On May 25, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, gave an intervention during the Security Council Open Debate on the “Protection of Civilians and Health Care in Armed Conflict.”
In his statement, Archbishop Auza said that the worst development in recent conflicts has been that civilians have gone from a protected class to targets and weapons of war. The international community, he said, must rise above narrow national and geopolitical interests and hold those who commit such atrocities to account. Similar is the intentional destruction of critical infrastructure like schools, hospitals and water supplies. Modernized conventional weapons are now resembling weapons of mass destruction in terms of the indiscriminate harm and extensive destruction they can cause. Discussion about ending violence and conflict is almost pointless if we fail to stop the flow of arms to dictators, terrorists and organized crime syndicates. The Responsibility to Protect innocent civilians from atrocity crimes must spur the international community to action when a state is clearly failing to protect its people, states must show greater resolve in upholding its norms, and the United Nations must discern clear and effective criteria for fulfilling it.
His statement can be found here.
On May 22, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN gave an intervention during the Forum on Financing for Development taking place at the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York.
In its statement, the Holy See spoke about the need for a greater sense of solidarity and responsibility for justice in coordinating financing efforts to achieve integral human development. Concretely keeping the human person in the center of development efforts is central, it said, quoting Pope Francis’ call for “concrete ideas and decisive actions that will benefit all people.” There’s a particular need to reform protectionist trade systems and inhibitions to technology transfers. Markets alone are insufficient, it added, but must be guided by solidarity and social justice.
The statement can be found here.
On May 22, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN gave two interventions during panels of the Informal Thematic Session of the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The Session is dedicated to the theme of “addressing drivers of migration, including adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters and human made crisis, through protection and assistance, sustainable development, poverty eradication, conflict prevention and resolution.”
In the first panel, dedicated to “Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication,” the Holy See stressed that migration must not be looked at just as a negative phenomenon but as a complex reality requiring greater solidarity, a coherent international framework, and a culture of encounter and cooperation.
In the second panel, dedicated to “Human-made Crises as Drivers of Migration,” the Holy See emphasized that migration should not be a desperate necessity but a choice and that the right to remain in one’s country in peace and security precedes the right to emigrate. It said that drivers that force people to leave their homelands — wars, poverty, environmental degradation, persecution and others — must be addressed to make migration flows voluntary, regular, safe and manageable.
25th Annual Path to Peace Gala spotlights Syria in Honoring Cardinal Zenari
On May 24, the Path to Peace Foundation honored two peacebuilders at the 25th Path to Peace Gala. More than 500 attendees witnessed Cardinal Mario Zenari, Papal Nuncio to Syria, receive the Path to Peace Award for his courageous commitment to the people of the war-torn country. The Path to Peace Foundation also honored Sister Mary Angel Acayo with the Servitor Pacis Award for her work serving women and girls in Uganda.
After Co-chairs Erin von Uffel and Mark Ackermann welcomed the guests, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of the Archdiocese of Miami, delivered the invocation.
Before the awards were presented, Bishop Yousif Habash, Eparch of the Syriac Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark, chanted the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke and that is still spoken among a number of Christians in the Middle East.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and President of the Path to Peace Foundation, described the vital role the Foundation has had in enabling the Holy See's work at the UN since its inception in 1991. Each year at the Gala, he said, the Foundation honors leaders who work as peacemakers who champion people in situations where “tranquility of order, solidarity and social harmony do not reign.”
He said in honoring Cardinal Zenari as the 2017 recipient of the Path to Peace Award, the Foundation wanted to keep a focus on the urgent need for peace in the region where Christianity was first born and spread.
As the Pope’s representative to Syria since 2008, Cardinal Zenari has served the people of Syria during the now six-year war that has directly affected 25 million people. In his acceptance speech, he compared his role to one as a soldier “using the weapons of charity and truth.”
“At times, I feel as if I am dressed like a simple soldier in military fatigues uniform, rather than in clerical attire,” he said. “Spiritually, I feel that I take orders from the 'Commander in Chief,' Jesus Christ, and his lieutenant, the Pope, who tells me: ‘Go there!’ and I go; ‘Come here’ and I come; ‘Stay there!’" and I stay.
Cardinal Zenari said Syria provides daily opportunities to practice what the Church calls “the corporal and spiritual works of mercy,” which include feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and consoling the afflicted.
