By Sr. Carol Breslin, MMM
On September 13, 2023, I travelled to New York City from our MMM house in Somerville to present our MMM story to the board of directors of UNANIMA International. UNANIMA International non-governmental organization with consultative status at the United Nation, representing 22 congregations of women religious, comprising 25,000 people in 85 countries. They advocate for those, especially women and children, who are homeless or displaced, migrants and refugees, victims of human trafficking, and those whose lives have been affected by climate change.
I had been delegated to do this to support our application for UNANIMA membership. Representatives of twenty-three other congregations of women religious would be voting on our request. No pressure! It was also an opportunity to meet these representatives in person as I began my work with the organization.
The three-day meeting was held at Thomas Berry Place, a conference and retreat center named for the Passionist priest and cultural historian who was at the forefront of much thinking about cosmology and world religions.
Ces Martin, a Sister of Notre Dame de Sion, president of the executive committee, chaired the sessions. After our opening prayer on Thursday, several women who were beginning their terms on the UNANIMA board and the new executive assistant were introduced and welcomed. I was also welcomed as representing a potential new member.
We then participated virtually in a parallel event prepared by UNANIMA International on the occasion of the 2023 UN SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Summit. The theme was “Rethinking Multilateralism: Responding to Interconnected Crises from the Lens of the ‘People’ SDGs, Partnerships, and Civil Society”. We looked at some of the factors that interfere with countries working together to deal with common challenges. Rich countries sideline poorer countries in resource allocation and large corporations act without accountability in how they make profits. Government policies are often reactive in dealing with homelessness instead of looking at preventive measures, e.g. combatting violence against women and evictions. At the same time, civil society has had success in advocating for changes in policies and attitudes at a global level. There was a great emphasis on a collaborative approach, including religious groups.
That afternoon, UNANIMA Executive Director Jean Quinn, a member of the Daughters of Wisdom, presented the annual report and answered questions. I then presented the MMM story to the group, beginning with a summary of Mother Mary’s life and inspiration. I spoke about our current membership and ministries, our emphasis on the health of mothers and children, and our involvement in emerging needs such as human trafficking, domestic violence, mental health, refugees, and the environment. I also talked about the work of our MMM Associates, and how we collaborate with them in living the healing charism in our daily lives.
While the vote was taken on our MMM membership I waited outside with two other non-voting participants. During an interesting conversation about our mutual work in Uganda, one of the women said had been a good friend of our late Sister Maura Lynch! Soon I was welcomed back into the meeting room to applause from the UNANIMA International Board. MMM was elected an official member of UNANIMA! We then listened to stories about the ministries of some of the other congregations before the meeting was closed for the day.
On Friday we participated in a Zoom session in which congregational leaders of UNANIMA members expressed their support for the future of the organization. They emphasized that UNANIMA International advocates priority issues for member congregations. After a group photo, the organization’s 2024 budget was presented and approved. Jean Quinn then gave us feedback on the recent High-Level Political Forum at the United Nations, at which governments reported on their progress towards the achievements of the SDGs. Unfortunately, progress is only at 15%, so we have a lot to do in terms of advocacy.
We voted for the recipient of this year’s Woman of Courage award. The award honors women from around the world who have exhibited exceptional courage and leadership to make a difference in their communities, especially for the betterment of the lives of women and children. We decided to give the 2023 award to Sister Brigid Arther, a Brigidine Sister who works with migrants and refugees in Australia. In 2000, she co-founded the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project (BASP). Her passion to see the human dignity and rights of all people respected has compelled her to stand beside those who experience incredible hardship and vulnerability, especially refugees and asylum seekers. She has visited refugees and asylum seekers in detention, listened to their stories, and supported them in their applications for residency and citizenship. Upon their release from detention, she accompanied them as they began life in a new country away from family and familiar surroundings. Brigid has been a constant advocate for asylum seekers at their assessment and court hearings and has been the litigation guardian for minors. She has also worked with young people on climate justice.
On Saturday morning, we broke into committees: development, finance, communications, bylaws, regional, and an ad hoc committee in preparation for the World Social Summit. For the moment, I am on the bylaws committee, which will help me to become familiar with the policies and guidelines of UNANIMA International. Back in the larger group, the committees reported on their work during the previous year.
Then it was time to say goodbye to all the wonderful, committed women I had met. While the next in-person meeting will be in New York, in February 2024, in the meantime I will be doing my committee work virtually from Somerville – thanks to Zoom! The other committee members are based in Georgia and Wisconsin, not very close to each other.
Apart from the advantages of meeting in person, the February UNANIMA gathering coincides with the meeting of the Commission for Social Development (CsocD, which advises the UN Economic and Social Council and governments on a wide range of social policy issues. UNANIMA board members may attend some of the sessions.