Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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Ioannina and Vergina

Ioannina

From Meteora, we travelled to Ioannina, a city in Northern Greece that tradition holds was founded by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 6thcentury C.E. Ioannina flourished in the late Byzantine period (13th–15th centuries). Ioannina surrendered to the Ottomans in 1430 and there is a strong Turkish influence that can be seen today.

The walls of the old city.

Ottoman baths

The Ioannina Municipal Museum – a converted mosque. It houses an excellent collection of artifacts describing the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities that resided in Ioannina over the centuries. A Jewish marriage certificate


Traditional dress

The main area of the mosque, once used for prayer.

The grounds of the museum contained beautiful stone structures, now mostly abandoned, and a small graveyard.

Vergina

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of Vergina. We stopped here on our way to Makrinitsa to visit the tomb of Philip II (the father of Alexander the Great). The site has a fantastic museum showcasing the many artifacts that were discovered intact within the tomb. It sheds light on ancient burial customs and beliefs. Check out Aigaiand the archeological site.


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She’s just too beautiful

Last week I arrived home from holiday. I spent two glorious weeks in Greece with my dad and stepmom. It was  the best holiday I have taken in many, many years. The perfect blend of activity and rest. We took an incredible road trip and visited Delphi, Meteora, Ioannina, Vergina, Makrinitsa and Pelion, and Athens. Then we spent over a week together on the island of Kea, just relaxing and enjoying the sun and sea, swimming, sunbathing, eating bread from the fournos, reading, playing rummy, tending kittens, sipping ouzaki, and exploring the ancient sites of the island. I returned home rested and renewed, grateful for the precious time spent with the people I love most.

Over the next few posts I will share some highlights from the places we visited.

Delphi

Our first stop was the archeological site of Delphi, with the famous oracle of Apollo.  In the 6th century B.C.E, Dephi was an important religious centre in the ancient Greek world. According to mythology, Delphi was understood to be the meeting point of two eagles released by Zeus, one in the east and one in the west.

One of the ancient treasuries at Delphi.

The site of the ancient oracle of Apollo.

Looking up at the remains of the Temple of Apollo.

The remains of the Temple of Apollo.

The amphitheatre.

The stadium.

Meteora

High atop the cliffs, six (of an original 24) Greek Orthodox monasteries are precariously perched. Most are no longer inhabited although the two nunneries (convents) still house orders of nuns. It is thought that the monasteries were established sometime in the 14thcentury C.E. to provide refuge from invading Turks. This is a spectacular place to visit (though the treks up to the monasteries are arduous!) and the views are incredible. My favourite monastery was the Monastery of the Holy Trinity.

 

 

The Grand Meteora monastery.

Climbing up the Grand Meteora. 

The views from the top. Kalambaka, the town nestled at the feet of Meteora.

The Monastery of the Holy Trinity. 

Just imagine bringing up supplies in a basket like this!

An icon of the Holy Trinity of God.

St. Barbara, patron saint of the Greek artillery. From the Roussanou Monastery (nunnery).

The secret garden at Roussanou!


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Time to say goodbye

It’s time to say goodbye to my favourite city.

The past three weeks in New York City have been a total joy. I am deeply grateful to Cecilia and Cynthia in our NGO office to making the arrangements for me to attend the High Level Political Forum. And I am grateful to my formation director, Mary, for allowing me to pursue this opportunity. It has been incredible.

This year I am aware that I leave New York City having received many blessings.

The blessing of personal renewal through my engagement at the UN and the chance to do something I love and learn about issues I am passionate about.

The blessing of friendship through my time spent with Cynthia, Cecilia, Veronica, Nancy, Mary, Sheila, and other friends met through the UN.

The blessing of adventure through all of the fun Cynthia and I had exploring the city together (Kabbalat Shabbat at B’nai Jesherun synagogue, kayaking on the Hudson, yoga in Central Park, Amateur Night at the Apollo, Auburn Seminary, America Media – and going to a taping of The View with Veronica) and the chance to re-visit places here that I love (91stStreet community garden, Zabar’s, the Met Museum, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, St. Francis Xavier parish, 9/11 memorial).

Each day I have encountered a God of abundance. A God who is generous and gives unexpected gifts. And a God who gives hope and courage amidst the sufferings of the world – hope and courage to keep working to create the conditions for God’s grace to work through.

I want to end this post with a beautiful prayer Cecilia shared with Cynthia and I yesterday as we had a debrief of the HLPF. Written by Bl. Oscar Romero in 1979, it captures perfectly what we are about.

Prophets of a Future Not Our Own

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

(Archbishop Romero, El Salvador. 1979)


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It’s a wrap!

The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) wrapped up in a flurry of activity last week. Sessions from Monday to Wednesday were devoted to country presentations a.k.a. Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). I was particularly interested in listening to the country presentations where the CJ/IBVM has a presence. Nine of our countries were up for review and I was able to be present for five out of the nine countries.

I paid special attention to the country review from Canada, of course, and was very interested to participate in the session as a member of civil society. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed in the Canadian presentation. The programs and investments that were highlighted as responding to the SDGs were the same that I have heard brought out to highlight Canadian commitment to maternal and child health. In my prior work as a public servant, I had referred to the same investments time and again. I was disappointed that the government did not have anything new to offer. The good news, however, is that there is a newly created federal structure – an SDG unit housed at Employment and Social Development Canada – that will be the coordinating body for the achievement of the SDGs in Canada. That means there is a point of contact for future consultations and participation.

