Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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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!


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A Litany of Thanks

It’s my final day in New York City. At least for now. I hope to come back someday soon.

The past three months have been a dream come true. Even more than a dream come true, really, because I had no idea what these three months could hold. I’ve titled this post A Litany of Thanks because the overwhelming emotion that I feel right now is gratitude. I thank the IBVM for recognizing my personal and professional interests and for letting me explore them at the UN in such a meaningful way. I thank Cecilia, our IBVM representative at the UN, for hosting me and for giving me freedom to engage in the UN system and to contribute to the work of our NGO and other NGO committees. I thank Libby for bringing a bit of Australia to New York City and for sharing her wisdom and humour and making us all laugh at the right moment.

I thank God for guiding me along the way and for being with me here in New York and at the UN in a way that I had not yet experienced in my life. For the first time, I have felt a total unity between what I would consider my professional life and my private life – I have truly experienced God in all things. In all places and people and in all moments. I haven’t experienced this kind of unity before. Previously, I had felt a huge divide between my work life and my private life, especially my involvement in my parish. A big gap between the secular and spiritual. But now everything is spiritual, everything belongs to God and is of God. Divine life is everywhere!

I thank the UN (inasmuch as I can thank an institution) for the spaces and opportunities to join with other people to dialogue and debate, to learn and to grow, to listen and to be moved. It is a great privilege to be here and to be exposed to so many of the world’s struggles and achievements and, most of all, to witness incredible resiliency and determination to make the world a better place for all. At times, I have been caught up in a swell of optimism and idealism, and other times I have been brought low by realism or even pessimism. But it’s all part and parcel of the onward movement of humanity. In a moment of frustration, I once joked to Cecilia and Libby that we are at the intersection of dysfunction here at the UN. We experience the dysfunction of the various NGO committees, the dysfunction of Member States, and the dysfunction of the UN system itself. Not to mention our own personal dysfunction and NGO dysfunction. We’re in the middle of a vortex. So no wonder things are tediously slow and disorganized at times! But even in the midst of all kinds of dysfunction, I know that I love this work and I believe in it with all of my being.

And last, but definitely not least, I thank New York City for giving me a home and a playground to explore for the past three months. The first week I was here, I was bit shocked by the noise and wondered if I would ever find a quiet space. But then all of a sudden, I didn’t hear the noise and it didn’t bother me again (except for the occasional late night siren or slamming door in the hall that disturbed my sleep!). The noise became the hum of life. The energy of the city gave me energy and really brought me to life. I’ve gone out to do and see so much.

I’ve volunteered on weekends at the 91st Street Community Garden and with Franciscans Deliver, a food pantry outreach at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Midtown. I’ve traversed the length and width of this island many times, discovering its neighbourhoods, parks, museums, and churches. I’ve been to concerts and plays, a comedy club, a late show taping, and taken a tour of the NBC studios at Rockefeller Centre. I’ve hunted down landmarks that have special meaning for me, places that Madeleine L’Engle, Helene Hanff, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day brought life to. I’ve encountered the most unusual people walking down the street (an old man in pink lingerie riding a scooter, as one example) and of course, I have also witnessed the most shocking poverty and neglect in the homeless people I’ve encountered on every street. With visiting friends, I’ve laughed until my stomach has ached and I’ve cried desperate tears. I’ve celebrated Canada Day and the Fourth of July with equal gusto. I’ve gotten to taste an amazing slice of life in this city and I devoured it with great delight.

For the past three months and all they have contained, I say: thank you.


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From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome

Celebrating two nations

 

‘The New Colossus’

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
– Emma Lazarus, American poet, 1849-1887

It’s Independence Weekend in the U.S.  At Mass this evening the pastor read the poem, ‘The New Colossus’, to us during the homily and he asked us to reflect on its imagery. He asked us if we could see ourselves among the tired and the poor and the huddled masses. He asked if we could see ourselves among the exiles, the homeless. Although I know the pastor was asking for deeper introspection, what first struck me was that I’ve felt more at home in this city than I have in any other I have visited. Even Toronto, where I have lived for a couple of years now, still doesn’t feel like home to me the way this city has in such a short time. I can’t really explain it. I feel embraced by the city. Perhaps New York City has a special kind of magic. What I have experienced here is a strong sense of interconnection and belonging. People have each other’s backs here.

When I first arrived in April, I was unsure what to expect. The political climate in the U.S. was (and still is) somewhat volatile. I wasn’t even sure that I would be allowed across the border since so many people were being turned back at the time. I anticipated that I would encounter xenophobic and discriminatory attitudes to match the political rhetoric. Instead, what I found was the complete opposite. Not only did I immediately feel welcome in this city but even more so, I witnessed a city that welcomes everyone.

On my first subway ride, I was surprised by how many posters I saw advertising services for immigrants. There were posters from the governor’s office offering assistance to any immigrants who found themselves in trouble. I’ve encountered every ethnic group and race walking along the city streets and I have heard diverse languages everywhere I have been – European, Asian, African, South American languages. The world lives in New York City. My experiences at the UN have only confirmed that. The UN welcomes the world to the city in its own bureaucratic and institutional way and gives space for dialogue and meeting.

This is not to say that New York City is a kind of utopia. It’s not. There is tremendous inequality and there are many social problems. But there is a philanthropic spirit and tradition that encourages giving for the good of all, and I have encountered people who are working hard to ensure that everyone belongs and that everyone is welcome.

As a Canadian with American roots on my mother’s side, I feel privileged to celebrate the Fourth of July in the U.S., and in this city. I celebrated Canada Day yesterday with great enthusiasm at an event hosted by the Canadian Consulate. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation and to be reminded of the values we Canadians hold dear. On the Fourth of July, I will celebrate and give thanks for my ancestral roots in the U.S., for the warm welcome I have felt, and for the American values and ideals I have come to so deeply admire.