Among the most afflicted the Cardinal described are the six million children who have endured severe suffering due to the conflict, three million of whom have only known war in their short lifetimes.
“Thousands of parents do not know whether or where to place a flower in memory of their beloved,” he said.
Cardinal Zenari said that in Syria, where the disciples were first called Christians, and St. Paul had his legendary conversion on the road to Damascus, Christians have dropped to only two to three percent of the population, and are among the most vulnerable.
“In Syria the suffering is universal,” he said. “The whole country suffers: every ethnic and religious group had its victims, its “martyrs,” its places of worship damaged or destroyed. But in terms of vulnerability, the groups most at risk are the minorities, including Christians.”
Despite the shrinking population of Christians, the Cardinal said their presence in the region brings value to the country, both culturally and charitably, noting the 200 million dollars of humanitarian assistance the Holy See and Catholic Church has provided to more than 4.6 million people in the region, and numerous of courageous caregivers who come as religious priests and sisters as well as lay volunteers.
“Amid so many atrocities, in this desert where, all too often, every sense of humanity is lacking, we find unexpected blossoms of rare beauty,” he said, calling them ‘desert flowers.’ “Several hundred people of all faiths and others, moved by profound feelings of human compassion, have given their lives helping those in need.”
Sister Mary Angel Acayo, a sister of the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate of Gulu, is one such sacrificial servant in Uganda, and was awarded the Servitor Pacis Award for her work to defend women and girls during the Ugandan Civil War and, since 2002, to build a culture of peace that respects women in the Karamoja region of Uganda.
“Pope Francis has called the Church in our time to be like a field hospital in battle, to heal the wounds of those who have been injured,” Sister Acayo said, in her acceptance speech. “That is one of the most important works we can do if we wish to restore and build peace.”
Archbishop Auza noted that in addition to the Path to Peace Award, the Foundation occasionally recognizes unsung heroes who build peace on the ground with the Servitor Pacis Award, Latin for “Servant of Peace.” He said Sister Acayo was an obvious choice for the award after he learned of her work to heal the troubled culture in which men often “claim” women and girls as their brides through raping them. The families’ response is typically to force their daughter to marry her attacker, who is often decades older, because in exchange for their daughter they will receive cows.
“I do not serve alone,” Sister Acayo said. “I serve alongside my beloved sisters in religious life. I serve alongside the survivors who, after having been helped, now want to help others.”
She told the story of Grace Achola, whom she and her sisters have served. Achola was kidnapped in third grade in the midst of the Civil War and was held captive as a sex slave for seven years until she was able to escape with the son she bore while in captivity. In addition to helping Achola heal physically and spiritually through counseling, the sisters taught her skills like craft making so she provide for herself and her son. Achola is now happily married to a good man with another child.
“In response to this evil, the Church cannot remain on the sidelines. We must do something,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot of prayer, a lot of work, a lot of healing and a lot of education to change these harmful practices.”
Sister Acayo is now breaking ground on a counseling center called Toto Maria (“Mother Mary”) Counseling Center which will provide a space for women and girls can to receive counseling in privacy. The Center will also provide educational classes for families and tribal leaders to heal the current rape-to-marry mentality. Although the sisters have been conducting many sensitization classes outdoors under trees, the physical building will provide the privacy and prestige needed to reach more in the Karamojong culture.
“These women and girls have experienced so many living nightmares and together we can help them awaken to a new life,” Sister Mary Acayo said. “After the violence that has marked their upbringing, we can help them walk with us on the Path to Peace.”
At the end of the evening, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America, delivered the final blessing, and remarked on the privilege of being present to witness two of his friends being honored, noting he was a former classmate to Cardinal Zenari in the Holy See’s diplomatic academy and a friend to Sister Acayo during his time as Nuncio to Uganda. Upon leaving the gala, attendees received an icon of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, giving a blessing, or of Mary, the Mother of God, pointing us to her infant Son. The icons were “written" by a Christian family in Syria, whose father was seriously injured in the war.
To view more photos from the Gala, please click here.
Experts call for Migration Talks to Include the Right to Remain in
One's Country of Origin
On May 22, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN sponsored an event entitled “Ensuring the Right of All to Remain in Dignity, Peace and Security in their Countries of Origin, together with Caritas Internationalis, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and the Center of Migration Studies of New York. The event took place as experts and diplomats gathered at UN Headquarters for the second thematic session of the preparatory process for the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular migration.
