Promoting Values, Defending Life at the UN

Archbishop Francis Chullikatt Discusses High-Level Meeting on Youth

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By Viktoria Somogyi 

NEW YORK, JULY 25, 2011 ( A major challenge for the Holy See’s Mission to the United nations is to promote crucial ethical, moral, and religious values in an environment that underestimates their significance, says Archbishop Francis Chullikatt.

The permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York said this in the context of the two-day high-level meeting on youth, which is under way at the United Nations in New York as part of the International Year of Youth. The meeting, which ends Tuesday, has as its overarching theme «Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding.»

In the following interview, the archbishop comments on how the mission prepared for the meeting on youth, what some of its major obstacles are in achieving its objectives, and the one word that isn’t part of the prelate’s vocabulary.

Q: How did the Permanent Mission of the Holy See prepare for the high-level meeting on youth at the United Nations?

Archbishop Chullikatt: The youth has always been of great importance for the Holy See and the Catholic Church. John Paul II started the World Youth Days, so we are following the same example that was left us by him. We are building on his legacy. The youth are the future of the Church, of a nation, of a society, of the entire humanity. I always insist that we have to invest heavily in the youth. By doing so, we are ensuring a future full of promise that will help us to continue to hope. Only the youth can do that, so their formation and the encouragement we give to the youth is of extreme importance for the Church.

In view of the youth gathering at the United Nations, we already had a preparatory meeting with the Identes Missionaries. There were about 500 young people who came to the United Nations. They were all present in a group, like a family, in preparation not only for the youth gathering at the United Nations, but also for the World Youth Day in Madrid.

During the gathering the protagonists were the young people themselves. They narrated their own experience of how young people can live the Catholic faith and witness the faith to their generation, to their peers and the world at large. And they explained also their expectations and aspirations and hope that they are nurturing in their hearts. So it was a very constructive and interactive and fruitful meeting that we had. It was so beautiful to see young people telling their peers about the challenges they are facing and how each one of them is trying to solve the problems they come across.

Q: What are the pressing issues you expect to face at the international meeting on the youth at the United Nations?

Archbishop Chullikatt: Young people are at the center of the attention also at the United Nations. Everybody wants a share of the young people on their side. This is one side of the United Nations, telling the young people that they can also be active partners in building a better future for humanity. There is a Convention on the Rights of the Child, according to which one is considered a child up to 18 years of age. They are invited to the United Nations to build up dialogue among nations, cultures and religions. The reason why young people are becoming the main protagonists of the dialogue is because they don’t want a generation disconnected from the present world and the future, which is a great idea.

But what is missing in this conference on the youth at the United Nations is that they are not focusing very much on the real values that the young people must have and must be told. In bringing them to dialogue with the nations and cultures and religions, they need to be told beforehand what are the real values they should be standing for and using as a compass for their future. If that preparation is not done, the dialogue cannot go very far. So I have my reservations regarding the real meeting part of the gathering, which is not done properly. Just bringing young people together and keeping them for two or three days, there is something positive about it, but I wonder about the lasting effect of it.

The example that the Holy See wants to give the United Nations is the preparatory process we are doing for the WYD in Madrid. We are doing it at the parish, family and diocesan, regional and international level. This is the kind of formation that the Church is doing with regard to young people who belong to the Catholic Church, which is unfortunately not done by the United Nations. I put a lot of stress on the character formation of the young people because if you help them build a very strong character based on values and core principles that they could never compromise, then you are putting them on the right track for the future. If this is not done, we are not doing a good service for young people. At the United Nations everything becomes a big show, but when you come to the substance of that kind of gathering, it has not always been very satisfactory.

Our preparatory meeting ahead of this July meeting at the United Nations has also been to tell the international community: It is not enough to bring in young people to the United Nations; you should also give them something they are looking for, ideals that young people are really thirsting for and give them role models as examples. This is the way we need to build up the youth that could also be partners in the future for the building up of our societies.

Q: So what does the Holy See Mission offer to young people coming to the U.N. conference?

Archbishop Chullikatt: We have the Catholic youth NGOs and the World Youth Alliance; they are very close to the Holy See Mission, and they share the values we are standing for. We have different Catholic organizations at the parish and diocesan level, so we are contacting them also about this meeting for the young people at the United Nations. We are trying to encourage them to participate in it and I always tell them: We may not be too many there, we could not get the big representation we would like to have because at the United Nations they have to have representation from all over the world and from all sectors of the society, but we have to have our presence there.

The Catholic NGOs’ and youth movements’ presence there at least visibly will give them an idea that the Church also wants to be part of this international youth gathering and we don’t want to stand on the sidelines of the youth world. In what the young people are planning to do, there are also the Catholic young people who would like to have a say. In the final document that would be adopted, we would also like to have say in it.

