Sister Franca Edet, DC, who is a member of the Daughters of Charity United Nations Advisory Group, had the opportunity to visit the Daughters of Charity in Geneva and to visit the UN there. She joined Sister Catherine Prendergast, the Daughters of Charity Representative to the UN in Geneva, on her tour.
Late last fall, some of our Daughters of Charity serving in the Mother House came to the front door to join Sisters Marie Raw, Margaret O’Dwyer, and Maria Teresa Mueda, to wish Sr. Catherine Prendergast and myself a safe journey to Geneva. We started our train journey from Gare du Lyon.
On arrival at the big train station in Cornavin, Geneva, we took a short walk to the tram on Route 15, which took us straight to the Community house, where we received a very warm welcome from Sr. Louise Pittet and Sr. Marguerite Cruz, who were expecting us. Morning came and evening came, the first day.
Because the following day was a Saturday, United Nations offices were not opened. We took a tram ride to town, stopping at the “Palace of Nations,” as the UN building is called in Geneva.
My first point of fascination was the sight of a giant chair, across from the Palace of Nations with one of its four legs broken. I looked at it with great interest wondering, “What could this symbolic artifact represent?” A closer examination revealed a plaque explaining that it was an original Paul Vermuelen project. (He was Co-founder and Director of Handicap International Suisse.)
The purpose of this project was to get as many nations as possible to sign the Ottawa Treaty on Landmines (also called the “Mine Ban Treaty”) in December, 1997, which became effective on March 1, 1999. The chair with one broken leg represents millions of people in different war zones of our world who have lost their limbs as a result of explosive landmines.
The arena where this chair is placed is also the location of much peaceful protest. What came to mind is that activism, as we know, can have some lasting effects. However, it takes concerted effort to see it through. Meanwhile 21 years after the treaty took effect, we continue to witness victims of war-torn areas being disfigured with weapons of war and terrorism. This begs the big question, “What happened to the Ottawa Treaty and how faithful have nations been in their adherence to this policy?”
It was also quite an emotional experience to see the array of flags of the different countries displayed in front of the Palace of Nations.
From that point, we walked uphill to headquarters for the International Committee of the Red Cross. This exquisite building is opposite the side entrance of the United Nations grounds and buildings. Sr. Catherine and I took the opportunity to visit the Red Cross Museum, where we had an electronic guided tour of the different Red Cross interventions in various wars, beginning with the First World War. The experience was both emotional and fascinating.
Our next port of call was a visit to Lake Geneva, which is only a short distance from the Palace of Nations. There again, we had some wonderful views of the city and a boat ride on the Lake. Since it was Saturday, UN offices were not opened, so we used this day for sightseeing and leisure walks. At the end of our tour, we attended Mass in the Cathedral in Geneva that evening and returned to the community with a great sense of achievement. Morning came and Evening came; the second day.
Sunday–the third day–was quiet, but offered another experience of mission and faithful presence among the people of God. The local community is made up of three very lovely sisters. Sr. Louise is the local sister servant. Sr. Marguerite just turned 100 years old in April. Sr. Catherine is also a member of the small community. She joins the other two for prayers and meals. The apartments are like council blocks belonging to Caritas international.
On the morning of that Sunday, we went to Mass in a church not far from the sisters’ house. At the end of Mass, Sr. Marguerite, despite her great age, stood with the priest outside the church to welcome and chat with the various families in attendance.
Sr. Marguerite is as sharp and agile as can be. She does her chores in the house and takes charge of the washing machine and other practical tasks. Sr. Louise attends to families living in the apartments, listening and advising them about their concerns, as needs arise. The people who visit the sisters have great trust and know that the sisters are there for them. Evening came and Morning came, the third day.
On Monday–the fourth day– we made a visit to the United Nations, where I now needed a badge that would allow me access to the UN Building and to attend meetings and sessions. This experience was a friendly one; visitors were treated with the utmost respect and integrity. I just had to present a reference letter from the Mother House, and my international passport for verification. In a very short time, my access badge was processed and printed.
This badge is renewable after expiration and gives you access to the UN buildings and to attend the meetings, country reviews and conventions when in session. After I received the badge, I was able to join the thousands of visitors who came for different purposes. We were all put in language groups and I joined the English-speaking group for a comprehensive tour of the UN building and the different conference halls. It took more than an hour to cover what was possible, and, by then, our footsteps registered in the thousands.
After the tour, I joined up with Sr. Catherine, and we attended a country review of interventions on violence against women from Angola, Slovenia and Brazil. All information was simultaneously translated, just as occurs at the Mother House. However, this was a much larger and more sophisticated space. The process of reporting and interaction was convivial. At the end of every session, the chairperson congratulated and encouraged presenters. Moments were given to intervention, interaction and some critical reflection. It was an exhausting day, but worthwhile. Morning came and evening came, the fourth day.
The fifth day was dedicated to visiting the different nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that collaborate with the UN to ensure that adequate attention is given to issues needing to be brought to public notice or included in conventions. NGOs in Geneva work together to lobby, advocate, and campaign primarily on issues of human rights.
NGOs have their office in a building on a side street not far away from the Palace of Nations. The property holder is Franciscans International; while groups like the Dominicans, Christian Brothers, Presentation Brothers and other faith based organizations rent a space from the Franciscans. Sr. Catherine is now renting a desk there for Daughters of Charity representatives.
In this Office, there were a lot of young people on internship and on-the-job training. Along with them are researchers, who eventually hope to work in the field of international relations or on the current issues of migration, human trafficking, refugees, homelessness, climate change and the like, all in connection with human rights.
I had an extensive interview over lunch with a young lady working for the Christian Brothers and her area of interest is human trafficking. She has, in the past, encountered Sr. Olivia Umoh, DC, at the Talitha Cum Conference in Rome, and she would like to make further connection with the Human Trafficking Project in Benin, the Street Child Project in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and the Street Child Project in Kumasi, Ghana.
At mid-day, we attended Mass in the Franciscan Church, which is near enough to the Palace of Nations. At the end of a well spent day, we returned back to a warm and gracious welcome by the Community. Since the sisters had been spending time to look after us every time we returned from the city, I offered to cook the dinner, as a mark of appreciation and thank you for all the hospitality I received from our three sisters. The sisters happily allowed me to do so, and we all enjoyed a good hot meal, after which I had to get ready for my journey home the next day. Evening came and Morning came, the last day.
The final day, I set out on my journey back to London with a great sense of gratitude for the wonderful opportunity I have been given. I am grateful to Sr. Marie Raw and Sr. Catherine Prendergast for this wonderful opportunity, to Sr. Ellen Flynn and her Council for the support they give to me each time I need to travel for meetings, and to my two great companions, Sr. Johannah O’Connor and Sr. Patricia Maxwell, for their gracious companionship and for the warm welcome home I receive from them in all my comings and goings.
The learning and experience of the visit to Geneva can never be underestimated. This is because it carries with it the warmth of hospitality, community and friendship, as well as, the beauty of collaboration, internationality, diversity and synergy. It is an experience that refreshed my soul with some sense of sacredness, and released a wellspring of excitement in the joy of being part of a family that is bigger than me. A family that inspires creativity and excellence in mission. A family that hears beyond the laughter of each individual into the deep laughter of God.
Therefore as I carry these sentiments of possibilities and encounter, a prayer rises in my heart that says: “From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the name of the Lord shall be blessed in all things” (Psalm 113: 3.). All that has been is a God-incident and all that will ever be is a “yes” and a “thank you.”