Anastassiya gave the following speech at her graduation ceremony at Lehigh University. She will now pursue a PhD in International Relations. Anastassiya was the Youth Representative for Augustinians International at the United Nations 2016-2018.
- I am very honored to address you today. In the spirit of the Baccalaureate, I would like to share with you how my religious tradition had illuminated my academic pursuits. I would like to acknowledge that my speech is heavily inspired by the writings of my mentor, Augustinian friar Fr. Robert Dueweke, whom I highly admire. During my undergraduate studies of international relations, I learned about conflicts that permeate our world. On a frequent basis we encounter news about horrific tragedies. Before I became Catholic my first year at Lehigh, I was often tempted to perceive the violence I heard about as distant and remote from my own life. However, my worldview has changed after I started perceiving humanity through the Christian notion of the “body of Christ”. If we imagine a planetary human body that extends above humanity, we will see that the violence in any part of the world could be compared to a wound which ultimately leads to a weakening of the whole person. Fr. Dueweke challenged me to look at the Cross, a Christian symbol of violence, as a question mark: what will my response to the violence be? I want to encourage all of us to respond to it with the following principle of Catholic social justice: See – Judge – Act. A Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan further provides us with advice on how to judge and act: “Be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable, be responsible, be in love”. These ideas helped me to respond to the discouragement I would feel in the face of the global issues, and motivated me to persevere in actions addressing them, despite of how helpless I felt at the moment. As a result, I was able to contribute to improving the wellbeing of others around me, ultimately leading to the overall betterment of the communities I consider myself a part of, both local and global. I strongly believe that if equipped with the notion of care for each other and the resolve to be attentive and in love, each one of us is able to rise above tragedy and violence and take action that brings about the peace and joy that all of us long for. In closing, I would like to say that I am grateful to Lehigh for providing me with an opportunity to learn how to serve both the Lehigh community and the global one fearlessly through love. Thank you!
Fr. Art Purcaro, OSA, describes the beginnings of the Order’s decision to be involved with the United Nations.
It is hard to believe a year has gone by since we all started working together. It has been a
pleasure and a blessing to work with everyone in Augustinians International. Each person’s
insight, knowledge, and expertise has been an asset in guiding me throughout this journey. I’ll
never forget the first time I entered the United Nations. I was thrilled and uncomfortable all the
same time. I was surrounded by leading change makers in, arguably, the most powerful place in
the world, and I’m only nineteen. “How did I get here?” I asked myself. Now, I walk around the
United Nations like its my local grocery store. I feel apart it just just like everyone else there.
I’ve learned so much in my time at Augustinians International and through my role as a youth
representative. I fully understand the complexity and functions of United Nations and its organs,
and, at times, I’ve been frustrated by it. I had hoped for their to be a bigger voice for civil society
and for there to be more concrete, positive change. However, it has been important for me to
recognize and remember the value of the United Nations and appreciate the small wins. When
faced with the wicked problems of today, it is easy to be discouraged or wishing there was more
that could be done. Because if it can’t be done at the United Nations, then where? However, it’s
okay if after a two hour briefing the AIDS epidemic has not been solved. It’s okay if after a two
day conference the relationship between United Nations agencies and religious affiliated NGOs
has not been perfected. At some point during these meetings, someone was inspired. That
inspiration will transform into action, but it may not be immediate. You have to ask yourself,
would the world be a better place without the United Nations, and the answer is no. If the United
Nations is not providing fast change, it will produce change eventually. After all, AIDS patients
access to treatment has increased, and there was a forum for dialogue between United Nations
agencies and religious affiliated NGOs to discuss how to progress. These are the small wins. The
one’s that take time, but it’s all worth it. I may not have changed the world this year, but I
learned so much. To me, that’s invaluable. I was able to meet new people, explore world issues,
discover new information, network with other organizations, and expand my horizons. I am very
thankful for Augustinians International, the United Nations, and Lehigh University for bringing
me this experience. I cannot wait to see for what next year has in store.
