The Vincentian Chair of Social Justice Conference hosted by St.
John’s University was an overwhelming success this past Saturday,
October 22, and the overriding theme was a show of solidarity for
the cause to end poverty.
Sr. Margaret John Kelly, D.C., Ph.D., Executive Director of the
St. John’s Vincentian Center for Church and Society opened the
morning session urging the 325 registered participants to wear
white wristbands with a powerful inscription that read, “Voices
Against Poverty – No Excuses 2015.” HOPE was the theme for the day
but uniting the leaders and followers of the cause was the ultimate
goal that left a lasting impression.
The conference draws a diverse group from around the world.
Leaders from academics, policy makers and clergy all convene under
one roof for lecture and workshop sessions to bring about
conversation and ways to make a difference for the millions of
impoverished in the world. Several St. John’s faculty members from
the Staten Island and Queens campuses served as presenters for the
workshops which were run concurrently in the middle of the day on a
myriad of topics ranging from education, the media and politics,
corporate social responsibility, hope for migrants, restoring the
covenant with the poor and the hunger and thirst for justice.
Marjorie Keenan, R.S.H.M., D.U.P., scholar and author on peace,
disarmament and the environment flew in from Rome for the day long
session and praised organizers of the event for their commitment to
the cause. She had some prolific words of wisdom for participants
to lead off the morning session of lecturers.
“We are all committed to eradicating poverty,” Keenan said. “It
is both a sobering and challenging task. In times of natural
disaster, war and poverty one would ask, ‘How can we talk of hope?’
This is the time to offer hope and to act when difficult situations
are upon us. We recognize the sufferings of all simply because we
are Disciples of Christ.”
That suffering is clear in the staggering statistics presented
at the conference. More than 800 million people do not have
adequate access to food supplies and 200 million of those are
children. Some 400 million die of malnutrition or disease and more
than half are under the age of 5. And the most disturbing statistic
of all – every minute of every day across the world 20 children die
of hunger or disease related to hunger.
Three Ambassadors to the United Nations spoke at the conference
of their plight in their homelands. The Honorable
Oscar de Rojas, former Ambassador of Venezuela to the United
Nations (before the Chavez communist regime) is the current
Executive Coordinator of the U.N. Secretariat Financing for
Jose Luis Guterres, Ambassador of Timor-Leste to the United
H.E. Professor Judith Mbula Bahemuka, Ambassador of Kenya to
the United Nations all led a stimulating International Panel
Response. Bahemuka was raised with a Catholic upbringing in Africa
and an “Inner Hope” that was extolled by her parents.
"The people struggle to be educated but when they achieve this
goal, there are not opportunities for employment,” Bahemuka said.
“We need to respond to this." Responding to Bahemuka’s comments at
a question and answer session after her speech, a young Madagascan
graduate and artist named Landry questioned other countries ethics
when addressing this growing problem to the ambassadors. “Countries
bring in business to our poor countries but then they hire persons
from their nations to run the businesses. There are two standards
of pay for the managers and the workers and our people do not make
progress. Our people can do the work and they should benefit
Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Permanent Observer of the Holy
See at the United Nations. The archbishop presented an update of
the recent Summit at the United Nations as well as referenced the
Millennium Development Goals and the need for a world consciousness
which acts on the words of Pope Paul VI. Those goals, mandated in
2000, are to be completed by the year 2015. The Millennium
Development Goals are made up of eight action items. They are:
- Eradicated extreme poverty and hunger;
- Achieve universal primary education;
- Promote gender equality and empower women;
- Reduce child mortality;
- Improve maternal health;
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;
- Ensure environmental sustainability and
- Develop a global partnership for development.
Students were also a part of the conference format as
undergraduates and graduates from Staten Island and Queens were
represented. One student, Sarah Piali, a senior on the Queens
campus sat through the keynote speakers lecture series with
interest leaving her wanting to research specifics dealing with the
“I didn’t get all of the answers I was looking for but it’s (the
conference) given me more information about the issues on poverty
and the measures in which we can attack it,” Piali said.
Social Justice advocator and religious personality,
Art Simon, founder of Bread for the World – the nation’s
premier citizen’s lobby against hunger -highlighted the afternoon
keynote address with a rousing speech on “A Vision Anchored in
Simon has an interesting past serving as a Lutheran Minister on
the lower east side in Manhattan. He has a famous Senator (Paul) as
a brother; his book Bread for the World won the national Religious
Book Award and had a chance meeting with Mother Theresa when he was
President of Bread for the World.
Simon, quoting from scripture closed his speech with a favorite
passage, “Your life is shaped by the end you live for.”
That end may be a major announcement in 2015 with epic
proportions. The white wristbands have a purpose and the purpose is
clear – to stand united against poverty and believe there is a
means to an end.
To close the day’s events, the
Rev. Thomas F. McKenna, C.M., Provincial Superior for the
Congregation of the Mission, Eastern Province celebrated the
liturgy mass and served as homilist to culminate the conference in
St. Thomas More Church on the Queens campus at St. John’s.
Please see the
complete program information and photo galleries.