Book Review:  It is Good for Us to be Here: Catholic Religious Institutes as NGOs at the United Nations, 2015.

This book was a really useful find for me even if eventually,  it remains as a Kindle edition of 80 pages costing around 2 dollars from Amazon.  It is a Xlibris- supported publication of 12 accounts written by active Catholic religious representatives in the UN system. It is of immediate interest to OLA since in 2021 it led a shared submission to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN in Geneva.

In 2011 I was urged to prepare and send a submission to the newly formed UPR at the UN.  Ireland would be reviewed for the first time on its record of human rights. Part of the preparation was submissions from groups and individuals who had a relevant complaint/s.

I was to encourage two groups, Shell to Sea and the Table Observers coping against the location of a Shell pipeline, to submit their facts and feelings within the human rights framework.  This avenue was described to me by a doctoral researcher Cathal Doyle now a Senior Lecturer at the University of Middlesex and an acknowledged authority on the free, Informed and prior consent of indigenous communities to exploitation of their land by mining multinationals. He guided me, through email, in my first tentative steps to the UN UPR of 2011, and relying on my previous experience again in 2016 for the Love Leitrim campaign.

The book being reviewed here makes sense of certain guidelines which I had to blindly follow.  I was told to submit our work to ECOSOC (UN Economic and  Social Council) and to look around if there was already a member in Ireland which I would approach; over 5,000 NGOs are signed up to ECOSOC. That was my discovery that a small number of Catholic Religious Institutes were indeed members of ECOSOC and depending on the concern actually lived and worked at one of the four UN locations: New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi.

Each location has selected concerns to be pursued with corresponding structures and departments, Thus the over 190 countries of the post- World War 11 War as early as 1945 were working out how to live in peace and security. Each modern government sent representatives to continually monitor  global security and to develop ‘ global public policy ‘ to enhance peace everywhere.

The UPR is one such mechanism so my initial efforts at submission-making had in fact bought me close to the UN by an approach to the Geneva location  through Edward Rice International an accredited member of  EOSOC and a combination of two large Catholic Religious Institutes, the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers, headquartered and supported from Dublin. Meanwhile Deirdre Mullan RSM and brother of Don Mullan works in the New York location on issues different to those in Geneva. The UN Report on Ogoni contamination by oil and gas was carried out by the UN Office in the Nairobi location. And published in 2011.

The book being reviewed is a compilation of accounts of the experience of each, by twelve representatives of Catholic Religious Institutes working in the US  location. Each institute has to apply for membership of ECOSOC which it has to assure of its objectives, its record and its financial stability along with the knowledge, experience and skills appropriate to the work of the UN in the representatives put forward.  Most serve for about 10 years and are obliged to seek housing and office space if alone. In other situations a small or shared community is located very close to the UN.

There are thousands of NGO groups attached to the UN.  Through formal structures they bring the voice of their constituencies to  it. This is acknowledged to be very useful in the pursuit of justice and peace. Indeed it is now defined as a ministry for some Christian Religious Institutes who necessarily take on the cloak and shape  part of themselves as NGOs to carry on. So in the title of the book occurs the telling phrase “… Catholic Religious as NGOs…”

The very numerous faith-related groups sometimes cause alarm by their dedication and commitment – public servants and advocates contrast –  and a concern about faith overreach in the UN system. It is noticeable that Catholic Religious Institutes bring their development needs to the fore in advocating for their missionary projects increasing global experience and knowledge for the UN itself. The twelve accounts in the book mention here and there an ability to bring people themselves to make their own voices heard. There is also a useful and used opportunity for internships for one month or more in the offices and alongside the institute representatives.

It was a rewarding moment when I discovered an internship provided by the Sisters of Charity Federation for one of their former students from Cork, Michelle Fitzgerald now a teacher.  I understand much better what she writes and what I have experienced “… I have learned of the importance of nations working together to solve global problems…faith-based organizations are diligently collaborating and speaking up at the United Nations for persons at the grassroots.”

In the book being reviewed most of its short accounts are from the experience of UN New York under the editorial  lead of Emeka Xris Obieuzu OSA. Besides Augustinians and Charitys, there are Loretto US, Dominicans, Franciscans, Maryknoll,  Mercy, Passionists, UNANIMA Federation…bringing their concerns through a shared Catholic religious ministry at the UN.

See also:

OLA Joint Submission to UPR Shapes Stakeholders Summary

Submission to Universal Periodic Review