Archbishop Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, noted that that 244 million people are currently migrating internationally, and three times as many people are displaced from their homes within their own countries.
“Many of these flows are mixed, and while the majority of those migrating do so through safe, orderly and regular means, most would likely not choose to migrate if they were living in peace and economic security in their home countries,” Archbishop Auza said.
Quoting Pope John Paul II at the 1998 World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, Archbishop Auza said it is a basic human right to live in one’s own country, but that right is only effective if the root causes that cause people to migrate --such as conflict, religious and political persecution, and economic hardship-- are kept under control.
“This does not mean that in the interim we cannot find more creative and alternative pathways to meet the needs of those currently being displaced and in desperate need of a home,” Archbishop Auza said. But "if basic necessary conditions are met, people will not feel forced to leave their homes, making migration sustainable and manageable. This should be our goal. It should remain our ideal. And it should be a key part of the Global Compact.”
Fr. Michael Czerny, co-Undersecretary of the Migrant and Refugee Section for the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development of the Holy See, said the Section is dedicated to aiding the fullest development of every person, especially those forced to flee their homelands.
“Migration will be orderly, safe, regular and responsible only when people are really free to stay,” Fr. Czerny said. "To make today’s migration a choice, not a necessity, is an enormous challenge.”
Fr. Czerny underlined that promoting the right to remain includes protecting human dignity, ensuring access to sustainable human development, and addressing the drivers of migration. “With these assured, then, migration can flow from a free choice,” he said.
“To accompany, Pope Francis teaches, means to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate,” Fr. Czerny said. “Activating these four verbs would go far in fulfilling the promise of the New York Declaration and the purpose of the Global Compacts.”
Louise Arbour, UN Special Representative for International Migration, said the drivers of migration remove the element of choice from an individual's decision to migrate within or outside of his or her own country.
“People should have the choice to remain in their countries of origin with access to opportunities to build full lives there,” Arbour said. “Our focus should not be on stopping migration. Our focus should be on addressing the causes that deprive people of living with dignity and force them to make life-threatening journeys to a better life.”
Arbour said the solutions to the complex issues surrounding migration are not yet fully developed, but said all solutions will require compromises and the collective action of the entire international community. She urged leaders to explore ideas and proposals to share collective commitments to address the root causes of migration while they negotiate the Global Compact.
Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, who, since 2014, has provided services to more than seven million people who have crossed the Mexican border in Texas to seek a peaceful life in the United States, spoke about her experiences on the ground.
Migrants come, she said, "looking for protection and safety in our country,” Sister Pimentel said. “They left their homeland only because it is impossible” to remain where they were, noting many times the journey people take is just as traumatic as the conflict they have left.
“One day I asked a father, ‘Como estas? How are you?' And he broke into tears like a little kid,” she said. “Can you imagine [the pain of] the children and mothers that go on the same journey and the struggles they go through?”
Sister Pimentel said that one day as she was working in a parish hall with volunteers who gave of their own time and possessions, someone asked her, ‘Sister, what are you doing here?’”
“We are restoring human dignity,” she replied. That’s what all those who seek to care for the needs of immigrants are ultimately about, she said.
On the panel was also a Syrian refugee, Zaid, who asked that his last name be withheld for the protection of his family. He was a college student when he left Syria after he and his colleagues at the tech start-up where he worked had been subjected to threats and violence.
“I finished my exam in the morning and literally left that afternoon,” Zaid said. “I said goodbye to my parents five years ago and I still don’t know if I will ever see them again.”
After he was granted asylum in the United States, with the help of lawyers from Catholic Relief Services, he is now building a life in Pennsylvania working at a convenience store, but said he prefers his life in Syria before the conflict started, where he had family, friends, education and meaningful work.
“I never would have given that up, but forces beyond my power made me flee the country,” he said. “I appeal for help for my country. More can be done to prevent conflict and poverty.”
In his closing remarks, Monsignor Robert Vitillo, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission, echoed the panelists’ common call to address the root causes of migration.
“While in full agreement with a macro approach to human development, I also would like to propose the dignity of each person and family created as the cornerstone of promoting the right to remain,” Msgr. Vitillo said.
To watch the event in its entirety, click here.
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