The Ethical and Spiritual Dimensions of the Millennium Development Goals

The United Nations – United Religions Initiative (UN-URI), in partnership with,The Values Caucus, The Spiritual Caucus, and The NGO Committee on Spirituality, Values and Global Concerns (Geneva),

presented a Round Table Discussion to Honor the 10th Anniversary of the Values Caucus on

“The Ethical and Spiritual Dimensions of the Millennium Development Goals”

Thursday, 12 February 2004 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

More than 60 members of the UN non-governmental community attended, overflowing the small conference room. URI-UN facilitator Deborah Moldow served as moderator, opening the meeting with the Moment of Silence traditional to the Values Caucus. There were congratulations on the 10th anniversary of the Values Caucus, including a message from Ambassador Juan Somavía, director-general of the ILO in Geneva. Monica Willard presented a celebratory cake, to be shared after the meeting.

The first speaker was Alfredo Sfeir-Younis, Senior Advisor in the Office of the Managing Director of the World Bank. In this recently created post, Mr. Sfeir-Younis advises on the Bank’s efforts to further the United Nations Millennium Development Goals of poverty eradication and sustainable development. Here is an excerpt from his inspiring remarks:

For many people, the Millennium Development goals represent a major landmark in public policy making. And, in many ways, I share this view. It is not only great that we address the issues of poverty, education, gender, children, environment, and health, but fundamental to the future of humanity . . . One thing is certain: the MDGs have brought together the will of many people and brought around the same table many organizations that, in the past, were following their own agendas. [. . .]

. . . these MDGs, as new expressions of human betterment, will demand new and higher levels of human consciousness. [. . .] It is essential that we focus on the role that individual and social awareness/consciousness play in the attainment of the MDGs. It is important to unleash our infinite human potential and put it at the service of these MDGs and more! [. . .]

. . . there is another way: to use the power of our wisdom and free will. And, through that power generate the type of energy that is needed to mobilize each and every citizen of the world. [. . .] It is the purity of our intent that will carry all possible energies to the attainment of the MDGs.

Following Alfredo’s stirring words were remarks by Carol Zinn, SSJ, who serves as Alternative Representative of the URI to the United Nations, as well as representing the Congregations of St. Joseph, an international network of 13,600+ Catholic women religious serving in 51 countries in the areas of poverty eradication, human rights, education, gender equality, and sustainable development. She offered a deeply personal reflection:

The following litany of consciousness-deepening questions helps me to dive more critically into my own awareness and, hopefully, open myself to the necessary transformation so that the MDGs become operative in my own life. Once they are operative in my own life, then perhaps there is a chance that they might be operative among the global family. I invite you to hold this litany close to your mind and heart as you continue to offer our world your energy, insight, concern and hope that someday the MDGs will be achieved and the house on the hill will be rebuilt on the ground of justice, equality, peace and compassion.

Has the activity of my life this day been more inclusive than exclusive? Has it been reconciling in places and moments that cried out for reconciliation? Has it been reverent to all those I met throughout the day? Has it been marked with a sense of the sacred — did I recognize the sacred in all the events of this day? Has the activity of my life this day been characterized by the presence of hope? By the expression of joy? And has the activity of my life this day moved me closer to a spirit of holy abandon? In other words, did I realize today that this work I am doing is not my work — rather, it is work that is being asked to be done through me, for the life of the world.

Responses to this conversation were overwhelmingly enthusiastic and spilled over into subsequent meetings among the NGO community. The URI-UN is planning to continue this series of discussions on “The Ethical and Spiritual Dimensions of the Millennium Development Goals,” highlighting the relationship of the MDGs to various UN agencies and conferences. The next events in the series will be during the upcoming meetings for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March and the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in April.