular water. Our Congregation Justice & Peace Coordinator also represents us at the UN - we actually ran into her in the UN cafeteria one day. They publish a periodical called UN Update that shares their work at the UN with the Congregation at large.

It was an amazing (if somewhat overwhelming) experience. On Wednesday I went to a meeting at the International Catholic Organization Information Center mentioned in the article. It was a monthly gathering of different men and women religious at the UN to share information and network. It helped me to put together some of the puzzle pieces of this very important ministry.

I have loads more to share over the coming days, but that gives you some of the context.

1 comment:

Sr.Nicole Trahan said...

Thanks so much for this post!How exciting!
I appreciate you posting this because before now I didn't really understand the role of Religious and Laity at the UN... I'm so glad that congregations have committed to such work/ministry... It's so important.