Announcing the Gospel in a new place and in a new way - Religious at the UN


By Sister Margaret Scott ACI

Women and Men Religious have a voice at the United Nations. A voice that is loud and clear as they knock on diplomats’ doors, make interventions in committees and raise awareness of critical issues in our troubled world. They also mobilise their members at the grass roots the world over, to bring the voice of the voiceless to the UN and to urge compliance at local level with UN decisions.  

Members of religious institutes have long come to see the United Nations  as a key area of advocacy on behalf of those whom they serve. Most of them have a long history of commitment to those living in poverty and of direct service to the people living on the underside of society.  As global men and women impelled by the gospel agenda, with hearts that embrace the whole world and committed to social justice issues that do not stop at any borders, Catholic Sisters, Brothers and Priests have found  a new way to serve the poor and disadvantaged. 

They are  investing in ministry at the United Nations; a ministry that enables them to live a dynamic renewal of their original charisms and to announce the gospel in a new place and in a new way: being NGOs at the UN. Networking with like minded groups at the United Nations gives them an opportunity to be effective agents of structural change by identifying the systemic causes of deepening poverty and ever increasing inequality, which are embedded in unjust social structures.  

Each religious congregation brings its own original gift and specific reading of the Gospel to its work at the UN. For example the Passionists’ commitment to justice is based on their vision of the poor who are “crucified by unjust economic structures.” While the Medical Missionary Sisters see their involvement at the UN as an extension of their healing ministry in a wounded world.

While the larger religious Congregations are NGOs in their own right, some smaller congregations form coalitions with others in order to become NGOs at the UN. One such coalition is UNANIMA International, made up of 22 women’s congregations, many of whom have members in England and Wales. UNANIMA professes to bring a feminine spirit to the United Nations, together with a gospel concern for the weakest and the least, especially women and children who are economically poor, and a commitment to take their cause to the public square.

The United Nations is by no means a perfect organisation. Far from it. It is only as strong, or as weak, as its members – the 93 countries or states that form the General Assembly of the UN, most of whom are seeking to protect their national interests, rather than the common good or the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable. It is an organisation in urgent need of reform. But it does, in theory, promote and protect human rights and has worked tirelessly to promulgate several important protocols: the Sustainable Development Goals, Climate Change, Human Trafficking. UNANIMA and other Religious NGOs have been part of these important projects.  

The contribution that religious men and women make to the  UN has been hailed over the years by Secretary Generals of the Organisation. Kofi Annan: “Men and women of faith are crucial to the United Nations. As teachers and guides, you can be agents of change and inspire people to new levels of public service.”

Ban Ki Moon: “We simply could not do without your passion, your ideas and your criticism too.” Together with other NGOs we are generally referred to as “the conscience of the UN”. 

The United Nations faces an uncertain future. An ageing institution, urgently in need of reform and better funding, the organisation is still the only global forum in an increasingly isolationist and divided world, where nationalism is on a rampant march, while the poor grow poorer and the planet is being held to ransom by unrestrained economic forces. But what will not change is the UN’s commitment to the protection of human rights for all people.

We consecrated men and women are also moving into the future, gospel people in love with Jesus Christ and his people who will always be called to be involved in our global reality and the United Nations.

In England and Wales our call is to do our best to ensure the compliance of our own institutions, here at home, with United Nations protocols in defence of social justice.

Our government, as a member state of the UN, has signed on to and ratified all the important documents released by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Conventions on Climate Change.

….. Members of UNANIMA International, who are also members of Corew, have heard the call.

Sr Margaret’s doctoral thesis: ‘Gospel Women at the United Nations’ has just been published. It is available on Amazon.