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Vatican Forum for Catholic Inspired NGOs

12/12/2007: Vatican

Eighty-seven Catholic inspired NGOs attended a forum sponsored by the Vatican Secretary of State, 31 November – 2 December. The NGOs all have an important commitment to working for the dignity of the human person in the community of nations. The forum provided an interactive space for the participants to share their experiences, priorities and challenges.

The Catholic inspired NGOs included: Catholic action movements; youth movements; humanitarian and relief organizations; organizations linked to ecclesial lay movements; and organizations sponsored by religious communities. The Foundation for Marist Solidarity International (FMS International), the newly formed foundation which has replaced BIS, was one of those invited to the forum.

Kevin Ahern, outgoing president of IMCS-Pax Romana, is a member of the working group which planned the meeting. He commented, “Our organizations are some of the most active, effective and credible NGOs working with inter-governmental bodies taking the lead on key contemporary issues such as family, education, development, youth culture, HIV/AIDS, human rights, migration, employment and peace.”

On the second day of the forum, at a private meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, Mr. Ahern’s introductory remarks to the Pope included a summary of the three-fold impact of the work which the NGOs are doing around the world. He said, “First, we play a role as advocates, bringing before various institutions the experience, voice and expertise of our members and the people we serve. Through lobbying and interventions, Catholic NGOs have been able to help insert Christian values into international agreements. Secondly, we help in forming the Christian conscience by educating our members in issues that impact the entire human family and by inspiring them to actions of love, charity and justice. Finally, we help create among our worldwide membership an active sense of solidarity.”

After welcoming the participants, the Holy Father expressed his gratitude and appreciation for the work of Catholic inspired NGOs which is being done “in active collaboration with the papal representative to international organizations.” The Pope also said that despite their different backgrounds, the delegates share a passion for promoting human dignity. This same passion has constantly inspired the activity of the Holy See in the international community. The Pope went on to say that one of the goals of the meeting was “to foster a spirit of cooperation” among the participating organizations and that this spirit of cooperation would serve to increase “the effectiveness of your common activity on behalf of the integral good of the human person and of all humanity.”

As the forum came to the close of its second day of work, it became obvious that arriving at a decision as to how to proceed was not going to be easy. Several factors can be attributed to the difficulties which many felt following the open discussions which took place on the second evening of the conference. First, as to be expected, each organization is passionate about its primary focus of work. This passion, while a positive sign of commitment to their work, made it difficult for some to move beyond their area of focus to consider with greater clarity, those overriding issues which effect all organizations. Second, the presentations made during the forum by many of the invited organization made clear the vast diversity of interests and issues among the participants. Third, the honest sharing, a highlight of the smaller language group interaction, underlined the different ideas and concerns many groups had about the kind of collaboration that were needed, given the many voices already competing to be heard in the international forum.

The forum, as some had envisioned, was not able to produce a common statement on how to proceed. It was, however, able to arrive at a consensus that affirmed the purpose of the gathering. There was a desire for future gatherings that will encourage further dialogue. There was a need for more organizational reflection on the common challenges that face all Catholic inspired NGOs regardless of their particular focus issues. One common critical challenge was identified: Given the present and changing realities of working in the international forum, what do we need to do to increase our effectiveness and credibility as agents of change for a more just world?

Several recommendations were offered at the close of the conference. A new and expanded working group will help to give direction for future ways to work together as Catholic inspired NGOs. The call to develop more creative ways to collaborate needs to include not only those who attended the forum, but also those who were unable to attend; those who may have been overlooked; and those coming from new emerging parts of the developing world. All such groups were invited to continue the reflection begun at this international forum on the local and regional levels in an organized and formal way making use of existing structures under the leadership of key organizations that could convene and facilitate these meetings. The participants recommended a second international forum be held in two-years to take up the issue: how to develop more effective and creative ways of collaboration. This will not be an easy task; but one that must be reached, one step at a time, if Catholic inspired NGOs hope to continue to influence the building of a more just world on the global level in today’s environment.

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