United Nations: a personal journey of understanding

The United Nations captivated me early on in my life. When I was a young man, my dream was to work for the United Nations.  The white and blue flag with the world map surrounded by olive branches captured my imagination. As is often the case with youth, my life took many different twists and turns and I never achieved my dream.

Over time, my views of the UN changed. In responding to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the United Nations inadvertently introduced cholera to that poverty-stricken country. More than 7,000 Haitians have died of cholera and hundreds of thousands have been sickened. Sadly the UN initially responded with denial and then with cover up. Only now is the UN accepting responsibility.

united nations
Winifred Doherty, RGS, is the official United Nations representative for Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

Still I was delighted to recently receive an invitation to spend a day at the United Nations as an official guest of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. The Sisters have a non-governmental organization (NGO) UN observer status. During my visit I learned more about the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals, which includes by 2030 the abolition of poverty, ending human trafficking, and gender equality. I am inspired by the ambitious goals.

One of the high points of the visit was hearing the ambassador to the UN from Ireland.

One of the high points of the visit was hearing the ambassador to the UN from Ireland, David Donoghue, deliver his report on immigration. Initially, the report was to demand the ending of all detention of children. From my own reading, I understand that the detention of a young child can scar her or him for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, the report was modified to read that countries should be “encouraged” to end the detention of children.
During Donoghue’s presentation, I was sitting next to Sr. Winifred Doherty, RGS. Sr. Winifred is the Sisters of the Good Shepherd’s official UN representative. When Donoghue mentioned that the committee weakened the language regarding the detention of children in response to pressure, Sr. Winifred slipped me a note that simply read, “United States.” I realized that since our country has a policy and practice of detaining immigrant families, including very young children, we wanted softer language rather than an outright condemnation of the practice.

As I left the UN to walk back to my hotel amid the hurrying crowd of New Yorkers, I was very grateful for the day. I no longer have the idealistic image of the UN that I had as a young man. Sadly, I see the limitations of the United Nations, the inhumanity of my own country and, in a different context, the scandals of my own church.

Yet I still witness the work of the Holy Spirit leading all of us as we struggle with our weaknesses and failures. As I was caught up into the moving mass of humanity, I was reminded of the words of the poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

Larry Couch is the Director of the Good Shepherd National Advocacy Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. For a similar story, please read Larry’s reflection on his recent involvement in the SOA Watch protests along the borders of Mexico and Arizona. 

Larry Couch

Larry Couch

Larry Couch is the Director of the National Advocacy Center (NAC) for Sisters of the Good Shepherd. NAC is a lobbying ministry that addresses social justice issues and advocates for the transformation of society to benefit all people. NAC works in solidarity with the disenfranchised and reflects the spirituality and mission of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.