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UN General Assembly Engages with Faith-Based Organizations

New York, United States—During the United Nations General Assembly 2016, an unprecedented 25 of 30 side events were organized in collaboration with faith-based organizations.

With more than 80 percent of the world’s people expressing a religious affiliation, there is a growing recognition that faith has the potential to play an active role in providing significant moral, social and political advancement for inclusive and sustainable development.

Indeed, in the context of the new UN Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, there is a growing understanding of the deeply rooted links between faith, development and humanitarian work as seen in relief activities, including in entrenched situations of conflict.

Local religious and faith-based networks are trusted centers of spiritual life and community care embedded in their community and are first responders, holistic service providers, and effective advocates. Without the innovative and transformative partnership with these local faith networks, aid groups had difficulty in achieving their targets.

Significant events showcased the effective partnerships established with member states and UN agencies. UPF leaders received various invitations during the UN General Assembly to these side events, of which the more significant ones were the following:

Side Event Organized by the UN Alliance of Civilizations

On September 15, 2016, UPF leaders Dr. Thomas Walsh and Mr. Taj Hamad attended the UN Alliance of Civilizations event entitled “Combating Xenophobic Language in the Media and Fostering Inclusive Integration of Migrants and Refugees.” This event was co-sponsored by the European Union, the International Organization for Migration and the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Malta to the United Nations.

A Keynote Address was given by H.E. Mrs. Karen Abuzayd, special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.

H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al–Nasser, United Nations high representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, emphasized the mandate of the UNAOC to combat xenophobia. He stated: “In the current climate of fear and suspicion that grips communities throughout the world, we believe that thought leaders and shapers of public opinion have a special responsibility to promote understanding among cultures and mutual respect for differing religious beliefs and traditions.”

H.E. William Lacy Swing, the director general of the International Organization for Migration, emphasized the human dignity due to migrants by affirming “the diversity and the rich contributions which migrants make to society—they humanize individual migrants and bring their stories to the forefront. These stories counter the myths and misperceptions that are often recklessly splashed across our front pages and bring home the fact that we are all basically seeking the same rights and desire to reach our full human potential.”

Three Side Events Organized by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations

On September 19, 2016, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations organized a High-Level Side Event during the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, together with the International Catholic Migration Commission and Caritas International. It was entitled “Responsibility and Solution Sharing: The Role of Religious Organizations in Responding to Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.” UPF leaders Dr. Thomas Walsh, Mr. Taj Hamad and Mrs. Lynn Walsh participated in this side event.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the secretary of state of Pope Francis, stated that refugees and migrants are a top priority for the pope. His Holiness personally oversees these matters and appeals to parishes in Europe, responsible for the settlement of 30,000 displaced peoples, the cardinal said.

The panelists shed light on the important role of religious organizations in tending to the needs of migrants. Mr. Gregory Maniatis, speaking on behalf of International Catholic Migration Commission President Peter Sutherland, stated, “How to live well together harks back to fundamental values of dignity of men and equality of men, which are the heart values of Christianity and the UN.”

Mrs. Karen Abuzayd, UN special adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, commended the role of religious groups: “Religious organizations helped form public opinion to create the conditions for leaders to take humane and rational decisions as opposed to those based on unwarranted fears and speculations.”

In his Keynote Address, Cardinal Pietro Parolin emphasized the following: “There is a risk of falling into the temptation of misunderstanding or hiding the real cause of these despicable actions by attributing the cause to religion. ... Religions are not the cause of these ills, which result instead from some political, geopolitical and economic interests, and from the desire for power and domination.”

Commemorating the pope’s recent declaration of Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a saint, the Holy See Mission held an event at the United Nations on September 9, 2016, entitled “Leaving No One Behind: Mother Teresa’s Enduring Message for the International Community Today.” This event was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Albania, India, Italy, Macedonia and the Alliance Defending Freedom International.

Speakers included H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza of the Holy See Mission and friends and experts emulating Mother Teresa’s exemplary devotion to the poor. Mother Teresa belonged to the world, as expressed in her own words: “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world.”

High-Level Event of Global Alliance on Promoting Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies

On September 22, 2016, UPF President Dr. Thomas Walsh participated in a high-level event which was held to launch the Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Promoting Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies. The event was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions to the United Nations of Cabo Verde, Mexico, Norway, Qatar, Sierra Leone and Tunisia, and the United Nations Development Programme, as facilitator of the Global Alliance.

This high-level event provided a platform to outline priorities, exchange knowledge and experience and strengthen partnerships within the international community for promotion of their mutual goals. United Nations Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark welcomed participants and stressed the importance of the Global Alliance in supporting effective reporting on SDG 16 (the Sustainable Development Goals) and its links to the whole 2030 Agenda, including by “recording and sharing the human stories behind the statistics to paint a very full picture of what is happening.”

Delivering the Keynote Address, H.E. Mary Robinson, the former UN high commissioner for human rights and former president of Ireland, emphasized the need to link the SDG 16 and the whole of the 2030 Agenda and stressed their interdependence for effective building of a culture of peace. She also called for efforts to ensure that the human rights of the most vulnerable would not be further eroded and seriously impacted by effects of climate change.

In the ministerial section, foreign ministers and government officials of Qatar, Cabo Verde, Norway, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Georgia, Nepal, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom expressed the importance of tangible action and inclusive processes in implementing the SDG 16. The meeting ended with the statement of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and concluding remarks by the president of the 71st General Assembly, H.E. Mr. Peter Thomson, who urged those present to provide the tools necessary to achieve SDG 16.

Side Event on “Keeping the Faith in Development: Gender, Religions and Health”

On September 20, 2016, a side event explored the taboo issues that faith communities encounter when seeking to address women’s reproductive health challenges. This event proposed theological and practical responses that respect the tenets of faith tradition.

The side event was co-sponsored by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the World Council of Churches, Islamic Relief USA and other faith-based organizations.

Mrs. Lynn Walsh and Mrs. Genie Kagawa of UPF participated in the side event, which explored the areas of conflict and the “faith-full” ways to resolve them, with participants invited to put forth recommendations for action. The panel comprised authors, religious scholars, and secular development representatives.

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