What We Accomplished This Year…
● Attended a two day conference on “UN Strategic Learning Exchange on Religion, Development,
Peace and Security” in June
● Met Fr. Dueweke for the first time in New York in June
● Learned what being a Youth Representative entails and practiced my elevator pitch at the
orientation in September
● Updated our Youth Representative profiles on the Augustinians International website
● Fr. Dueweke and Jack Tierney visited Lehigh on September 28th where we discussed our goals
for the year and toured North Bethlehem
● Attended a high-level event on Peace, Security, and Climate Change Nexus in Africa during
Africa Week in October
● Dined and debriefed with Fr. Dueweke after the Africa Week briefing
● Created a report based on Bernard Lonergan’s philosophy to critically reflect on our time at the
Africa Week briefing
● Met the Augustinian OSA Peace and Justice Secretariat in New York on October 24
● Attended a workshop with Mary Frances Schurtz-Leon on “Networking in a Cross-Cultural
● Co-authored a blog post on the crisis in Congo
● Attended the “Right to Birth” briefing on World Aids Day in December
● Researched organizations to help Fr. Dueweke’s friend’s daughter for her water project in South
● Facetimed Fr. Dueweke and Jean Soto to discuss Augustinians International’s plans
● Attended a “Amplifying the Voices of Rural Women”
● Met with Fr. Dueweke for lunch to catch up after the “Amplifying the Voices of Rural Women”
● Attended a briefing on “The Value of Peacekeeping: Stories from the Field”
● Sat in on a leadership workshop with George White
● Attended the conference “Students Seeking Solutions” organized by our very own Veronica
● Fr. Dueweke and Jack came back to Bethlehem to reflect on the year and our journey ahead
April 22, 2018
(Fr. Bob Dueweke met with the Youth Reps and the intern to evaluate this year’s work at the UN. The following reflection is based on that discussion.)
Yesterday I met with Emma and Anastassiya, Youth Representatives from Lehigh University, and Jack, Augustinian intern from Chicago, to review the year’s program and experience at the United Nations. Important points for reflection emerged during our lively conversation at a diner near the university.
Last week Lehigh University had an all-day conference on the Sustainable Development Goal #6 at the United Nations. This SDG #6 focuses on water and sanitation. Various panels were held throughout the day in which experts shared their ideas and experiences related to water. I asked the question whether anything is accomplished at these commission meetings and conference side events at the UN. The response from all was “probably not.” So, why are we at the UN if we feel we accomplish nothing? Perhaps we have to grapple with the meaning and role of the term “accomplishment.”
The idea of “accomplishing something” is another way of saying we have “concrete results,” which is appropriate for the university STEM course environment. There we observe something new emerges as a result of expenditure in time, resource, and money. We make task lists to measure “what we accomplish” and what psychic energy is required to accomplish whatever the goal might be. We set goals and measure for ourselves whether we have reached it as we would in physical exercise. But there are caveats.
There is validity in applying a “scientific” approach to what we do. Yet, setting goals and fretting over concrete results can become warped when they are an obsession and the only criteria for measuring accomplishment or progress, and, worse still, for calculating our sense of self-worth. I am by what I produce. The assumption that goal-setting and result finding are the only metrics for evaluation eliminate other options, perspectives, and questions found in understanding reality. Such assumptions are especially limited when considering the longer viewpoint in time with issues concerning social transformation.
Chaos as measurement
The commissions and departments at the United Nations certainly use goal-setting and they measure progress in terms of results. But these so-called results are often short-term. Presenting a side event on one of the SDGs is a concrete result. Panelists give papers and organizations publish manuals. When we consider the longer viewpoint in terms of decades or generations, we might doubt the lasting effect of the short-term “concrete result.”
One might sense instability and chaos in what one wants to achieve. Failure to achieve anything concrete engenders drowning oneself in activity in order to numb the mind of asking and answering further questions. In some manner, we, as NGOs, must squarely face the instability of not accomplishing anything. This is an integral part of progress and requires that we reflect on why we are doing what we are doing. This tension of instability and the feeling of wasting time belongs more to a spiritual dimension of work than to a STEM environment. Yet we also know about scientists in quantum mechanics who will avert to a spiritual kind of language to explain subatomic observations.
Void as spiritual dimension
It is important to define what is meant by the term spiritual. The notion of spiritual is larger than the meaning of a spirituality as a way of life that belongs to a specific religious tradition like Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam. Rather, the term spiritual is much larger and includes the dimensions of spirit that artists like El Greco or Mozart tap into to give expression to that desire of reaching out for the more. The sense of the spiritual I have in mind here is that sense expressed by the United Nation’s second Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in his design of the “Meditation Room” at the United Nations. He wanted a place of silence that points to “the more” of the imagination and yearning of the spirit within the deliberations and discussions at the UN.