The Holy See delegation will speak for the young people of the Catholic Church and we are consulting them. We would like to bring also their voice to the United Nations and to the member states to tell them that it is not just those young people who are consulted by the United Nations, but there is also another world of youth from the Catholic and Christian Churches who have a view to express.

Q: In the legislation of the United Nations, there are groups trying to push through certain agendas, which are not welcomed by the Catholic Church. Can you name some of the most important ones?

Archbishop Chullikatt: The first and foremost is the life issues. We are talking about the right-to-life issues in which, unfortunately, the United Nations does not give a good example.

Recently we have finished the high level meeting on HIV/AIDS. In the political declaration that was adopted, in spite of the reservations we made during the negotiations and after the adoption of the document, you can find the call to give sexual education for young children starting from the elementary school; then the independence of the children from their parents. The member states do not want to recognize the parental rights and any restrictions on access to abortion facilities, condoms etc.

If this is the kind of youth that the United Nations is trying to build, then you
can imagine more or less what the future of this world is going to be. Unfortunately the ethical, moral and religious values, as crucial as they are, are not of primary concern for the United Nations, and that is where the challenge of the Holy See Mission and the Catholic Church comes in. We have to fill that void that is being created by the international community. This is for me the most important role of the Holy See Mission to the United Nations in partnership with the various Catholic organizations, especially with the dioceses all over the world.

Q: During the negotiations how can you find allies who would try to help your work in representing ethical values?

Archbishop Chullikatt: In the multi-lateral diplomacy of the United Nations, it is not always easy to get support on these issues because at the United Nations, even moral and ethical issues become politicized. So many times, unfortunately, politics has the final say. But in spite of that, we are trying to get support from various countries. Malta, Poland, San Marino help us and now we are looking forward to the Hungarian government’s support for us.

Several Muslim countries help us in life, family issues and in the formation of the young, the rights of the parents etc. It is a slow process, but we have already started it and so far we are making baby steps that would eventually lead us to some successful conclusions. So I am very hopeful, even if it takes time and a lot of effort and good will.

There are people, member states, ambassadors at the United Nations that share the same view of the Holy See, and they would like to work with the Holy See, so we are trying to find out a working relationship with them so that we can also tell the international community that the major role players should not alone have the last say. There are also others who think differently and their voice must also be heard and their views have to be also taken into consideration in the decision-making process that is being done at the United Nations at these high level meetings or at the conferences. Then only the United Nations can claim to be a real «family of nations.»

Q: What are the upcoming decisions, negotiations concerning the youth?

Archbishop Chullikatt: The meeting of States parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child is coming up. We are working on that, but most of the work is being done at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Then we have issues regarding the population and development. Often times at the United Nations some agencies and certain member states publicly promote abortion, but they don’t call it abortion, they call it «sexual and reproductive rights.» It is a euphemism that they use to legalize access to abortion.

We tell young people that it is not by killing babies that you are going to solve the problem of poverty of the world but by investing in children and young people. They are the real resource and each human being has a great potential. So what the international community should do is to help them develop that potential so that each human being can give his or her contribution to the entire humanity, or to the society and to the family. We continue to insist on the fact that it is by investing in people, young people, that we reform a society or build prosperity for a society, and not by eliminating young people.

We are trying to convince them to fight for the life of the other young people who will have to substitute them later on. So young people must have a strong voice in the right-to-life issues as well, as a reminder that they are there because their parents wanted them to be born alive and not to be killed in the wombs of their mothers, and that if they had a chance to be alive, then they should also be fighting for others who must also have a chance to be alive. It is one of their main responsibilities.

Then the right to education, development and peace are important issues, too. All these things must be discussed with the young people so that they can build their own future, always respecting the rights of the parents, because they are the ones who have to guide them. When you are young, you don’t have that experience that your parents have. They are the ones who take care of young people.

The United Nations says the child should have the complete freedom from their parents to make their decisions. This is really worrying when you see that these things are happening at the United Nations. If we stand on the sidelines of a nation-building process of a country, we will be losing a generation and we cannot afford to do that. Losing a generation means losing a part of the future that we are supposed to take care of. We have a big responsibility in that. We do our share at the United Nations and everyone has to do his at the family, parish, diocesan and societal level. If you bring up children on the real values that they have to stand for and according to which they have to live, then you will have a sound and prosperous society of which we can be proud.

Q: Do you ever get discouraged when you see certain things happening around you in your daily work at the United Nations?

Archbishop Chullikatt: We cannot afford to be discouraged. It should not be part of our vocabulary because what we are doing is not like others at the United Nations. They are like «paid servants» of a government, but we are doing it for Christ and his Church. You cannot put a price tag on that. We accept our mission in its fullest sense. We accept our work and service as part of our mission. We do it as a cause for which we have to fight and live. When there is a failure, it serves as a sign of what not to repeat in the future. It is part of a learning process. So what might be a discouragement is for me a first step toward a potential success that will come.

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