Wednesday, November 1 was All Saint Day, and I found myself sitting in a meeting room at The Church Center at United Nations Headquarters in New York with a group of approximately 35 college students from Saint John’s University. Included as part of the group were a few students who are currently interning at the United Nations working alongside members of the Vincentian Family. These students invited by Father Guillermo “Memo” Campuzano C.M., who organized the event, to help educate students about activities at the United Nations.
The students listened closely as members of a Panel consisting of several Non- Governmental Organizations (NGO’s.) These NGO’s included, The Orthodox Church, Caritas International, Daughters of Charity, Good Shepherd Sisters, Sisters of Notre Dame, and The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. The NGO’s spoke about particular areas of interest and also talked about the organizational structure at the United Nations.
First to speak was Mr. Nick Anton, of The Orthodox Dioceses who stated his church represents approximately 300 million people worldwide. Mr. Anton further explained how The United Nations consists of some 193 Member States and 2 Permanent Observers. The Permanent Observers being, The Holy See, and Palestine. There are also 74 Observer States, and currently some 4,990 NGO’s. He continued about how The United Nations is divided into Six Principal Organs, THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY, THE SECURITY COUNCIL, THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL, THE SECRETARIAT, THE INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE, and THE TRUSTEESHIP COUNCIL. He also stated that although the Trusteeship Council is still listed its currently inactive or non-functioning. He further stated how the actual or real power at the United Nations lies with The Member States. They are in control and make the relevant decisions.
Mr. Anton further related that he is an active member of the Mining Group. This committee is concerned with the negative consequences to the environment resulting from unscrupulous procedures and policies utilized by multinational mining companies especially in less developed countries. In addition to the negative effects to the environment, there are also negative effects to the health and social structure of families in areas where large scale mining operations occur. The Mining Group advocates on behalf of people livening in these areas and seeks to prevent negative results caused by large scale mining operations conducted by unregulated large corporations.
Another member of the panel was Sister Winifred Doherty, representing The Good Shepherd Sisters. She has been working as an NGO at the United Nations since 2008. She spoke about the need to establish Social Protection Floors (SPF) in all countries. These Social Protection Floors should be sought in every country and must be considered as “Minimum or Floor Level Protection.” She stated how every person has a fundamental right of live in dignity. Everyone has certain God Given Rights including:
- Quality Health Care Services,
- Child Benefits,
- Education for Children and Adults,
- Unemployment Benefits especially for people unable to work due to disability, and
- Old-Age Pension Benefits.
Winifred is considered by many at the UN to be an expert or authority in the area of Social Protection Floors.
Mr. Joseph Donnelly, Permanent Delegate to The United Nations for Caritas International, also addressed the students. He explained how Caritas International is the Principal Charitable Arm of the Catholic Church with headquarters in Rome. Caritas has a presence in just about every country or territory of the world with an annual 8 Billion Dollar budget. Mr. Donnelly said that ALL OF US have a MORAL RESPONSIBILITY TO DO GOOD. He further stated the reason the United Nations is based in New York is because New York City is a “Global City” or world city and we must accompany the world. All of us must do our part to make the world a better place for all people.
We also listened to Eileen Reilly, Representative of The Sisters of Notre Dame, established in 1833, with a presence in 22 countries. Their principal work is the Education of women and Girls especially those living in poor countries around the world. Sister Reilly spoke about the large Gender Gap that exists between women and men in many countries. As an example, she cited that in terms of Gender Gap the United States ranks at 101 of 193 countries in the world. By contrast she also stated that Rwanda is the number one country on the list as a result of recently enacted national laws. Another example related to the United States was that during the 2016 Elections there were only 980 women candidates nationwide, but currently there are now there are approximately 20,000 candidates. Another statistic is that currently at the United Nations there are 43 female Ambassadors out of 193 countries. Therefore. much advocacy for gender equality is needed at both national and international levels.
We also had some very insightful comments from Sister Catherine Prendergast, Company of The Daughters of Charity, part of The Vincentian Family. Sister Catherine spoke of her experiences working for many years with people living on the streets of Dublin, Ireland. She spoke about Dublin’s large homeless population. How many families lost their homes due to inability to pay mortgages because of economic changes, and the subsequent purchases of their properties by corporations. She also stated another problem she encountered was that most shelters won’t accept people with drug or alcohol problems. As a result, these people had no place to go to sleep other than the street. However, she was aware of at least one shelter that permitted people with substance abuse problems to use their facility. She indicated this policy might perhaps be considered as some kind of a step in the right direction to help reduce the homeless street sleepers.
After the panel presentations concluded there was a short question and answer session, followed by a lunch break. After lunch, the students were scheduled to break up into small groups and make scheduled visits to Ambassadors.
I think the students learned a lot by attending this event and perhaps some of them may decide to someday return to work at the United Nations or do some other type of advocacy work.