Ambassadors visit University

Ambassadors to the United Nations visited St. John’s University on Oct. 22 to attend the biennial Vincentian Chair of Social Justice conference.

The purpose of the conference was to draw attention to the problems facing the international communit, according to Sister Margaret John Kelly, D.C., the executive director of the Vincentian Center .

“We think it’s important because we are Vincentian and St. Vincent de Paul was about helping those in need,” Sr. Kelly said. “[I hope people gain] a fuller understanding of what we could and can do as a university to educate and advocate about social justice.”

The ambassadors spoke about poverty as well as issues plaguing the natural environment. Ambassadors visiting from Kenya, Timor-Leste and Venezuela were on hand to provide commentary on the issues of poverty and the environment.

The panel discussion focused on the Millennium Development Goals set by the U.N. in 2003.

Goals include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.

The U.N. member states have pledged to reach their goals by the year 2015.

Judith Mbula Bahemuka, U.N. ambassador from Kenya, spoke about poverty and how the people of Africa are able to cope despite the numerous problems they face in today’s increasingly poverty-stricken society.

“[Poverty] will always remain complex. It will always remain convoluted,” Bahemuka said.

Bahemuka went on to say that she believes the church’s role in society helps the people of Africa cope with their problems. Apart from being a pillar of hope, she said, the church plays a vital role in the daily life of many African citizens.

“It is the manner in which Africans handled their problems that was different,” Bahemuka said. “African communal life helped very much in cushioning the poor people.”

From this, Bahemuka said she learned a very important lesson that she hopes will help improve society.

“We must practice love and we must share the desire to improve the welfare of our neighbors,” she said.

Oscar de Rojas, the director of the Financing for Development office in the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as well as a representative of Venezuela, also spoke.

Rojas worked in the Venezuelan Foreign Service for 27 years before joining the U.N. in 1999 and received his master’s degrees, in both economics and international affairs, from Columbia University in New York. He focused on the global aspect of the U.N.’s mission.

“To have a global ethic there has to be an agreement,” Rojas said referring to the goals of the U.N. “[However,] there is no consensus that we need to act on these things together.”

He also said that social justice must be a part of every culture and that, in some ways, it is.

“The principle of social justice is basically accepted in all countries on an internal level,” Rojas said.

The final panelist was Jose Luis Guterres, the first ever ambassador from Timor-Leste to the United States with concurrent accreditation as Permanent Representative to the U.N.

Timor-Leste, formerly East Timor, is located on the island of Timor. The island was divided in 1915 after an agreement between Portugal and The Netherlands, the two occupying forces. East Timor was then invaded by Indonesian forces in 1975. The nation was occupied by these Indonesian forces for more than 25 years.

In 1999, the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly to regain their independence and, in 2002, the nation of Timor-Leste was established when the U.N. turned over power to the first Constitutional Government of Timor-Leste.

Guterres spoke of his newly-formed nation’s attempts at promoting social justice.

“Today, as a nation, we’re doing our best to establish laws to promote social justice,” Guterres said.

He went on to say that the people of Timor-Leste maintain their hope and faith that, with the right policies, things can change and improve.

The keynote address was delivered by Sister Marjorie Keenan, RSHM, DUP, a member of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace from 1977 to 2001. Sr. Keenan spoke about the importance of the natural environment and the ways in which people can help to protect the environment while still working for societal and technological progression.

“Globalization in itself could have significant potential for good,” Sr. Keenan said. “The harmony of the natural world must be matched by the urban media, the work of human hands.”

Sr. Keenan also spoke of the importance of the member nations of the U.N. joining together to help solve the world’s problems.

It is important, Sr. Keenan said, for the nations of the world to recognize the growing problems related to social justice.

“Our growing global consciousness is in itself a sign of hope,” Keenan said, “but it is not enough.”