By Sujata Jena
New York, July 23, 2019: Claretian Father Lord Winner is engaged in spreading the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) among Catholic religious around the world.
Pope Francis on March 8 affirmed the importance of SDGs approved by more than 190 nations in 2015. The Indian priest says he hopes the Goals wll find solutions to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
He was one of the more than 2,000 participants of the July 9-18 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) at the UN headquarters in New York.
HLPF is the main UN platform on sustainable development and has a central role in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for SDGs at the global level.
The meet was attended by around 20 religious.
“Sustainable Development Goals, a common pathway for the missionaries to work with other stakeholders for developing the world and not in isolation,” says Father Winner, who is the General Mission Procurator of the Claretian Congregation, Rome.
The 50-year-old priest assumed the office in January. He has worked with faith-based and secular donor agencies in projects for the past 15 years. He is a project consultant for 11 women and six men religious congregations.
Sacred Hearts Sister Sujata Jena interviewed Father Winner for Matters India. Excerpts:
Please introduce yourself
I hail from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu India and have worked as a missionary in northern Indian states of Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. After my masters in Rural Development from Xavier Institute of Social Service, Ranchi, I served my Chennai province as its Mission Procurator for 14 years. Recently I completed my doctorate at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, in “Development practice of faith-based organizations.” I have also been engaged in training priests, sisters and brothers in project management and social development.
How did you get involved in the promotion of SDGs?
SDGs are part of the UN’s development agenda for its member states. Proclade Internazionale Onlus is accredited with the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). This helps us engage with ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies, as well as with the UN Secretariat. The Claretians work in 67 countries, many of them facing extreme poverty and underdevelopment. The SDGs give a framework for development for governments, civil society, donor agencies and the people. I see in the SDGs as a common pathway for the missionaries to work with others for the transformation of the world. I believe SDGs are the future in development discourse.
Kindly explain these SDGs.
The Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015) had major drawbacks, such as the non-involvement of all stakeholders in development. So, it went into a laborious discussion with multi party engagement involving political leaders, academia, businessmen, industrialists, civil society activists, faith leaders and vulnerable communities. This led to the emergence of 17 goals and 169 targets and 230 indicators which the humanity has to achieve in order that ‘No one is left behind’ in the process of development. These goals cater to 5 ‘P’s as they are called, people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. Since they are broken down into 169 targets, they are measurable through indicators. Each country needs to monitor its position on the 169 targets to help them gain a clear indication of the development status of the country.
The goals are closely connected with the transformation process are no poverty, zero hunger, good health, quality education, gender equality and decent work. They also talk about environment such as clean water and sanitation, clean energy, sustainable cities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water and life on land.The SDG 9 plays an important role in economic development through industry, innovation and infrastructure. Regarding justice, goals such as reduction of inequalities and promoting peace, justice and strong institutions are useful. The whole approach is based on partnership.
Which of the SDGs more pressing today?
The Sustainable Development Goals are a unified system of goals which are interrelated with each other. Attaining any one of them to its full capacity will require reaching a sufficient level of achievements in other related goals. For example, to achieve the result of zero hunger, we need to reduce poverty, remove inequalities and ensure decent work and economic growth. However, one can start working on any SDG more pressing in a particular context by keeping in mind other related SDGs. In development practice, we now have this framework which gives us the macro level picture of where we have to reach by doing our own part in a micro level.
How did the United Nations arrive at the SDGs? What was the background for its formulation?
The SDGs were a culmination of various international conferences sponsored by United Nations such as the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (1992), Millennium Summit at New York (2000), World Summit on Sustainable Development at Johannesburg (2002) and United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development again in Rio de Janeiro (2012). The year 2015 also witnessed adoption of many UN agreements in support of the Sustainable Development such as Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (March 2015), Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development (July 2015) and Paris Agreement on Climate Change (December 2015).
The SDGs were approved at the 69th session of the Un General Assembly (UNGA 69) which took place on 18th September 2015, by all the member states which constitute the United Nations. This universally adopted UN Resolution is titled as, ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. The political leaders of all the member nations have agreed to work together towards reaching these goals by 2030 in a phased manner. After this decision, many countries have reshaped their ministries, their financial structure for development and the budget allocation based on these goals.
The Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) of the United Nations has set up a Division for Sustainable Development Goals (DSDG) which provides adequate information about the SDGs. They also come out with the annual Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) which captures the present status of each SDG in the member countries. Thus, the stage is now set for the national governments along with all other stakeholders to work together for a better world. The caption of 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development is ‘No one left behind’ and so every government has to include all its people, especially the vulnerable groups such as women, disabled, indigenous groups and children in its annual budget and planning.
