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Sister Carol Zinn: Outgoing NGO Representative at the United Nations
Sister Carol Zinn, SSJ (Philadelphia) is completing her role as the NGO representative of the Congregations of St. Joseph to the United Nations, a position she has held for the past eight years, to become a member of the Congregational Leadership team for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia. Bridget Brewster, communications director for the Congregation of St. Joseph, interviewed Carol for Federation members. We are grateful to Bridget for the following article.
One voice, when united with others and fueled by Gospel compassion, can change the world in which we live. The change may not always seem earth-shattering. Indeed, the change may not even be noticed, but the result of working from the heart on behalf of others gives witness to the power of unity and the strength of reconciliation. The focus of nongovernmental representation in the United Nations is to collaborate on the international level for the purpose of creating sustainable systemic change in policies that affect the world's poor peoples.
Through the connection to the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph, the Congregation of St. Joseph enjoys nongovernmental organization (NGO) consultative status in the United Nations. Sister Carol Zinn, SSJ, (Philadelphia) serves as the representative for Congregations of St. Joseph around the world which number 15,000 sisters and thousands of associates serving in 57 countries. An NGO is any group of voluntary citizens who organize locally, nationally or internationally around a variety of concerns. NGOs exist for a variety of reasons, usually to further the political or social goals of their members. Some NGOs seek accreditation with the U.N. to help further the mission of the UN, which is keeping peace, building peace and making peace. The sisters are accredited members in order to help improve conditions for the dear neighbor around the world, and they focus on human rights, poverty, education, health, women, children and the environment.
Congregations of Sisters of St. Joseph have been accredited since 1979, and they were granted consultative status in 1999. The sisters are asked for input on a variety of issues affecting economic and social policies, in addition to receiving information from various U.N. departments. This role is a logical extension of the sisters' ministries to and for poor people. With a strong history of offering direct services (education, health care, etc.), the sisters have realized that these services demand systemic change. CSSJs not only teach but now can affect the educational policies for children around the world. They not only provide immunizations at local health centers but are part of international efforts to provide better health care in poor countries. They not only recycle and conserve water; they help shape policies that can bring potable water to those living without wells.
"This commitment to collaborate with others in participating in the work of the United Nations is leading us to a deeper understanding of our charism," Sister Carol explained. "We are living our mission one relationship at a time, one activity at a time, one decision at a time. Together, we are creating a better, more peaceful world."
In Sister Carol's role as NGO Representative for Sisters of St. Joseph, she keeps sisters and associates informed on international concerns and activities. She connects with the numerous local peace-and-justice teams to help formulate actions on the local, national and international levels. The information she receives can help congregations with determining socially responsible investments or provide needed insight for talking with legislators and political leaders about specific international issues. Additionally, Sister Carol talks with sisters around the world to gather information about what is actually taking place in villages, towns and cities where the sisters have a presence. She is asked to provide reports to various U.N. departments based upon her findings, and she relies upon the experience and expertise of CSSJs to offer suggestions and solutions to very real concerns.
When Sister Carol was asked about the effectiveness of participation in the U.N., she enthusiastically and humbly shares what has been said by the international community about Catholic religious who minister in NGO capacity at the United Nations: "Women religious serve all over the world. They serve in very demanding places and in difficult circumstances. When the going gets tough, the sisters don't leave the difficult situations. They do much with very limited resources. Whenever sisters come to the table, the issues are not about the sisters; the focus is on those they serve, not on themselves."
"Religious life is not for self; it is for others. We are in relationship with the dear neighbor throughout the global neighborhood, and we bring their needs and voices to bear on the issues affecting their daily lives," Sister Carol explains. It is this focus on "the other" that not only gives credibility to their words and work, but it is the way sisters live their charism. We live "unity" by advocating for human rights.
Sister Carol's years of experience as CSSJ representative have given her amazing opportunities "to witness the intensity, integrity and good will of those who work at the U.N.," she continued. "In the U.N., conversations are about the world and the common good. It is enlightening and inspiring to watch people who have no common language, who come from divergent cultures with serious differences actually sit down together with a common agenda and make peace." She feels privileged and humbled to have had the opportunity to serve in this capacity.
The United Nations and the Sisters of St. Joseph have been blessed by Sister Carol's service to the international community and by her strength of character. She has brought the Sister of St. Joseph family closer together by helping to make global connections among the sisters, but more importantly, among the many neighbors who serve and are served through Gospel living.
Sister Carol began in this position in 2001 and will transfer the office to Sister Griselda Martinez Morales, CSJ, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon in the Mexico Province. We are grateful to Sister Carol for representing us so strongly and so well in the United Nations, and we welcome Sister Griselda!