The University of St. Thomas
This semester, Rachana Chhin and Joseph Grodahl BIever, 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.

Start of a new HRC session in Geneva

Published on: Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaking at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, unveiling the "Wild and Precious" exhibit for World Wildlife Day.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaking at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, unveiling the “Wild and Precious” exhibit for World Wildlife Day.

Monday began the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The function of the session over the next four weeks is for both the Council and Member States to present their perspectives on particular human rights issues or the human rights records of particular States. The session began with the High-level Segment, featuring statements from government ministers,  heads of state from various countries, as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The first day also featured a lunch event sponsored by the Mission of Thailand, generously offering Thai food and drink to all, at which the Secretary General ceremoniously unveiled a beautiful photography exhibit on the occasion of World Wildlife Day.

After the high-level segment concludes tomorrow, the Council will look at specific issues and countries. This session will include reviews of reports from appointed Special Rapporteurs or independent experts on such topics as the freedom of religion, children in armed conflict, the right to food, torture, and more. Special attention will also be given to the human rights situations in North Korea, Syria, Central African Republic, and more. The Holy See, as a permanent observer, will be present throughout the session, as well as making its own interventions on some of the issues presented. It will be a very active few weeks!

A World Made New

Published on: Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

It is that time of year again: the air is a bit cooler, the leaves are turning all their earthy hues, and the sun sets just a little bit earlier each day. Yes, fall is in full swing and it is a particularly beautiful one here in New York City! As I write this, I cannot believe that we’ve been here for a little over a month now. It has been a busy past few weeks at the United Nations.

ParkRiverDSC00161Pumpkin(Clockwise, starting at top left: Walking through Central Park, People enjoying a day on the water, inside the ECOSOC Chamber for a side-event, Farmer’s Market in Union Square).

Usually, I attend daily meetings in the Sixth Committee whenever they are in session. The discussions have touched upon diverse topics ranging from “the law of trans-boundary aquifers,” to “strengthening criminal accountability of UN officials,” the “responsibility of states for internationally wrongful acts,” or “measures to eliminate terrorism.”

This past week was especially interesting as the United Nations celebrated “International Law Week.” As a result, I’ve been listening to various States comment on the International Law Commission’s latest Report. When not at work, I’ve enjoyed going to different side-events or receptions hosted by various missions, where diplomats, lawyers, and other officials mingle and talk in a much more casual setting.

One of the most interesting things that I’m gleaning from this experience is both how similar and distinct international law is from, say, the common-law or the civil law traditions. Because it incorporates diverse legal systems in unique ways, many of the same concepts that we’ve learned in law school remain important and are quite relevant. The main difference, to me at least, is how countries must cooperate together for this process to work. Here at the United Nations, countries strive to work on the basis of consensus.

Although somewhat more amorphous than national legal systems, international law is gradually being developed and codified in ways such as these: the work of courts and tribunals (e.g., ICC and ICJ) contribute to an ever increasing corpus of legal precedent. International and regional organizations define legal frameworks, set forth guiding principles, help regularize state practices and solidify international legal norms. The States themselves negotiate treaties, contracts, and conventions, creating another layer of international law.

51zs8U0N7mLTo prepare myself to come to New York, I knew that I had to learn more about international law and the history of the United Nations. In this regard, I read a very helpful book by Professor Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard entitled A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Professor Glendon takes the reader right into the waning days of World War II, when the United Nations — as the Allies were then called — began to lay the groundwork for the post-war recovery.

After the guns fell silent and the full scale of destruction became apparent, it did not take long for the surviving nations to realize that humanity needed something to articulate a new vision of the rights that every man and woman in every country around the world should share, regardless of their culture or religion. The outcome of this desire eventually birthed the first “international bill of human rights” in a unique document called The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Although it took much arduous work to get there, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the UDHR in 1948. This is an example of a human-rights and international law achievement: that so many people from divergent backgrounds and world-views came together and agreed that certain rights were so integral, so intrinsic to humanity, and worthy of protection, that they should be called universal. How radical that was!

