A Window on the World

Sr. Cj Willie
February 1, 2010
Exploring the Meaning of Community in a Global Ag

What began as a onetime trip to Omaha to attend a gathering of the Columban Companions in 1997 blossomed into long-term friendships and the opportunity to work with the Columbans as the author of their mission education program, Journey with Jesus.

I attended the first meeting while working with the Diocese of Orlando Mission Office.

Sr. Willie in Africa

Sr. Willie in Africa

Sister Bernadette Mackay, OSU, the director of the office, told me it would be one of the best meetings I would attend all year.

She was certainly right.

My love for crossing boundaries and learning about other cultures began as a Peace Corps volunteer after college and continued throughout my years of ministry both in the United States and abroad as a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati.

The opportunities I had to network with religious and laity both within and outside the United States had convinced me of the need to explore what it means to be community in a global age.

Among the Columban Companions I found kindred spirits with a common passion for sharing the Gospel, experiencing the richness of other cultures and the willingness to dialogue and learn from those of other faith traditions.

After working as an independent cultural diversity/ education consultant and retreat director to religious congregations, healthcare and educational institutions, and faith-based communities internationally for a number of years, I accepted a position as as the NGO (nongovernmental organization) representative to the United Nations for the Elizabeth Seton Federation.

Sr. Willie in Africa

Sr. Willie in Africa

The opportunities I had to network with religious and laity both within and outside the United States had convinced me of the need to explore what it means to be community in a global age.

The opportunity to work at the United Nations seemed to be an excellent venue to continue this exploration.

The Sisters of Charity Federation chooses to be at the United Nations (U.N.) because it is the place that shapes global policy and where global stewardship is exercised.

We recognize that decisions made at the U.N.

will affect whether a little girl in India or Kenya or Peru will have access to education or whether the pandemic of HIV/AIDS will be stopped or whether a woman or child will be trafficked.

We are there to lobby “for the people.” The U.N.

recognizes that the world is reliant on multilateral action and that all 192 members, who have equal standing in the General Assembly, are concerned with the welfare of their people.

The U.N.seeks to bring a global vision to deliberations so that decisions made are in the best interests of all members and will, ultimately, lead to peaceful and democratic societies.

Sr. Willie in Africa

Sr. Willie in Africa

Yes, there is too much “red tape.” And, yes, it is the biggest bureaucracy in the world.

Despite its shortcomings, the U.N.has managed to achieve some extraordinary things.

Our Federation has been an official non-governmental organization (NGO) at the United Nations with Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) status since 2001.

An NGO is defined as an international organization which has not been created by a formal agreement between governments.

NGOs represent civil society, the people.

There are two levels of affiliation as NGOs. The first is affiliation through the Department of Public Information. The second level is comprised of those NGOs with ECOSOC status.

NGOs with consultative status, such as our Federation, may send observers to meetings of the Council and its subsidiary bodies and may submit written statements relevant to its work.

They may also consult with the United Nations Secretariat on matters of mutual concern.

NGOs are active across the broad spectrum of U.N.

issues, including peace building, climate change, migration, trafficking, disarmament, poverty eradication, AIDS, malaria prevention, agriculture, food aid, sustainable development, information and communication technologies, desertification, humanitarian operations, and the global drug problem – to name a few.

The relationship between the U.N.and NGOs has developed significantly in recent years.

NGOs are increasingly seen as partners with valuable links to civil society who have important contributions to make in the areas of policy and program matters and in carrying out the objectives of the U.N. charter around the world.

As our main NGO representative at the United Nations in New York, I represent Celebrating the success of microlending in Africa the 4,000 members of the Sisters of Charity Federation serving in more than 25 countries.

Each year I meet with the liaisons from the congregations that I represent from throughout Canada and the United States to discuss the primary issues with which their congregations are engaged.

This provides direction for my committee work and attendance at U.N. sessions.

Sr. Willie and guests at the U.N.

Sr. Willie and guests at the U.N.

Currently the primary areas of concern for member congregations are poverty eradication, human trafficking and migration and the environment, especially issues related to water.

Committee membership provides the opportunity to work with other NGOs on those issues that are of importance to our members.

The NGOs are briefed weekly on current issues.

In addition to serving on committees, NGOs research appropriate topics and lobby governmental committees concerning the issues, as well as present educational workshops on these issues.

At the same time, each NGO is disseminating information to the sponsoring organization, raising awareness, increasing knowledge, and offering suggestions for action.

It is the responsibility of the NGOs to raise issues which then get placed on the world’s agendas, shape decisions taken by the U.N. and enter into partnership with the U.N. to help carry out its objectives and programs in the field.

My responsibilities include evaluating U.N. and national policies according to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and positions affirmed by the Federation in order to support appropriate initiatives, influence by presence, dialogue, interventions and collaboration the political, economic, social and humanitarian policies of the U.N., and design communication and education programs in collaboration with the congregational liaisons to ensure that members of the Federation are informed of U.N. activities and are encouraged to respond to U.N. programs and issues.

It is our task not simply to speak for those who have no voice, but to make it possible for the poor and marginalized to come and speak for themselves.

The opportunity to meet and talk with people from throughout the world on a daily basis has certainly broadened my horizons.

Each day I realize anew that we have only one very fragile planet that we share, and it is only through dialogue and a willingness to see the whole that we will ever find resolutions to the conflicts we currently face.

In the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “The age of nations is past; the task before us now, if we would not perish, is to build the earth.” The United Nations is not a perfect institution, but it is the one organization in the world that brings all countries together, great and small, wealthy and poor, and gives each a place at the table.

Many religious communities now have full time NGOs at the U.N. The opinions of religious are valued because, as one U.N. employee said to me, “When you speak, you speak with credibility and integrity.

You have members in every corner of the world and truly come with a people agenda, not a personal agenda.” Perhaps that is the greatest gift we have to offer to the U.N. We do indeed come with a people agenda.

It is our task not simply to speak for those who have no voice, but to make it possible for the poor and marginalized to come and speak for themselves.

An active Columban Companion, Sr. Cj Willie, SC, works at the United Nations in New York.