Q and A with Vincentian Representative at the UN
Jim Claffey serves as the United Nations NGO Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) Representative. Many of us are not quite sure what that means, so we thought we’d ask Jim to give us an introduction to the position. We thank him for taking the time to answer our introductory questions, and we ask you to keep him and his work in prayer.
The United Nations is a well-known and important entity, but what defines an NGO?
The designation NGO means a Non-Governmental Organization, the “civil society,” which is the third main body of the UN, along with the Secretariat (departments/offices) and the “Member States,” which are the 193 countries represented there. There are 4,000 registered NGOs at the UN, representing religious groups and other interests.
Do you represent the worldwide Congregation of the Mission, or just a certain Province(s)?
In this position I represent the Congregation of the Mission.
In addition, I work closely with four other Vincentian NGOs, namely the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Daughters of Charity, the AIC (International Association of Charity, formerly Ladies of Charity), and the Sisters of Charity Federation. Together we represent the Vincentian Family at the UN.
In the simplest terms, what is the goal, or mission, of the UN NGO Representative for the Congregation?
The goal is to promote the values and concerns of the Congregation, especially in terms of promoting justice, peace, and the integrity of creation in advancing the well-being of impoverished people around the world. I emphasize the work to end global homelessness, currently the unique common project of the entire Vincentian Family. And so in terms of priority, I am a member of (1) the Working Group to End Homelessness, (2) the Migration Committee’s sub-committee on migrants in vulnerable situations, and (3) the Mining Group, working on human and environmental rights as related to extractive industries.
We realize that your position is complex, but what might a typical workday entail?
The position is complex because the UN is a highly complex organization with baffling bureaucracy and complicated process and practice. Normally the work entails networking with other NGOs and with Member States in order to advance our agenda, studying the issues, preparing reports and position papers, attending meetings, giving oral statements, and sharing relevant information with our members. During the pandemic, with the UN building closed until further notice, everything is done virtually. Therefore, we have Zoom meetings on an almost daily basis—unfortunately a slower way to accomplish the mission.
What is your background and how did you come about serving in this important position?
The confreres of the Province would know my background as a former member. Although I left the community after a difficult and painful three-year discernment process, in all subsequent employment I have tried to advance our charism of evangelizing and serving the poor, and continued great friendship with a number of the confreres. Fortunately, my wife Nalini is totally supportive of Vincentian ministry.
Working on the VinFam International Commission to Promote Systemic Change, which I now chair, has kept me close to our leadership in Rome. It still came as a surprise and an undeserved honor when Father Tomaž Mavrič, CM, and the General Council asked me to take on this role. I intend to represent the CM with the dignity and respect it clearly deserves.
Anything else that you’d like our readers to know?
Clearly, there are many ways to serve the poor. Although most of us would prefer more of a hands-on ministry, with positive results readily seen, there is an important role for the Congregation at the level of the UN. There the global reach of our international community can make itself felt in defense and promotion of poor people everywhere. There, our rich legacy of following St. Vincent in his creative networking and passionate care of the poor, and our charism of seeking practical and effective ways to serve them, can impact a broad audience of Member States, religious and other advocates for transformative change in our world.
Let me invite readers to follow our work more closely:
Website (currently undergoing a facelift!): www.congregationofthemission-un-ngo.com
Twitter: @cmunnyc; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/congregationofthemissionun/
NOTE: an intern from the SJU Ozanam Scholars, Chloe Bergeron, does most of our social media work.
And now you’ll have to excuse me—I have a Zoom call waiting!