What especially fascinated me was to learn of the diverse set of drafters who represented a smattering of the mid-20th century diplomatic world: Jacques Maritain was a French-Catholic philosopher. Charles Malik was Lebanese-Christian. Rene Cassin was Jewish. P.C. Chang was a Confucian from China. Alexander E. Bogomolov represented the officially atheistic USSR. Eleanor Roosevelt, of course, was an American woman and played an integral role to encourage this work. There were many others.

The drafters were under no illusions that the UDHR would solve all the world’s human rights problems or its noble aspirations realized quickly. After all, subsequent history has since shown us the limits of what the best laws, treaties, and organizations can do. Nonetheless, what Professor Glendon says makes the UDHR important is that it “charted a bold new course for human rights by presenting a vision of freedom as linked to social security, balanced by responsibilities, grounded in respect for equal human dignity, and guarded by the rule of law”:

That vision was meant to protect liberty from degenerating into license and to repel the excesses of individualism and collectivism alike. By affirming that its rights belong to everyone, everywhere, it aimed to put an end to the idea that a nation’s treatment of its own citizens or subjects was immune from outside scrutiny. (236)

Although, like any man-made institution, the UN is imperfect and can be inefficient or redundant. But, in weighing the whole, I see much positive work coming out of these halls. From the beginning, the Catholic Church and the Holy See were strong supporters of this effort. In fact, Professor Glendon notes that Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, lent his encouragement to the drafters and called their work an “act of the highest importance” (132).

To this day, the Holy See, along with many other nations, continues the noble work bequeathed to us by the framers of the UDHR to help develop international law and protect human rights. Whether that is speaking on issues such as disarmament, world hunger relief, or the dignity of life and good of the family, the Church remains at the UN to give voice to that vision of true freedom “grounded in respect for equal human dignity and guarded by the rule of law,” knowing full well in the repository of her faith and in the light of reason the source and ground of it all:

Behold, I make all things new…” -Revelations 21:5

Thank you for reading! Please continue to pray for Joseph and me in this work and we shall keep you in ours.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. 

Life at the Mission: The Symphony of Catholicity

Published on: Thursday, October 10th, 2013

I’ve been in New York for almost a good two weeks now. As expected, my internship with the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations has begun in earnest.

I’ve been assigned to cover developments within the Sixth Committee of the UN General Assembly, focused on international legal matters. It’s really quite exciting and I’ve already observed and sat in on some high-level discussions having to do with everything from migration and development, to the rule of law, and international terrorism. As an International Relations major in college, this is doubly a dream come true to be at the UN and serve the Church while doing so.

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(Clockwise starting at the top left: Isaiah 2:4 Wall, Migration Meeting, “Good Defeats Evil” statue in front of UN, St. Patrick’s Cathedral)

My day at the Mission begins at 9AM sharp, when all of the staff members and interns come to pray Morning Prayer of the Divine Office together, otherwise known as the Liturgy of the Hours. The Papal Nuncio, His Excellency Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, then assigns us our daily tasks from the UN Journal. During this time, I ordinarily meet with the Legal Attaché of the Mission to see if he needs anything else from me.

Our first committee meetings at the UN usually last from 10AM in the morning until 1PM in the afternoon. After a lunch-break back at the Mission, we return for the second sessions and continue until those are over around 6PM. There are frequently quite a few “side-events” hosted by various other mission-delegations that we can attend throughout the day. I make my way back to Hoboken and either spend the remainder of the evening relaxing or finishing up any outstanding reports for His Excellency. As you can see, our days are quite structured and full of things to do.

When I’m not on assignment, I’ve been taking the opportunity to make the most of my time in New York by sightseeing, trying out different foods (did I tell you just how amazing Bagels and Lox are?), and catching up with friends and colleagues who live in the area. After all, what opportunity will I get to be here for a time like this again? There are so many interesting things to see and do that, I’ve come to believe, a person can live their entire life here and not see every nook and cranny.

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The United Nations Headquarters.

