By Fr. Thomas Pallithanam, SDB, Salesian Missions’ Representative to the UN
For the second time in less than a week, Salesian voices were again heard at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF). On Monday, July 12, Sr. Alessandra Smerilli, FMA, Under-Secretary of the Holy See Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and Fr. Andre Mytilien, SDB from Haiti were both on the panel in one of the official side events held on the margins of the High-Level Political Forum 2021. Titled “Faith Without Borders: Partnerships of Governments and Catholic Organizations to Reduce Inequalities for the Post-COVID Era in Spain,” the event was jointly organized by the Justice Coalition of Religious, which is a part of the Religious at the UN (RUN) based in New York, and REDES, Spain (Red de entidades para del Desarrollo Solidario - Network of Entities for Solidarity Development). Earlier in the year, REDES had reached out to me through Angel Gudiña of Misiones Salesianas- Spain to make contact with the RUN for collaboration on the Voluntary National Review (VNR) of Spain and to organize a side event during the HLPF 2021. Rigorous and efficient planning by representatives from REDES and Teresa Blumstein of JCoR made this event possible. This initiative has also opened the doors to future collaboration for joint advocacy initiatives.
Divided into two segments—Institutional Presentations moderated by Marta Iglesias, president of Redemptorist Spanish NGO and Good Practices Showcase moderated by Sr. Pat Murray, Secretary-General of USIG—the event highlighted the commitment of Catholic Religious congregations to the fulfillment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Spain, the Philippines, Mozambique and Haiti, all countries presenting the VNRs.
Having spoken on behalf of the Holy See Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Sr. Alessandra elaborated on the Vatican Covid-19 Commission set up by Pope Francis to respond to the devastating fallout of the pandemic. She reiterated the Pope’s message of not just preparing for the future but preparing it. In the Commission, divided into five works streams, Sr. Alessandra oversaw workstream two, which does research and studies of the present Covid-19 epidemic and its related issues and to think about a post-Covid-19 society and world, especially in areas of ecology, economics, labor, healthcare, politics, communications, and security. Before her, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain and later Andrés Rodríguez Amayuelas, former President of Spanish Development Platform and a Coordinator of Futuro en Común (FeC), the Spanish civil-society SDG monitoring network addressed the participants.
In the second segment, Fr. Andre Mytilien, SDB presented the Salesians’ project, “Creation & Adaptation of Academic & Skills Training Content for Distance Training During Pandemic.” This program was developed using a training platform designed with support from Spanish National Development Agency (AECID) and Madrid Regional Government. His presentation showcased how SDG4 (Education), SDG8 (Decent Jobs), and SDG17 (Cooperation) were all addressed in a seamless, efficient, and effective manner through this project. Sisters Hospitallers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Benito Menni) in Mozambique presented their project, “Strengthening and Expansion of Care in the Field of Mental Health and Disability (SDG3) in the context of Covid-19.” The event also presented a good practice through ACORES, from the Philippines addressed the challenge of hunger (SDG2) that people faced in the wake of the pandemic through setting up a Kindness Bakery, Charity Kitchen, and Community Pantry.
The event saw overwhelming virtual participation with over 130 viewers. The Salesian engagement was strengthened by the presence of several members of the Salesian Family at the event: Fr. Tim Zak, Provincial; Renato Cursi, Don Bosco International Representative to the European Union; and many others.