The Meditation Room is highly symbolic; it is also a symbol highly forgotten by both staff and visitors to the UN. In an interview with the journalist Pauline Frederick, Hammarskjöld worked with artists to convey a sense of silence and stillness that “should be the center of the United Nations.” He said “We want to bring back, in this room, the stillness which we have lost in our streets, and in our conference rooms, and to bring it back in a setting in which no noise would impinge on our imagination.” When the room was opened in 1957, Dag Hammarskjöld gave this description to visitors (full text): “We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence . . . . There is an ancient saying that the sense of a vessel is not in its shell but in the void. So it is with this room. It is for those who come here to fill the void with what they find in their center of stillness.”
For an outside observer, silence and stillness appear to be motions of “doing nothing” or “wasting time.” Nothing is “produced” and results cannot be measured. So, what “fills the void” when nothing is produced or considered “successful”? How does one tap into a spiritual dimension to respond to the inner emptiness of feeling like a failure when the rest of the world values the worth of something or someone by the measure of its product? This uncomfortable feeling afflicts everyone who is committed to social transformation for making the world a better place. St. Augustine writes much on the notion of the “inner self” as interiority, the place where “God is closer to me than the blood is to my bones.” This is the point of departure for exterior activity. Perhaps we can find solace from the teachings of interiority from those social prophets who have gone before us, such as Augustine, Teilhard and Merton.
Voices of social change: Teilhard and Merton
The Jesuit paleontologist/geologist Teilhard de Chardin continues to make an impact on our understanding of social change and instability in light of the long evolutionary process:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time
It is important to trust the process. At times, the process can involve the repetition of a pattern of experience. A typical pattern is a student attending classes in a routine manner over several years with the hope of gaining insights that are integral to learning. Something new evolves from within the student’s pattern of experience. The new is contingent on the pattern or repetition of experience. This pattern is observable in the sciences like chemistry and biology. The Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan calls this process emergent probability.
We see how value plays an integral role in the commitment to the pattern of experience in the writings of the social critic and Trappist monk Thomas Merton. In a letter to the New York social activist Jim Forest, Merton responds to his friend’s frustration in the work of social justice, especially in the movement for nuclear disarmament. Merton writes:
Do not depend on the hopes of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea [of failure and dashed hopes] you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, . . . it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.
What I find intriguing about Merton, and good advice for NGOs, is to concentrate on the “results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.” This is the work of the spiritual dimension of the human being. When we feel like we are wasting our time and going nowhere with our projects, we must think of the “value” and the “truth of the work itself.” At the United Nations, we embrace and project the value of communion, unity, equality, democracy, dialogue, and participation. These are core values. Theologically, we call them Eucharistic values, that is, the possibility worth struggling for that the human race can gather around one table. No matter how small the so-called accomplishment. These values deliberately contradict the dominant narrative that war is the only option for life on Earth. This option views the other as a potential enemy, one who cannot be trusted, defenses must be built, and pre-emptive strikes are normative procedures for maintaining peace. In this narrative, peace is nothing more than a temporary cessation of war. War is anti-Eucharist; war is a lie.
Evaluating work at the UN: successful or fruitful?
The so-called Just War theory is obsolete. St. Augustine adapted this theory from St. Ambrose with the intention of preventing war. But times have changed, especially in the post-Hiroshima era when nations have the capacity to destroy earth itself. When mechanisms for conflict resolution are in place, and where conflicting parties are invited around the UN table, the option for war must be a decision of last resort and have exhausted all channels of diplomacy.
No doubt, the UN system needs reform if it is to be effective and credible. Wrongs must be made right. Transparency and gender equality at all levels of decision making must become normative at the UN. We can ask “Is the world better with or without the UN?” If the system is broken, which it is, then, it must undergo serious reform. We must remember that the purpose for the UN is to prevent war. However, we do need to ask questions like when “When do we wage war?” and, “How will civilians, the poor and marginated be protected?” Again, Dag Hammarskjöld reminds us that the “UN was not created to lead mankind to heaven, but to save it from hell.” Trusting in the value and the “truth of the work itself” is trusting in that we can live together without destroying ourselves. That trust is something that cannot be measured, calculated, or produced in a concrete way. Yet, it can seem our work is a failure rather than a success.
