On 8 November, Franciscans International (FI) hosted the last in a series of celebratory gatherings to mark the three decades that have passed since the organization was officially recognized by the United Nations (UN).
The keynote address of the meeting was given by Ms. Helena Yánez Loza, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the UN. She focused on the importance of states and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) cooperating to bring about positive changes in international policies – for example the work Ecuador’s delegation and FI have done together on business and human rights. Ms. Yánez Loza also highlighted St. Francis’ love and respect for nature as an inspiration to combat the current climate crises.
The meeting was also attended by some of the sisters and brothers who originally helped establish and develop FI as a respected influence at the UN, including Br. Kevin Smith, OSF, Sr. Kathie Uhler, OSF, and Br. Ignatius Harding, OFM. They shared some of their memories and experiences of the early years of FI and emphasized that, although the working methods of the organization have evolved over the years, its mission has never changed.
“For us, the most important thing was – and still is – that people don’t have a voice. That people who are most affected, like now with climate change, are the ones who never get to speak up,” said Br. Ignatius. “From the first moment we were not talking about ‘being the voice of the people’ at FI, but about ‘giving the people a voice.’”
Although the idea to establish a Franciscan presence at the UN had already been suggested in 1982 by Br. Dionysius Mintoff, OFM and the late Sr. Elisabeth Cameron, OSF, it was not until seven years later that FI was officially recognized by the UN’s Department of Public Information. In 1995, the organization became one the few NGOs in General Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council, acknowledging FI’s representation of major segments of society worldwide.
Before the celebration, FI’s International Board of Directors and representatives from our staff visited the UN headquarters in New York, where they met with Secretary-General António Guterres.