Report from the Board Meeting of FI in New York. November 2010
by Averil Swanton tssf (representing the three Orders of SSF)
As on previous occasions the three-day meeting was grounded in the worship and faith-sharing at the start of each day. In addition to this, a Eucharist was celebrated on the Friday evening to honour the work of two volunteers, Mary Theresa Plante FMM and Bernadette Sullivan SFP, who have been working from the New York office of FI for many years, tracking events at the UN and working with other NGO’s.
One of the achievements of the past months for FI has been the appointment of all three Regional Directors in Geneva, New York and Bangkok. As well as being responsible for their own regions, Europe and Africa, the Americas and Asia/Pacific each of these will take the lead in advocacy. This means that the Executive Director will be able to fulfil the task of taking global responsibility and co-ordinating all three offices, which will have some degree of autonomy. All three, Markus Heinze OFM, Mike Lasky OFM Conv and Mateus Tuniewcs recently net up with Denise Boyle fmdm, the Executive Director, and she reported a high level of energy and co-operation between them all.
Work continues with great attention being paid to the UPR, The Universal Periodic Review, whereby every nation in turn is scrutinised on the issue of human rights. FI sees its role as helping with presentations and following up with proposed action from the UN. Member of the New York office had recently gone to Brazil to meet with JPIC reps and Provincials and also grass roots to help with their presentation for the Review of Brazil in 2012.
Other ongoing work consists of training sessions and as we met, Mateus and a team from the Bangkok office were working in the Solomon Islands with Clark and other Anglicans. From early reports of this venture, I gather it was a great success, with several notable firsts, namely not just the first co-operation with Anglicans, but also the first time FI had trained in the Pacific and the first time that all the Anglican communities had got together to train. I understand that a common declaration was made and a press conference held.
This kind of training work is a core part of the service that FI can offer. Foundations are keen to give funds, including set-up costs, so this very valuable work can be funded. Elsewhere within the organization there is great concern about funds. As with so many at the current time, donations have dropped considerably and the excellent scheme of urging people to give 5$ or £5 a month has not taken off as much as was hoped. Various cost-cutting exercises were proposed, but there is real concern that core work should not be threatened. One of the main issues is spreading costs globally. There is strong feeling in some quarters that money raised in one are should be spent in that area. (A feeling that I encountered when I wrote to other Third Order Provinces.) This however ignores the fact of administrative and other support from Geneva or New York to other offices. Attention has been paid to establishing the offices according to local laws with at least semi-autonomy, but funds will continue to be an issue. Denise Boyle herself feels that the Franciscan way is to share and support those in need as and when they need it. Geneva has already halved its office space to cut costs.
A new initiative set up by a new member of the New York office, Heather Metcalf, is ‘Hear it from the Experts’. Each month an evening meeting is held at St Francis’ Church on relevant themes. The evening before the Board Meeting we all went to a talk, Islam in the 21st century ,given by Fr Elias Mallon SA, who also works from the New York FI office . It was extremely good and based on his years of study and experience and the evening was well attended. Fr Elias is coming to the UK next year and will speak at Hilfield and Canterbury. He is well worth hearing. I much admired his sense of humour and his way of dealing with questions from those who still hold 9/11 close in mind and sympathise with those who object to the building of a so-called mosque near the site.
We went to the UN for a briefing on the various women’s groups at the UN and the recent amalgamation of them into one body under a high profile leader. Two of the sisters from St Anthony’s Convent where I stayed also came to this briefing and I became aware of how much work at the UN is done by individuals tracking and following up evidence of human rights abuse on the ground. I particularly like the definition of FI as having one foot in the UN and one foot in the grass roots.
Active advocacy work by FI in the US as it faced its own UPR included issues on homelessness and the right to adequate housing; the rights of migrant workers who have been illegally detained; human trafficking and the impact of mining on indigenous peoples’ rights to clean water and food.
We were reminded of the valuable role of the Clares who pray and support FI and I was wondering how I could engage with the Sisters at Freeland. Can I approach them direct or should I make a point of going to see them and ask for their help? Would Sr Helen Julian be able to act as an intermediary?
We covered a lot of ground and worked hard, but there was time for some marvellous American hospitality and as always time for much laughter.
I am more than happy to give talks to publicise the work of FI and am due to go to a Third Order Cluster meeting next May in Norfolk. Any requests would be appreciated.
I did intimate to the Board that, having discussed the matter with Dorothy it was very likely that I would not expect to serve a second term of 3 years on the Board of FI. If the process follows the same course as it did for me ,I would expect any nomination, together with a CV, would need to go to the Franciscan Family, ie the four Heads of the Franciscan Orders, when they meet in October of next year for appointment the following year. The date of the following FI Board meeting would be 19,20,21 April 2012.
December 3 2010