In evaluating our working at the UN, with its countless meetings and conferences, we need to reframe the experience, of which frustration and darkness are common, with a new terminology. Changing words can change our perception and provide new insights. As one friend mentioned, “it is not about being successful, but being fruitful.” The fruitfulness of an endeavor is buried in trusting the process as a whole, with all the moments of instability, confusion, frustration, chaos, lack of success or fulfillment one might experience along the way. Components of such fruitfulness imply dialogue, discernment, exchange of ideas and feedback, not positive or negative feedback, but accurate feedback. There is a sense of growth. As a person of faith, one contemplates “Have I grown in faith and love? Do I have hope, or do I live under a cloud of despair?” Is my work at the UN fruitful? I can take this idea a step further: “Have I planted seeds of peace? Do I give them time to germinate in the dark earth? Am I patient with doing nothing?” St. Ignatius of Loyola describes this type of person as a contemplative-in-action.
Planting the seeds of peace. This is what we do as contemplatives-in-action. We are to help create a new human consciousness, a new global soul that embraces all forms of life and inanimate matter into a cosmic whole. We are tasked to create not robots of a fantasy Westworld, but a new flesh-and-blood ultra-human, a term used by the scientist and Franciscan sister Ilia Delio (see her blog “Becoming Ultra Human. An Exploration of God, Sex, and the Future of Everything” at http://www.becomingultrahuman.com/blog-1/
Obviously, as students at the university, we need to obey our professors and design programs with goals and deadlines and projected outcomes; the school requires it and we should not rebel. Nevertheless, we need to maintain a sense of balance with the unexpected and be resilient with the cultural dictates of the unsuccessful. Social transformation and change happen at another level of ultra human consciousness that cannot be measured, but the experience can be one of fruitfulness and trust in the process of the long term. We live the value of communion and the “truth of the work itself.” It is a question of how we understand being contemplatives-in-action. We need to recover this dimension at the UN.
We should go ahead and fill in the blanks under “Expected Outcomes.” Remember there is another blank in the deeper part of our soul where everything gyrates around a center-point of stillness and silence. When one sits in quiet as a pattern of experience, something stirs deep. From within that inner void emerges “UNexpected outcomes.”
And that is a high probability.
Robert Dueweke, OSA
After the recent shooting in the high school in Parkland, Florida, Dr. Jean Soto, a delegate of Augustinians International, wrote a reflection on gun violence as a phenomenon in the United States. She originally wrote the reflection for a blog post at the Lonergan Institute at Boston College. Her reflection uses insights from the philosopher and Jesuit Bernard Lonergan. Her reflection is as follows:
A Reflection on Gun Violence in the United States
By Dr. Jean Soto, Ph D
We are all broken hearted– again– by the massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. The hashtag #neveragain signals a new determination on the part of our country to prevent further school shootings. The teenage survivors are using protest marches and social media to voice their resolve to bring about changes in our laws to protect us from gun violence at schools. (In the 3/ 24/ 18 March for Our Lives rally in Washington D C, the marchers publically expanded their agenda to include all gun violence, not just mass school shootings.) This raises the question about what needs to be done to prevent further massacres. Some of the most talked about solutions are laws raising the age for gun purchases, expanding background checks, mental health screening, and arming teachers. Public opinion is divided and often rancorous.
How do we know which of these options – among others – is the best choice for reducing gun violence?
Bernard Lonergan presents us with the way of approaching this question; it is a way native to our humanity. By following the innate tools of our consciousness we:
- pay attention to the data – be attentive!
- have insights into the data – be intelligent!
- double check our understandings –be reasonable!
- make decisions based on our findings and values –be responsible!
These tools or processes are given within our consciousness. They spring into action when we ask a question. If we are open to them, our questions arise spontaneously and lead us to intelligently and responsibly answer them. This is the process by which we come to know anything, and then decide on the most worthwhile course of action. Here, as described by Lonergan , we put the question of gun violence and mass shootings through the scheme of our consciousness as we ask and answer questions. We begin the process by being attentive to the data that concerns our question.
The question for attentiveness: What data do we have on gun violence?
