Monthly Archives

September 2013

Murphy Institute

Rachana Chhin at the UN in New York: the Experience of Humanity

This semester, two UST Law students who are Murphy Institute Scholars  blog about their internship experiences working to support the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See at the United Nations in New York and Geneva.  Rachana Chhin writes from New York, and Joseph Grodahl Biever from Geneva.  To catch glimpses of the workings of the Holy See at the U.N., bookmark this blog and follow along.

And so, here I finally am! Soon, in just a few days, I will begin my fall internship with the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York City.

I left Minnesota early Friday morning and flew into LaGuardia airport. From there, I met up with one of four other interns and we caught a taxi into Hoboken, New Jersey. Sts. Peter and Paul parish in Hoboken, west of Manhattan right across the Hudson River, is where we will be staying. The Holy See Mission itself is located on the east side of Midtown Manhattan and we’ll commute into town everyday by subway. As you can imagine, we’ve spent the weekend settling in and exploring the area.


(Clockwise starting at the top left: Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, Parish Chapel, Central Park, Grand Central Station)

Just exactly what is the Holy See, you may ask? “Holy See” in Latin is Sancta Sedes, which means Holy Chair. In ancient times, this referred to the seat of the bishop in cities that were important in the early Church (e.g., the Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria). Most preeminent among them, of course, was the church in Rome founded by Sts. Peter and Paul. According to the New Catholic Enyclopedia, in the canonical and diplomatic sense, the term is “synonymous with ‘Apostolic See’, ‘Holy Apostolic See’, ‘Roman Church’, ‘Roman Curia.’”

Over the course of many centuries, the Holy See gradually came to refer to the composite of the juridical, administrative, and governmental structure of the worldwide Catholic Church. This is distinct from the Vatican City State, which was created in 1929, administers the properties of the Holy See, and is internationally recognized as a sovereign entity. The early Church grew into one of the first supranational institutions in the world and continues that same work to this day.

The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN

Although I am awaiting my assignments, some of my responsibilities at the UN will include monitoring actions undertaken by various committees and representing the Holy See in meetings and official gatherings. This is very exciting for me as not only a law student but also as a Catholic. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his 2008 address to the United Nations General Assembly, reminded us why our engagement with the UN is important:

The United Nations remains a privileged setting in which the Church is committed to contributing her experience “of humanity”, developed over the centuries among peoples of every race and culture, and placing it at the disposal of all members of the international community.

One need not go too far back into history and only look at two world wars in the 20th century, among other examples, to see why the UN’s creation was needed so urgently. Faulty conceptions of social organization and impoverished human anthropologies did much to abuse human rights and the dignity of the person.

Every new generation of Christians, along with other persons of good will, must make its own contribution, renew, and take up the mantle again if we are, the Pope Emeritus says, to “sustain humanity’s hope for a better world and…create the conditions for peace, development, cooperation, and guarantee of rights for future generations.” To be able to even catch a glimpse of these efforts, to be able to serve in whatever small way that I can, it will be well worth it.

Finally, let me say that I am honored, humbled, and grateful for this opportunity. I am especially indebted to His Excellency, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Apostolic Nuncio, the University of St. Thomas, the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy, and, last but not least, to my friends and family also for all their support and encouragement. You bless me! Thank you for joining Joseph and me on the journey. Please pray for us and we shall continue to pray for you.

Reposted from


Murphy Institute

Inside the UN: Murphy Scholars Report- Joseph’s First Week in Geneva

With only a couple minor hiccups, I managed to get through my first week of living and working in Geneva. With the current exchange rate for the dollar, it can feel like a pretty expensive city for an American, albeit with a silver lining—chocolate, wine, and cheese actually seem to cost less. I am being generously put up in an apartment attached to a Dominican monastery, a short tram ride west to the city center, and a short tram ride east to the French border (and cheaper shopping). Having heard how difficult it can be to find housing in Geneva, I am most grateful to be provided a place in such a wonderful location.

Work has been new and exciting. As with many jobs, it is hard to truly know what your work will entail until you actually start. And upon more fully understanding my role, I am all the more excited to be here.

I am interning with the Caritas in Veritate Foundation, an independent organization with offices at the Holy See Mission to the United Nations in Geneva. The Foundation’s purpose is to provide the representatives of the Holy See, the Order of Malta, and Catholic NGOs present in Geneva with a source of research and expertise from academia and elsewhere. It aims “to make the positions of the Catholic Church more understandable and visible, thus increasing their impact on the elaboration of international culture and law.”

It is exciting to be a part of a young organization working to establish itself into its important role. This week I attended a meeting near Palais des Nations (UN) with several Catholic NGOs to discuss their upcoming activities and research needs, and began work at the Mission on the two main research projects currently on my plate in the areas of religious freedom and disarmament. The Mission is a joyful yet dedicated workplace, with at least six different nationalities represented in a relatively small group, all gathered to serve the Church in its work in Geneva.