What is HLPF? Who are its members? What does it do?
High-Level Political Forum or HLPF is a mechanism established by the UN to follow up and review the progress and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. Every year the member states, the civil society organizations and other stakeholders meet for two-week long sessions for this purpose. In a cycle of four years, all the 193 member states discuss and review SDGs in depth. The member states also are encouraged to present voluntarily their Voluntary National Review to share the progress, achievements and challenges as they implement the 2030 Agenda and SDGs. This process brings out the developmental situation of each country to the knowledge of its own people as well as before the entire world. The country in review is expected to involve the civil society in the preparation of the VNR report. While the government presents the report at the UN, the civil society circulates the shadow report at the UN to assist the rest of the member states in reviewing the progress in the country.
During the review meetings at the United Nations, the country report is presented and other countries as well as civil society members raise their points. All these were presented as statements and not in conversational style. When SDGs are reviewed, each year some SDGs are taken for in-depth study. The study of the indicators connected with these SDGs give a position where the country stands with respect to development and which are the areas it needs to improve in the coming years.
Along the HLPF there will be many Side Events organized in the United Nations Premises and outside. These are Organized by Missions of the member states, civil society organizations, UN Agencies, business sectors and Major Groups. These are also important because in these Side Events, there are many possibilities for alternative voices to be heard. There is lot of knowledge sharing as well as opinions in the side events which are organised around the HLPF. Delegates coming from various countries and civil society organizations spend their time between country reviews and the Side Events.
How do the Church and Religious institutions take up the SDGs? Are you happy with the Church efforts? If not, what more should be done.
The Church as Vatican State is represented by the presence of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. There is also a participation by Caritas Internationalis which represents the confederation of more than 165 Catholic relief, development organizations working in more than 200 countries. The various religious congregations of men and women are also present in United Nations through around 30 faith-based organizations (religious NGOs) accredited with of ECOSOC, representing around 200 Congregations. All these Religious Congregations are functioning as an informal body called RUN (Religious at United Nations). There are other Coalitions of Religious Congregations like UNANIMA, VIVAT, Franciscan International and JCoR (Justice Coalition of Religious). Some of them are working for as many as twenty years and recently few are joining this list.
The UN System is quite vast and the presence of Church through its various member organizations seems less significant. In comparison with the extent of work the Church organizations are doing in the ground, the representation is quite small. In the future this is an area which the Catholic social service organizations and religious congregations need to consider. The networking among various FBOs, NGOs, local government and various stakeholders in the places where the religious work is important. We can no more work as individual organizations taking comprehensive care of beneficiaries, creating dependencies and development ghettos, where as our involvement in the social field should be a shared mission with all the stakeholders in the field.
All Catholic organizations should report their activities and achievements without self-glory but to be accountable to the people. We can also create more awareness about the SDG agenda of the United Nations in our schools, parishes, formation houses and social apostolates. The SDGs provide a common platform for us to work along with other religions for the development of all God’s people. We can take up the education for global citizenship as a priority which will serve as a basis for caring for our common home as Pope Francis espouses in Laudato Si.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian Church, especially looking at it from far?
The Indian Church is a vibrant one with long history and cultural diversity. Our main strength is our ability for intercultural living. This comes quite natural for us since we often meet people speaking other languages, have communities of mixed cultures and religion. When we compare it with many countries where only people with a single language or culture live, this quality is quite unique. I am also impressed by the great amount of development work carried out by the Indian Church in North and North East India, though our presence is scarce in these areas. We need to appreciate the efforts taken by these brave Catholics, namely sisters, priests, brothers and laity who work tirelessly in difficult situations to improve the living conditions of the most disadvantaged. For me, they always remain a source of inspiration.
The lack of development theology for India is a serious concern. There is a need to formulate a body of knowledge on development from the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching, relevant for Indian situation. When this is taught across our Institutes of Theology and Formation Centres, this can give religious and lay personnel working in development to involve deeper into the social realities and the ability to look at the society as well as their work from faith perspective. There is lot of motivation at the moment, but what we need more are strategies, skills and data. We as a Church need to overcome the fear for social activism and embrace social involvement as what is mandated by the Gospel. This can purify many discords within our organizations and enable us to work in partnership with all men and women of good will to create a world, where no one is left behind.