New York can be a bit overwhelming at times, I’ll admit. But there’s a certain sense of peace when I take a step back and remind myself of why it is that I’m here: to serve the Mission, to learn about international law, and to walk alongside others helping to fulfill the UN’s noble mission, as outlined in their Charter. To that end, I am confident that my first two years in the JD/CMSA joint-degree program have equipped me for working on various issues at the UN by integrating solid legal formation with the richness of the Catholic Social Tradition.

This leads me into my last point in that our work here, in many ways, confirms for me the universality of the Church. One of the most pleasant surprises of the internship so far has been getting to know the other interns, hailing from such nations as Syria, Kenya, Spain, and Canada, among others. This is a communion that can teach the world much. That we can come together as part of the same Mission, and yet call so many different places home, with our own unique stories and upbringings, and still share our lives with each other so seamlessly is nothing short of amazing.

Pope Francis recently spoke on catholicity and I think the same ideas are relevant here at the UN, where the world gathers together:

Let us ask the Lord to make us more catholic – to enable us, like a great family, to grow together in faith and love, to draw others to Jesus in the communion of the Church, and to welcome the gifts and contributions of everyone, in order to create a joyful symphony of praise to God for his goodness, his grace, and his redemptive love.

How beautiful is that vision of a “joyful symphony of praise” radiating from the Church? To be sure, our work at the UN is quite different in many senses, but nonetheless how exciting it is to expectantly wait for what the next few weeks and days will bring as we continue along the way — with each other and among the family of nations. Thank you for journeying with us! Please keep Joseph and me in your prayers and we shall continue to pray for you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. 

At the United Nations: The Experience of Humanity

Published on: Monday, September 30th, 2013

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.

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(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.

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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.

Syria

Published on: Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

“As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death.”

Pope Francis spoke these words in his homily at his Sept. 7th prayer vigil for peace in St. Peter’s Square, with tens of thousands joining in person and countless more Christians, Muslims, and others joining in prayer around the world. Many of us at the Mission joined the mass dedicated to peace here at the beautiful gothic Notre Dame Basilica that evening, with the Nuncio concelebrating. The place was packed, and although I understood only marginally more than “Alleluia” and “Amen”, it was quite beautiful.

The long and bloody civil war in Syria, and in particular the possibility of a military strike by the United States and France against the government of Bashar al Assad, has of course been the focus of much attention here in Geneva lately. Yet, perhaps as the fruits of prayer, we have seen some small signs of hope here. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met here in Geneva late last week, agreeing to keep communication open. Also, the Human Rights Council this week held a meeting to focus on the situation there. The Nuncio made the position of the Holy See clear, that “no military solution is a viable option in Syria.” Particularly poignant to me was noting that “justice and peace are not mutually exclusive and both can be pursued together so that impunity is not tolerated and reconciliation made possible.”

You can view the Nuncio’s statement before the Human Rights Council here (To skip ahead to his statement, scroll down to Chapter 51).

The Monastery of St. Moses the Abyssinian (Deir Mar Musa) in Syria. (Bernard Gagnon, Wikipedia)

The Monastery of St. Moses the Abyssinian in Syria.
Source: Bernard Gagnon, Wikipedia

On a personal note related to Syria, I discussed with a Lebanese colleague about the uncertain status of Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio, SJ, an inspiring Syria-based Italian priest I had the privilege to meet in 2001. Dall’Oglio ran the restored ancient monastery of St. Moses the Abyssinian, dedicating it as a center of hospitality and Christian-Muslim friendship. I remember staying the night at this wonderfully peaceful place, waking up early to climb the hills above the monastery to watch a breathtaking sunrise over the Syrian desert. That he may have been killed in this awful war is potentially a sad loss for the Syrian people and for all. Please pray for him and for all Syria.

 

 

Modern Slavery

Published on: Monday, September 16th, 2013

The Nuncio delivers a statement on contemporary forms of slavery at the 24th Session of the Human Rights Council.

The Nuncio delivers a statement on contemporary forms of slavery at the 24th Session of the Human Rights Council.