Pope Francis has called for tomorrow to be a day of prayer and fasting for peace. Tomorrow, many of us at the Mission will be attending the special evening mass to that effect at the cathedral here in Geneva. So my closing thought would be to encourage everyone—of all faiths—to join us as we pray for Syria and pray for peace.

Reposted from September 6, 2013,  INside the UN: Murphy Scholars Report blog

Murphy Institute

Inside the UN: Murphy Scholars Report –Preparing for Geneva Part 2

To understand God’s mercy, the very mercy that caused Jesus Christ to die on the cross and which forms the basis of the Christian, Catholic faith, it is helpful first to understand man’s fallen nature and our capacity for evil. And there is perhaps nowhere on Earth where man’s capacity for evil is more apparent than at Auschwitz. I visited this indescribably dark place the day after visiting Częstochowa. I can imagine no greater contrast. As the bus approached Częstochowa the day before, I felt as though I could sense the peace and transcendence of the place. As the bus approached Auschwitz I felt as though I could sense the darkness and evil of the place. Although most of us have seen pictures or video clips, it is a bone-chilling experience actually to walk under the gate with that revoltingly cynical message telling prisoners “Arbeit macht frei” (Work brings freedom).

Gate to Auschwitz I
Entering Auschwitz.

Our group first went through Auschwitz I, a former Polish army barracks taken over by the SS shortly after capturing Poland. Exhibits within the barracks displayed the depth to which the SS sought to deprive Jews, and other prisoners, of their humanity. One room had displays on both sides stretching perhaps 50 feet with massive heaps of human hair from untold tens of thousands of human beings. The SS took the hair of prisoners and made it into fabrics or insulation for use by Nazi soldiers.

It was after going through these displays that we next came to the torture cells of Block 11, “the death barracks,” where among the victims of Nazi crimes was St. Maximillian Kolbe. He was a Franciscan priest taken to Auschwitz for sheltering refugees in his friary, including 2,000 Jews. While he was in Auschwitz, an escape prompted the SS commandant to select 10 other prisoners for execution as a deterrent to future escape attempts. One of the men pleaded for his life, crying “My wife! My children!” Kolbe volunteered to take his place, and spent two weeks without food or water in a cell in “the death barracks” before finally being executed. Outside the building, near the Execution Wall where so many prisoners were executed, sits the small window of Kolbe’s cell, with a small red candle resting in the well, presumably left by one of the faithful inspired by this saint. This little candle was like a flickering light of grace in the midst of the utter darkness of this terrible place.

St. Maximillian Kolbe, pray for us.
Outside the cell where St. Maximillian Kolbe died.

At my hostel in Kraków, I had an encounter that helped to take my experience at Auschwitz even further beyond the abstract. My roommate there was an older gentleman named Ishai traveling on business from Haifa, Israel. He told me of how in 1932 his mother wanted to move from Antwerp, Belgium to Palestine. Her family pleaded with her not to go to Palestine where locals were committing violence against Jews but to stay in Antwerp “where it is safe for Jews.” In youthful rebellion, she disregarded her family’s wishes and moved anyway. I could not help but be moved by those words, replaying them in my mind as I thought back to the horrors I had seen with my own eyes earlier that day.

Even after I write all these words, I must acknowledge that no words can truly do that place justice, except perhaps that well-known motto, “Never forget.”

If one wants to understand why after World War II it was necessary to form the United Nations, and why the Church was, is, and must remain actively engaged in the work of the United Nations, a visit to this awful place might be a starting point.

St. Maximillian Kolbe, pray for us.

First published  by Joseph Grodahl- Beiver  on Wednesday, September 4, 2013



Murphy Institute

Inside the UN: Murphy Scholars Report, Grodahl prepares for Geneva, part 1

As the Geneva half of this fall’s Murphy Scholar presence at the United Nations, I desired a bit of extra spiritual preparation before arriving. To do this, I searched for and found a place steeped in history yet also modern, a place whose people exhibit a vibrant Catholic faith, and just as importantly a place with great food and drink. Where on Earth could that be, you ask? Why, Poland, of course!

I stayed in Kraków, the archdiocese where Karol Wojtyła sat as archbishop before becoming Pope John Paul II. I had the great privilege to meet a few locals while there, including one young man, Marek, who had lived in Kraków his entire life, with the exception of one year as an exchange student in the U.S. Showing me around his city, he exhibited a great love for the place and its rich history and medieval charm, as well as for the Catholic faith and Bl. John Paul II, a love quite common among Poles.

Jasna Góra Monastery
In front of the Jasna Góra Monastery, home of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa.

