Moving towards an understanding of what it means to be Presentation
by Alexandra Miller
Take down your Lantern from its niche and go out! You may not rest in firelight certainties, secure from drifting fog of doubt and fear. You may not build yourself confining walls and say: Thus far, and thus, and thus far shall I walk. And these things shall I do and nothing more. Go out! For the need calls loudly in the winding lanes and you seek Christ there. Your pilgrim heart shall urge you still one pace beyond, and love shall be your lantern flame. (Raphael Consedine PBVM)
As someone who has been educated in the Presentation tradition, I have long been familiar with the story of Nano Nagle who urges us to “take down our Lanterns and go out!”, but with little firsthand, practical experience of the Presentation mission, my conceptualisation of Nano’s legacy remained just that – a story. My recent experience with the IPA at the UN has enabled me to move beyond mere familiarisation with the story of Nano Nagle towards a true and very real understanding of the Presentation mission in a global context.
My initial sense of the UN was very much like my first impression of New York City itself – richly diverse, perpetually busy and short of time. The more involved I became, the more the UN also revealed itself as an incredibly complex organism, with an overwhelming number of committees, NGOs, issues, decisions being made and people involved. With Sr Elsa Muttathu’s careful guidance, I found my place as part of the IPA team within this complex and busy system.
During my two months with the IPA, UN discussions focused upon the negotiation of the post-2015 development agenda and therefore, so too did my contributions to the IPA mission. For the most part, I was involved in drafting IPA statements (specifically those in relation to the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the upcoming Commission for Social Development), creating educational material and attending and reporting on various meetings. In particular, I was fortunate to be present for the delivery of powerful statements before the Third Committee by the Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences (Ms Rashida Manjoo), Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights (Mr Philip Alston) and Special Rapporteur for the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation (Ms Catarina de Albuquerque). I also had the opportunity to become involved in the work of various NGO committees with which the IPA is affiliated – reporting on Third Committee meetings for the Working Group on Girls and researching the United Kingdom’s National Plan of Action for Human Trafficking for the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons.
In addition to my involvement in the Presentation mission at the UN, I was introduced to many other aspects of Presentation life by the wider Presentation community. Attending the Dwelling Place Gala, shadowing Mary Catherine Redmond in the North Central Bronx Hospital Emergency Department, travelling to Leominster, Massachusetts and Staten Island for Presentation Day celebrations and spending Thanksgiving in New Windsor were special highlights.
Through all of these experiences, and particularly through my involvement in the mission of the IPA at the UN, my eyes were continuously opened to the practical living out of Nano Nagle’s spirit and what it really means to “Take down your Lantern from its niche and go out!”
I learnt that taking down your lantern means do not rest, but continue to “move one pace beyond” in the face of injustice. During my two months at the UN, I experienced the IPA’s persistent calling upon member states to agree upon a truly transformative post-2015 development agenda; in particular, an agenda which is inclusive of and centered around society’s most vulnerable people. I now have a deeper understanding of the way in which this persistent calling for a transformative agenda reflects the spirit of Nano Nagle – in demanding an inclusive agenda, the IPA is urging member states to resist the temptation to “rest in firelight certainties, secure from drifting fog of doubt and fear”, and to make real progress towards a just world by moving “one pace beyond”.
I learnt that taking down your lantern means strive not for words, but deeds. I also experienced the IPA’s strong determination to achieve the explicit inclusion of human rights language (such as “right to water”) as opposed to softer language (such as “access to water”) in the post-2015 development agenda. I now understand that in advocating for the explicit inclusion of human rights language, the IPA is upholding Nano Nagle’s motto of “not words, but deeds”. In a strong statement made before the Third Committee, the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, made it clear why a human rights framework is important: a human right empowers an individual to vindicate his or her right, renders a government accountable to upholding the right and ensures that government resources are channelled towards protecting the right. To express it slightly differently, the explicit use of human rights language ensures that an agenda does not remain simply as aspirational “words” on the pages of a UN document, but that it transpires into action or “deeds”.
I learnt that taking down your lantern means do not build yourself confining walls. Before this experience, I had never been confronted quite to the same extent with the complexity and integrated nature of global issues. A girl child cannot benefit from an education, even where it is provided, if she suffers from untreated HIV/AIDS, if her family believes she should not attend school because she is female, if she does not have access to proper sanitary facilities at school once she reaches puberty, if she is forced to leave school when she becomes pregnant or if she is consistently malnourished because her family lives in poverty. It is impossible to effectively address one issue without also addressing the others. I now understand that in urging member states to acknowledge and address the integrated nature of development targets in the post-2015 agenda, the IPA is reminding decision makers that we must not “build ourselves confining walls” by simplifying global issues and addressing them within separate silos.
I learnt that taking down your lantern means listen to the call loudly in the winding lanes. I experienced the vital role of the IPA in bringing information from Presentation grassroots ministries to the attention of member states. Those with a lived experience of the suffering the UN is striving to resolve (whether it be people in poverty, people without access to water or women who are subject to gender based violence) must be given the opportunity to be heard in relation to decisions which affect them. A particularly striking example of the importance of listening to those with lived experience was given by The Honourable Felix Mutati, Member of Parliament in Zambia, in a statement made before the Second Committee. Mr Mutati relayed a story of boreholes which were drilled in a rural area in Zambia to provide access to water for its inhabitants. The people who lived there had not been included in the decision-making process and had not been asked what they perceived to be the best means to provide them with access to water. Once the boreholes were drilled, it transpired that the people for whom these boreholes were drilled were a nomadic community. The boreholes were soon left behind and the peoples’ access to water remained unresolved. I now understand that by bringing grassroots voices to the UN, the IPA provides the global diplomatic forum with the critical opportunity to hear and listen to “the call loudly in the winding lanes“.
My time spent with the IPA at the UN has provided me with a deep learning experience; a growing into understanding not only about the IPA’s function as an ECOSOC-accredited NGO, but more profoundly, what it means to be Presentation and to “take down your Lantern from its niche and go out!” Moreover, my experience has also instilled in me a strong desire to carry this mission forward as an integral part of my future. I recognise that is now time for me to “take down my Lantern from its niche and go out!”
I must not rest, but continue to “move one pace beyond” in the face of injustice.
I must strive not for words, but deeds.
I must not build myself confining walls.
I must listen to the call loudly in the winding lanes.
I wish to sincerely thank Sr Elsa Muttathu and the IPA short-term representatives, Srs Jancy Selvaraj, Helen Martinez and Mary Margaret Mooney for including me in every aspect of the IPA’s mission at the UN. Thank you also to IPA Directors, Srs Patricia Anastasio, Mary Dean and Maureen Watson for facilitating my experience. For many of my wonderful experiences outside of the UN, I am especially grateful to the four wonderful Presentation sisters of Visitation House in the Bronx – Srs Elaine Hadzima, Fran Capich, Laura Urbano and Mary Catherine Redmond – who welcomed me like a friend into their home. I also want to thank the Presentation community at large for welcoming me so warmly. Finally, I wish to thank Richard Rogusz, Assistant Principle of Mission at St Rita’s College in Brisbane, Australia for his suggestion that I consider an experience with the IPA at the UN. It has certainly been an experience I will never forget and one which I hope to build upon in the future.