Greetings from the members of our Vincentian Family Team working at United Nations Headquarters in New York. We’re about half way through the Liturgical Season of Advent—a time when the Church prepares us to celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus, and also invites us to reflect on the Lord’s Second Coming. This is a season of gratitude, joy, and hope. It’s also a time when we, along with Vincentians around the world, are about to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the Vincentian charism and the beginnings of the Vincentian Family.
At the UN, many are also filled with gratitude and hope as the world-wide organization farewells Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon after ten years of service, and welcomes Secretary General-elect, Antonio Guterres, who takes office in January. Mr. Ban was lauded during a tribute, December 12, in particular for his efforts to address climate change, improve global conditions and promote justice for all through the Sustainable Development Goals, for his engagement of youth in UN processes, and for his commitment to the empowerment of women. Mr. Guterres, from Portugal, and the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, assumes his role in a complex world rife with crises. Following his swearing-in ceremony this week, he promised to focus on three areas: working for peace, promoting sustainable development, and making the UN more fit for purpose. “The United Nations needs to be nimble, efficient and effective,” he said. “It must focus more on delivery and less on process, more on people and less on bureaucracy.” These two UN leaders are persons of service and values, committed to leaving no one behind.
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ in two weeks, and the Vincentian charism, beginning in January, we are reminded that all Vincentians are also challenged to “leave no one behind.” Our Vincentian charism calls us to serve, to evangelize, and to see the face of Christ in the people we encounter. When we answer that call, we respond to Jesus when He said, “Whatever you do to these the least of my brethren you do unto me. (Matthew 25-40).
HOPEFUL EXPECTATION FOR ERADICATING POVERTY
Advent is a season when we wait with great expectation. The first way Vincentians might bring to others the sense of joy, hope, and gratitude which accompanies Christmas and the 400th Anniversary is to keep vibrant the desire to address poverty. The United Nations last year approved 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The first is most Vincentian–THE ERADICATION OF POVERTY. Many people believe this goal is impossible to reach, but we ought not be deterred in trying. An entire globe is collaborating to achieve this SDG. And millions of persons living in poverty depend on those efforts.
Although we all recognize poverty when we see it, sometimes it’s difficult to define exactly what poverty is, because it comes in many forms. According to The United Nations, there are approximately 836 Million people living in poverty. It’s important to develop methods to identify the different types and amounts of poverty as well as the locations where it exists. This is key so that effective efforts can be focused on its elimination.
DEFINITIONS OF POVERTY
One method used to define poverty is to consider any person earning or receiving less than $1.90 per day as someone living in poverty. Another way is to recognize persons are living in poverty if they don’t have access to basic education or adequate medical care.
A third form of poverty relates to the sense of shame persons living in poverty often feel, an experience which can cause them to withdraw from society. This withdrawal or social isolation is caused by shame associated with an inability to fully participate in ordinary, everyday activities. Social isolation often isn’t immediately recognized or understood as an indicator of poverty. Yet it frequently causes loneliness, which may lead to depression. Desperation felt, or the need for survival, may even lead to some types of criminal activity.
HOME VISITS–BEACONS OF HOPE
Vincentians regularly make home visits and are aware of loneliness and social isolation. During these home visits, they take direct action to care for needs as appropriate. By their compassion and kindness, they follow Christ’s example and evangelize by their actions more than by their words. Vincentians serving persons in need bring hope, in keeping with the motto of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul Society–“Vincentians Serve In Hope.”
UN TEAM PROMOTES HOPE THROUGH ADVOCACY AND SYSTEMIC CHANGE
All members of the Vincentian Family, including our United Nations team, are continually seeking new ways to identify and implement systemic change principles as the most efficient way to create sustainable change and improve conditions of persons living in poverty. Our team works to identify specific conditions and areas of the world where help is needed. We inform governments and civil society about situations that need attention. In addition, we collaborate with other NGO’s in preparing position papers about issues of concern. These position papers are presented to Member States detailing recommendations of policies or actions we believe are important.
At the United Nations, the team also presents side events to spotlight and educate Member States and Civil Society about conditions of concern. From time to time team, members visit consulates to speak with representatives and advocate for communities in their country that need consideration. This work isn’t always easy, and progress can be slow and difficult to measure. But hope prevails.
This Christmas, we ask for your prayers as we try to represent the Vincentian Family and be a voice for people who might otherwise be left behind.
Ed Keane is the UN NGO Representative for the International Society of St. Vincent de Paul