When I told Marek of my intention to take a daytrip to Częstochowa, he heartily approved, as it is a sort of spiritual capital of Poland. The monastery of Jasna Góra overlooking the town of Częstochowa houses an icon of the Virgin Mary known as the Black Madonna or Our Lady of Częstochowa. According to tradition, the icon was originally painted by the apostle St. Luke, traveling a long and winding journey over centuries to finally end up at this monastery in 1382. It has survived invasions and the wear of time to endure as a central symbol of Polish Catholicism.

At Częstochowa and in Kraków, I had the opportunity to attend Mass and pray alongside Poles several times. Being in places so steeped in history and heavy in significance for the faith of so many, and participating in the life while only understanding a handful of words, I grew in my appreciation for the universality and transcendence of the Catholic faith. Such an understanding is central to appreciating the importance of the Church’s voice at the United Nations. Its voice is not an American voice or an Italian voice or a Polish voice, but a Catholic voice, at once both human and transcendent. It is a great honor to be a Murphy Scholar with the opportunity to  serve in a small way as that voice is presented in Geneva.

Our Lady of Częstochowa, pray for us!

U Babci Maliny for some amazing pierogis and vodka.

P.S. Of course, Kraków has its share of other fun as well, and I certainly had my share. If you are ever in Kraków and want to find the best pierogis and a fine vodka selection to boot, all with a down-home ”swojski” atmosphere that (mostly) skips the tourist prices, I suggest the place my local friends directed me to: U Babci Maliny. Na zdrowie!

Mission in Action

Mission in Action: Investment in Others

Andrea Jepsen

By guest blogger, Andrea L. Jepsen (’06), Attorney at Law

A man faces near-certain death if Medicaid will not pay for an innovative medical procedure.  A child is at risk of deportation to a politically unstable and violent country unless an obscure visa is obtained for her.  A man with Down Syndrome will lose his home to the family friend who took advantage of him unless relief is obtained from the court.   An elderly woman will go hungry unless her immigration sponsor can be forced to provide for her.  There are no shortages of opportunity for a legal services attorney to try to live the mission of the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

For almost seven years it was my privilege to serve some of the least privileged among us, and for as many years that privilege to serve was often the source of some of my greatest frustrations.  A client with a cognitive disability accused me in a court of law of forging her name on a pleading.  Another with mental illness and paranoia refused to sign a settlement agreement, brokered with great difficulty, that would have provided her with food and medical care.  Every day, miracles had to be accomplished with the legal equivalent of aluminum foil and chewing gum, and there was no time to waste.  The highs could reach great heights, but the depths could be quite low.

Psychologist M. Scott Peck, in his book The Road Less Traveled, defined true love not as the euphoric feeling we think of as love, but rather the investment we make in others when we are feeling perhaps our least loving.  Love is an action, he said, rather than an emotion.  Love is what we do when we are frustrated, when we judge others whose struggles we don’t fully understand, when we are resentful and pressured, but we make the commitment to serve anyway.  There are no shortages of opportunity for a legal services attorney to love.

In May of 2013, I decided to leave legal services work and open my own firm.  As a legal services attorney I joined regularly with terrific attorneys from the private bar like John Degnan and Ankoor Bagchi at Briggs and Morgan to serve the needs of vulnerable and forgotten clients.  We did great work together, and I became increasingly interested in the way that attorneys like John, Ankoor, and others fed their souls through their private and pro bono practice.  It became easy to see how an attorney could enjoy the many benefits of private practice and also continue to serve.  Even so, I struggled with guilt.

As I struck out on my own, I had the great good fortune to meet Amy Goetz, who founded the School Law Center and is a former legal services attorney herself.   She asked me to join her in her longstanding commitment to helping children with disabilities access the educational services that are their right, to making children who are bullied feel safe at school, and to the other noble work done at the School Law Center.  It is challenging, dense work, but it’s great fun.  I’m not sure that I’m living the mission, or that I ever have, but I continue to do the best job I can to serve using the gifts I’ve been lucky enough to receive.

Murphy Institute

Inside the UN: Murphy Scholars Report

This Fall, the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy has helped secure internships supporting the Holy See’s Mission to the United Nations for two Murphy Scholars: Rachana Chhin, who will intern in New York; and Joseph Grodahl Biever, who will intern in Geneva, Switzerland. Like all Murphy Scholars, Chhin and Biever pursue a JD from the School of Law at the University of St. Thomas and also take classes in the interdisciplinary master’s program offered by the university’s Department of Catholic Studies. These internships will give the Murphy Scholars an opportunity to serve the common good through both their legal training and their broader study of Catholic social and political thought and are an important part of the Institute’s efforts to provide the Church with non-partisan policy analysis on a range of issues in international law.  To hear about their experiences and get glimpses of the inner workings of the UN, subscribe to this blog and follow along.