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considered the gold standard for comprehensive and accurate data. For 20 years the Dicky Amendment prevented the CDC from gathering and using data on gun deaths in order to suggest solutions. Lonergan would call such stifling of research a deliberate “flight from understanding” because we cannot have correct or complete insights into an issue without the pertinent data.
Thanks in part to the Parkland students, the 2018 omnibus-spending bill lifted this prohibition, but the research remains to be done. We DO have results from other trustworthy groups that stepped into the breach. Read the reports in the links and be prepared to be horrified.
The question for intelligence: What is the cause of gun violence?.
We DO have some useful data. Yet numbers alone do not give us the cause of the violence. We need insight into the data. A new study by Adam Lankford does just that through the most comprehensive study yet on the question of gun violence. He uses a comparative approach with other countries having populations over 10 million. Below, the New York Times reports his question:
“What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/americas/mass-shootings-us-international.html
The study’s central insight finds the number one reason the US experiences more gun violence then other countries is due to the sheer number of guns in the US. We are awash with guns (only Yemen has more).
The question for being reasonable: is the study’s finding correct? Yes or no?
The New York Times reports on how Lankford verified his work:
Worldwide, Mr. Lankford found, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when he excluded the United States, indicating that it could not be explained by some other factor particular to his home country. And it held when he controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence. The study also shows that mental health does not make the critical difference in the occurrence of mass shootings.
The question for being responsible: If the number of guns is the most probable cause of mass gun violence, what then, is the best course of action? Put simply, we need to reduce the number of guns in the US, especially military style weapons. They are the weapons of choice for mass shooters.
If we are to take Dr. Lankford’s insights seriously we will have to change the way we assess and judge this issue. We will need to go beyond popular or political opinion and self-interest. We need to go beyond group prejudices and use the knowledge that can be gained with scientific methods and theory.
The further question for being responsible: How do we apply good theory to the practical concern?
Lonergan names the kind of knowledge found in Langford’s study “statistical intelligibility.” It is the same way of knowing used in predicting the weather or determining the cost of a life insurance policy. Statistical intelligibility is the result of analyzing the data in order to estimate the probability of some occurrence. To predict the strength of a hurricane, the weather people factor in the sea surface temperatures, low vertical wind shear, warm moist air and the ocean area along the projected storm track. In the case of pricing policies the insurance companies have employees called actuaries who factor in the likelihood of death due to diseases, chronic ailments, and common conditions found among certain groups of people. The NYT’s description above of Lankford’s study gives the components of his study such as the number of guns per country, homicide rates, mental illness, etc. Lankford would omit each factor after another to determine if the initial finding held true. In this way he could verify which factor was the critical one. A common way of speaking of the results of a statistical analysis is, “the odds are that….”
The question for deciding: Which values will guide our choice of actions to prevent gun violence and mass shootings?
We the people of the US are called by this latest slaughter of our young to deeply reflect on what we value the most. Lonergan explains that our values guide and motivate us to act in the best possible way. Discovering the truly valuable in the case of mass shootings also requires consulting our feelings. But we can be misled by a distortion of our feelings. A group’s bias can blind us to the feelings that would help us prioritize the value of human life. After the Sandy Hook massacre and when congress chose to do nothing, one commenter said the cause of gun control in the US was helpless.
He said that he then realized, that as a people, we prized our guns more than our children. Is this true?
(Originally submitted for a post at the Lonergan Institute at Boston College)
The Youth Representatives work with Augustinians International and participate in several conferences at the United Nations during the academic year. The representatives — Emma Dillon and Anastassiya Perevezentseva — are from Lehigh University. This is their report on the Commission of the Status of Women conference and recommendations to the Augustinian communities.
Access the report here. AI_ March Briefing Report
I would like to welcome the new members to the Augustinians International team. Dr. Jean Soto is the delegate from Texas with interest on immigration and women’s issues. Bro. Jack Tierney, OSA, is a seminarian from Catholic Theological Union and will be an intern this year. Emma Dillon and Anastassiya Perevezentseva are both from Lehigh University and will serve as Youth Volunteers. See their descriptions here.
A few things have been added to the Augustinians International website. Reflections on child labor by one of our university Youth Representatives is found in the blog section. Under the tab “Projects,” new information has been added to the Africa section, namely, the various projects in Kenya and the recent refugee conference — “Women and Migration in the African Context” — held in Nairobi, 6-8 June 2017. A section on Kenya is added to the Photo Gallery.