The Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA) represented young people at the Special Session on ‘Religious Engagement: The Contribution of Faith Communities to Our Shared Humanity’, at the World Humanitarian Summit, held in Istanbul, 23rd-24th May.
The Special Session examined the critical role that religious institutions and faith-based organizations play in different humanitarian contexts. Three key commitments were also reached:
- Upholding the principles of compassion, humanity and impartiality in the provision of humanitarian assistance and protection in alignment with fundamental humanitarian principles;
- Bringing intimate knowledge of community needs, practices, fears, and hopes to humanitarian work, and;
- Facilitating spiritual assistance which can significantly contribute to the population’s sense of hope during and after a disaster, while prohibiting pressuring people into any religious practice.
CYNESA’s Founding Executive Director, Mr. Allen Ottaro, was the only speaker representing young people at the Special Session, on a distinguished panel that included the President of Caritas Internationalis, His Eminence Cardinal Antonio Tagle, Chancellor of the Sovereign Order of Malta, His Excellency Albrecht Boeselager, Patriarch of Istanbul, His Holiness Bartholomew I and German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Honorable Gerd Mueller.
Addressing the session, Cardinal Tagle emphasized the importance of engaging religious communities, stating that, ““When a calamity happens, whether human-made or natural disaster, local communities and faith-based organisations are at the forefront of providing aid. In fact, they are already there before the conflict and during the conflict and when the international organisations have left the area, the volunteers from faith-based groups remain”.
Grand Chancellor Boeselager invited the international community to “discover the benefits of faith-based actors, to make better use of their unique qualities”.
Making his contribution, Allen drew inspiration from Saint John Paul II, and quoted “the Pope of the youth” in his 3-minute intervention. “Pope John Paul II started the World Youth Days. He saw the years of youth as both a “gabe” and an “aufgabe” – German words for, a great gift, and a huge task to fulfill, respectively. In the context of humanitarian ministry, young people know that they must live for others and with others. Pope John Paul II put it this way, “Life has meaning to the extent that it becomes a free gift for others””, Allen said.
One of the Special Session attendees, Mr. Peter Howard, Senior Director of Food for the Hungry’s Emergency Response Unit, later said in a post-WHS blog post that, “What impressed me most during the Summit was hearing Allen, this young Kenyan, boldly challenge senior world leaders from the United Nations, the United States, Europe and from around the world with his deep faith and belief in what God can do through the church. He had only three minutes in front of this audience and he leveraged it well by quoting John Paul II’s 1995 exhortation at World Youth Day in Manila. He was on to something in echoing John Paul’s words on that day to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to make our lives a gift.
In the corridors of the Summit, Allen was privileged to interact with Cardinal Tagle, and the Vatican delegation led by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Silvano Tomasi where CYNESA was encouraged to continue its important work.
CYNESA Founding Executive Director.