“Modern day slave trade… affects some 30 million persons. This criminal $21 billion-a-year industry is entrenched in almost all the supply chains providing food, clothes, and electronics to the world market. The products of our daily usage should remind us of the responsibility to be aware of how workers, who make our life more comfortable, are dealt with.”

Thus began the Nuncio’s statement Thursday before a meeting of the Human Rights Council focused on the issue of contemporary forms of slavery. Given the dark but now seemingly distant history of slavery in the United States, it is especially difficult for me as an American to stomach both the existence and scope of modern day human slavery around the world. 30 million is a number nearly equal to the entire population of Canada, something nearly impossible to fathom, at least for me.

You can view the Nuncio’s statement before the Human Rights Council here (To skip ahead to his statement, scroll down to Chapter 26).

The Holy See’s focus before the United Nations on this scourge of modern slavery is in line with attention given to it by Pope Francis.

The UN Office at Geneva (formerly housing the League of Nations) commands a prominent place along the western shore of Lake Geneva.

The UN Office at Geneva (formerly housing the League of Nations) commands a prominent place along the western shore of Lake Geneva.

Incidentally, as my own work is primarily at the Mission, this meeting also was my first visit to the UNOG (United Nations Office at Geneva). Obtaining my security badge, exploring a bit of the premises, and hearing the flurry of languages was certainly exciting for me, even while the gravity of the meeting topic was itself sobering.

Hearing the statements of various nations in the meeting, it was apparent that the issue of modern slavery is one of grave concern to all nations of good will. And it was gratifying to hear the forceful statement by the Nuncio, pointing both to the practical realities of the issue while also harkening to the underlying principles:

“A culture of greed and total disregard of human dignity is at the root of the slavery phenomenon. This culture detaches freedom from the moral law with the consequence that the victims of contemporary slavery become a mere commodity in the market of consumerism.”

Reflecting back on the meeting, I am reminded of St. Josephine Bakhita, a 19th century Sudanese saint who was kidnapped and sold into slavery at a young age. She has a gripping story and is an appropriate source of intercession for all those trapped in slavery today.

St. Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.

Heading into the Mountains

Published on: Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Catching a glimpse of the choir chapel at the monastery, with a solitary nun in prayer.

Catching a glimpse of the choir chapel at the monastery, with a solitary nun in prayer.

This past Sunday, the Nuncio generously invited me and another intern to come along on a short trip up into the mountains, about an hour east into France. He was making the journey to say Mass that morning at a Carthusian monastery, Le Monastère de Notre-Dame de la Gloire-Dieu – Les Montvoirons. With the session of the Human Rights Council beginning this week in Geneva, and much other work to be done at the Mission, it was a nice blessing to be able to escape for a few hours.

The setting was truly magnificent. Although formed in the 1960s, relatively new as monasteries go, walking onto the monastery grounds and into the church nevertheless conveyed a sense of being transported out of the modern world. On a clear day, which alas was not this day, there is a breathtaking view of the Alps, particularly Mont Blanc. To make up for my failings as a photographer, I suggest visiting the website of the monastery for a better view of the place.

Apart from daily prayer together, and some time on Sundays, the nuns at this monastery live a life of solitude and silence, hallmarks of their order. They live a highly contemplative and only slightly less ascetic life than that of the monks of Grande Chartreuse seen in the 2005 documentary film Into Great Silence. There was a particularly glorious moment for me when, during the “sharing of the peace” in Mass, two of the sisters went to each and every visitor gathered in the congregation (there were many) to share “la paix du Christ”. It was a stirring moment to see the joy on the sister’s face and the depth of peace in her eyes. A remarkable place, one which I am already hoping to find a reason to return for another visit.

First Week in Geneva

Published on: Friday, September 6th, 2013

The view from my apartment, looking west toward Geneva with the Jura Mountains of France in the background.

The view from my apartment, looking west toward Geneva with the Jura Mountains of France in the background.

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.

Preparing for Geneva, Pt. 2

Published on: Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

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.

Preparing for Geneva, Pt. 1

Published on: Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

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!

Pierogis

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!