June 19, 2013

UN Advocacy Experience 2013 (MIA)

What a rewarding experience to spend four days with Sisters of Mercy from around the world! Many of the sisters who gathered in New York City were just names on email exchanges or voices over the phone before, and now I have relationships to build on in our work together.

I was able to participate in this experience as a member of Mercy International Association’s cosmology/eco-justice working group, which is made up of representatives from Mercy congregations and institutes around the world. Over several phone meetings we’ve developed a vision statement and a statement of purpose that call us to restore our relationship with Earth and to redress injustice affecting those most impoverished in Earth’s community.

While in New York City with some of these sisters, I was inspired by their efforts to change people’s consciousness, to develop Earth-focused programs and to advocate with their governments on behalf of Earth and impoverished peoples. They are speaking up for communities impacted by large-scale mining projects, pushing for moratoriums on hydrofracking and recommending to their governments sustainable development goals that are now being shaped through the United Nations process.

We spent pieces of two days at the United Nations, to get a better glimpse into the work of Mercy Global Action at the United Nations and ways in which we can support that work through advocacy with our national governments. Sitting in on sessions on sustainable development and climate change, I was impressed with the progress of Liberia in reducing food insecurity after decades of war and with the goals of the Zero Hunger Challenge to end childhood stunting and improve the income of small food producers. I was encouraged by discussions about the need to turn economies onto a path that is “greener” and that offers better living conditions for those so far left behind. Yet the definition of preferred alternative or renewable energy sources wasn’t clear, with hydroelectricity (which adversely impacts the environment and nearby communities) appearing under the same umbrella as solar and wind power. And it was a little disturbing to hear the emphasis on developing private, market-based solutions to environmental problems, without questioning whether business’ interests might lean more toward finding profits in putting a price on nature than in protecting the environment and communities.

Our time in New York City was grounded in a theological reflection on advocacy developed by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Gospel readings leading up to Pentecost. The WCC helpfully defined advocacy, in part, as “engagement with the issues and initiatives of those who struggle for life, justice, equity, rights and peace.” And the major components of this kind of advocacy were listed as praying, speaking out and acting together – elements that we explored in the context of our work with our national governments and the possibilities for engagement with the United Nations.

Each morning, we read John 14:26 and the reminder that the Holy Spirit is Advocate, with all the fullness of meaning that had in the context of our discussions about our efforts to establish justice and peace. We learned from one another about ways of speaking out against injustices in our communities, countries and world. And we considered how we could better act together through sharing of strategies and through the processes of the United Nations.

I suspect that this is only yet another step in Mercy around the world working more closely together to address injustices and environmental degradation. And now I’ll look forward to those phone calls and emails as also opportunities to connect with new friends.

Marianne Comfort - Education Coordinator, Justice Team, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

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