Cecilie Kern is serving for her second year with the Loretto Volunteer Program. This year she is working at the Loretto Community NGO at the United Nations in New York City.
At the United Nations, member states and UN agencies typically examine issues through the lens of statistics and academic reports. They rely on the testimony of experts to guide policymaking. Yet I have found discussion among non-governmental organizations at the UN to be much different – and more personal. One of the most important roles of the NGO community at the United Nations is to invite ordinary people to testify about their lived experience. These people bear witness to the trials they have faced and triumphs they have achieved. Hearing these stories is more compelling and engaging than hearing statistics, even potent statistics, from UN officials. It is sobering to hear from those who have had their homes destroyed, been caught up in war and lost children. It is also inspiring. The courage of those who stand up before the world to tell their stories is remarkable. It makes me desire to be similarly fearless.
St. Ignatius of Loyola used to encourage his companions with the words: “Go set the world on fire.” I aspire to live a passionate, meaningful life, yet sometimes I feel lost, and I don’t know what that might require. St. Catherine of Siena provides a clue. “If you are what you are meant to be,” she proposed, “you will set the whole world ablaze.” What St. Catherine suggests is that I must be the unique person God intended me to be. As distracted as I might find myself—getting caught up in what the world assumes is important—what I really need to do is listen. Listen to that “still, small voice” to discover how I can live to my fullest potential.
It helps to have role models. The members of the Loretto community set themselves apart to stand for something. Embracing simple living, intentional community and spirituality, they work persistently and fearlessly to make the world a better place. I am heartened to think that if they can do it, so can I.
It also helps to have experiences like I did during the past two weeks. From March 9 through March 20, I had the privilege of participating in the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women, a gathering at which global leaders and activists reviewed the progress and remaining challenges for implementing the landmark 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action for gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights. I had the opportunity to hear high school students, including some from Loretto schools, articulate the concerns and issues that impact their lives. It was inspiring to see girls from around the world raise their voices, knowing that they could make a difference by being part of the conversation.
Seeing others live out the call to “set the world on fire” is incredibly encouraging. Yet to discover my own call, what I am meant to be, I will have to continue seeking that “still, small voice”. I hope to have the courage to be free of the expectations of the world and to live fearlessly, knowing that “if you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze.”
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.