The Order of St Augustine, like most religious orders or congregations, has a very long tradition of concern for the poor, demonstrated by its commitment to the immediate needs of the people served in their various missions across the globe. Nevertheless, the enormity and complexity of the sufferings of contemporary society and their link to systemic causes in social structures demanded that more effort be directed towards challenging the sources that cause and perpetuate the evils that bedevil humanity and creation. This in turn demanded a total shift in paradigm. Returning to their roots, as Vatican II suggested, the Augustinians found their challenge in the following words of St Augustine: “You give bread to a hungry person; but it would be better were no one hungry, and you could give it to no one. You clothe a naked person. Would that all were clothed and necessity did not exist.”The Intermediate General Chapter of the Order held in Dublin, Ireland in 1974 initiated a reflection on the socio-political dimensions of the order’s nature and mission. In chapter IV, section 83, the document states, “We can never stray from the way in which the world is going, nor become mere spectators, since we experience in our own person the hopes and anxieties that belong to humanity.” In light of this, the Dublin Document concludes that it would be wise to “become more involved in the formulation of those social policies, so that it fosters structural change – a matter of justice – and thereby substantially reduces the need for exercising charity.” The complexity of the social question today thus demands that this involvement happens in the three levels of community in which we live: the home, the city, and the whole world. Augustine’s recognition of the world-wide dimension of the social question and the extensiveness and dangerousness of the question in this level calls for universal solidarity that inspire groups like Augustinians to seek United Nations involvement. In City of God he writes, “After the city comes the world. This is the third stage in the hierarchy of human associations. First, we have the home; then the city; finally the whole world. And, of course, as with the perils of the ocean, the bigger the community, the fuller it is of misfortunes” (De dei civitate, XIX: 7; XVIII: 2).
By April of 1997 the Order took a bold step towards this global solidarity and fully registered with the Department of Public Information (DPI) as an NGO in the United Nations, with all the privileges and obligations enumerated in Chapter Two. Some members of the Order, like Fr John Laden osa, played key roles in pioneering this Augustinians’ relationship with the UN. It was his talk at the Sao Paulo symposium on Augustinian Renewal in 1995 that initiated the idea of the Order’s participation in the UN. This was followed up by Frs Art Pucaro osa and John Szura osa, whose efforts sustained the initiative, saw its approval by the General Chapter of 1995, and the application and registration of the Order’s NGO at the UN. Fr Jésus Guzman osa became the first full time representative of the Order’s NGO at the UN (2002-2007). Following his appointment on May 12, 2010, Fr. Emeka Christian Obiezu osa became the second official full time representative of the Order at the UN. He took over from John Deegan, who held the position on part-time basis (2007-2010).
In the UN, Augustinians are identified with three priorities viz. education, development in its three pillars (economic, social and sustainable) and human rights. These three priorities are related to the Order’s primary apostolates and draw their theoretical framework from three works of Augustine—Confessions, City of God and De Trinitate. In the Confessions Augustine not only describes his conversion from impulse gratification to restraint, but also from deceptive human words to the Word of God. By this he provided a critique of the educational system of his time, exposing its deficiency as being primarily oriented to produce and reproduce cultured establishments aimed at success and reputation, comfort and power – ranking personal advantage over truth and public responsibility. This is why parents want their children to take courses considered economically lucrative, and often, as was the practice in his time, the male child is pushed to school at the expense and neglect of the female child. Within this theoretical framework, working with the UN in the area of education, Augustinians are able to “critique the human word in its radically new varied modern forms—such as advertising, propaganda, enemy image formation, public relations, the internet, mass media.” They are also presented with a tool to critique both their own education curriculum and that of the government, to know whose interest they serve by their educational agenda.
City of God, beyond its image of “an ancient apologia of the Christian faith against the gods of pagan Rome,” as some consider it, provides us with a patristic source for responding to the perennial value of human achievement in history, as John Paul II observed in Solicitudo rei Socialis. In this context, the book is better appreciated as “a dramatic conflict between empire and communion—indeed the manifestation in human history of the surveillance, covert warfare, and other intelligence activity subverting democratic values, international debt and economic oppression by international corporations.” De Trinitate is a classic work of immense social value. It provides us with the model of the just human person that enhances the activities of those engaged in evaluation and reaffirmation of human dignity and rights.
In order to improve this relationship with the UN, the 2010 Intermediate General Chapter of the Order mandated that we seek association with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). ECOSOC association means that we will more effectively and easily bring from our own membership information, perspectives and resources to bear on the UN and the world. The application was made in June 2012 and in May 2014, we were granted a special consultative status with the ECOSOC. With this new status we are able to submit written and oral reports directly to the ECOSOC Council, to be called upon by the Council for expert advice and to make use of certain services of the Council. We will be required to report on our activities as an NGO every four years.
Newsletters Augustinians International occasionally produces e-newsletters that report the happenings at the United Nations and its agencies and our involvement in these. They also contain updates on our projects around the world focusing on human rights, education and integral development.
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