The most enjoyable part of my time at the UN during the HLPF was the opportunity to work with Canadian civil society organizations. The group of Canadian NGOs that gathered at the UN were inclusive and open to collaboration. If they were surprised to have a Catholic Sister working with them on the interventions, they were quiet about it! Together we prepared two statements with questions that were delivered during Canada’s VNR. (The questions went unanswered, sadly.)

Members of our CJ/IBVM group also attended two civil society events with the Canadian government. The first, an informal meet and greet at the Permanent Mission where the Ambassador and Minister Duclos spoke. Thanks to a resourceful member of our group, we left with a contact for future follow up! The second event we attended was the launch of Alliance2030, a network of Canadian civil society organizations devoted to SDG achievement in Canada. At that meeting, we met representatives from a number of other organizations, including a passionate group of Canadian youth who want to make their voices heard.

The biggest lesson that I learned from my experience at the HLPF this year was the importance of an engaged and committed civil society presence (including religious or faith-based organizations) in development work – whether the work is undertaken domestically or abroad. I’ve long had an appreciation for civil society organizations, and I worked with a number of them as a public servant, but my experience of being ‘one of them’ at the UN was a real gift. I witnessed commitment, passion, resourcefulness, and readiness to work hard to achieve goals.

It’s almost time for me to bid New York a fond farewell – three weeks have flown by!  But this year I return to Toronto equipped and ready with ideas and tools for moving the SDGs forward at home and within our international CJ/IBVM network!


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The garden at the UN

During my internship last year with our IBVM NGO at the UN, the gardens at the UN headquarters were closed to the public due to maintenance and landscaping. I was delighted to discover that they are open now. What a fantastic place to sit and contemplate the day’s discussions and actually enjoy some silence (or relative silence) amid the usual commotion.

Here are a selection of photos from the gardens, including some of the statues and works of art that have been given to the UN by various Member States.

The rose garden was pretty much past its prime but I couldn’t resist taking a few photos!

 


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High Level Political Forum 2018 – Week 1

The first week of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development wrapped up last Friday. It was an intensive week of investigation and discussion on Sustainable Development Goals 6 (clean water), 7 (clean energy), 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (sustainable production and consumption), 15 (sustainable ecosystems), and 17 (international partnerships).

The CJ/IBVM delegation took in as many of the sessions and side events we had the stamina for. During the HLPF there is enough to keep one going 12 hours a day! There were many highlights during the week for me.


There were some thoughtful discussions of the SDGs during the main sessions, guided by presentations from expert panels, and featuring lively debate among Member States and civil society organizations.

A side event to showcase the intersection of the arts with the SDGs. Our delegation attended the SDG Film Fest. One of the films shown was “The Box” – see the trailer below.

Another interesting side event was hosted by the NGO Major Group on creating a toolkit for NGOs. The side event consisted of keynote and endnote presentations with thematic discussions in between on the topics of policy development, interlinkages of the SDGs, and sustainable financing.

We had the luck to attend a side event on the Peace Boat, an international NGO dedicated to global citizenship education. We heard from many speakers about opportunities for youth to become engaged in achieving the SDGs as well as options for youth to attend various educational tours aboard the Peace Boat itself as it visits different regions of the world. A great way to learn about other cultures and the impact of globalization.

*****

At the end of the busy week, I was more than ready for a bit of time in the community garden!

And took time to check out the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibit at the Met.

We finished off the weekend with a birthday dinner for Sr. Cecilia O’Dwyer, our IBVM UN representative!

 

 


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Back in the Big Apple!

 

Three of the IBVM UN NGO delegates: Nancy Murray, Sarah Rudolph, Adam Prado

I am back in New York City for three weeks with our IBVM non-governmental organization to the United Nations. It is a joy to be here again. I am joining our main representatives, Sr. Cecilia O’Dwyer, IBVM and Sr. Cynthia Mathew, CJ (accompanied by two Loretto Associates from Canada, Veronica Ward and Nancy Murray, and Sr. Mary Mallany, IBVM) at the High Level Political Forum, a dynamic meeting of UN representatives, Member States, and members of civil society to review and discuss progress made so far on achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 goals make up the most ambitious global development framework yet agreed to by members of the United Nations. These goals aim to improve the quality of life for all people and to improve the health and sustainability of the planet.

We are two days into the HLPF and already there have been discussions on SDG 6 (Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all)and SDG 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all) and dozens of side events on these and related issues.

We’ve heard a mix of bureaucratic speak and frank discussion on the urgency of the world’s problems and proposed solutions. (Dr. Jeffrey Sachs boldly addressed the problems of greed and deliberate obstruction of progress and called upon the world’s richest to fund at least part of these goals out of their own pockets – as a tax for the privilege of accessing and using our data!)

There are many lessons to be learned and voices to be heard over the next several days. Next week we will participate in the Voluntary National Reviews of a number of countries. We will pay special attention to the countries where the IBVM and CJ are present (Albania, Australia, Canada, Hungary, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and Vietnam) and reflect on ways we can assist in achieving the SDGs going forward.

Major Group and Other Stakeholders side event on civil society engagement at the UN

Day 2 morning session of the HLPF proceedings

More to come later in the week!