Tag Archives: Sergio Vieira de Mello

Purple flowers – United Nations 1

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22 August 2016
United Nations General Assembly Building
New York, New York 

The wreath was placed on 19 August 2016 in honor of those killed in 2003 bombing of the Canal Hotel Bombing in Baghdad, Iraq that targeted the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq.

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Democracy is as much about what happens between elections as it is about what happens during them.
Sergio Vieira de Mello

I have finished Chasing the FlameSamantha Power’s biography of Sergio Vieiria de Mello. Actually I finished it some time ago. Among the quotes that stay with me, is this reflection on democracy.

We – the United States – has come through an election cycle. We voted on the federal, state, and local level. We made choices on a president, senators, congress people, governors, mayors, city council people, judges and more. In some places, people made decisions on ballot issues such as marriage equality and the death penalty.

Candidates and PACS raised and spent tons – obscene tons in some ways – of money. Candidates said words profound and words disturbing. Fundraising appeals filled our email in-boxes. Robo-calls annoyed us. People went door-to-door and made phone calls and stuffed mail and entered data and planted posters and more on behalf of the candidate of their choice.

All important. All critical. All needed. And yet, only a part of democracy.

The votes are counted. Our work begins. Here are some ways that I know we can work:

We advocate for our concerns and about decisions that impact our sisters and brothers with those who have been elected.

We take part in community organizations and community organizing.

We support campaigns that address issues of concern to us and to our sisters and brothers.

We make phone calls, send emails and letters, visit.

We engage in the public policy making process when those policies are made by governments and when they are made by corporations.

We use our money through gifts and purchases to express our values. Or perhaps, we ponder what values our use of money expresses and whether we need to reshape how we give and spend.

What are some others? How do you practice democracy between elections?

See you along the Trail.

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Making the most of our time: Roberto Clemente

I had not planned to make this post. It is an excerpt from a sermon I preached today. However, thanks to a friend, I learned that yesterday would have been Roberto Clemente’s 78th birthday and posting seemed important. The text is Ephesians 5:15-20.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) met in Pittsburgh this summer. For some of those who attending, this marked the first time they had journeyed to the city built around three rivers. For me, it marked something of a homecoming. As I child, my family lived for about eight years on Neville Island about five or six miles from where the Ohio River begins in Pittsburgh.

Much has changed over the years since my family lived there. But when I walked into the Westin Hotel, I knew that I had returned home. There on the wall hung a picture of Roberto Clemente—the hero of my childhood who has remained my hero through the years.

Clemente hailed from Puerto Rico and played right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 years. One of the first Hispanic players, he played in the face of prejudice—he faced jeers and slurs. People who had only one language mocked him for speaking English—his second language—poorly. Because of the prejudice against Hispanic players and because he played in the small market town of Pittsburgh, Clemente never received the acclaim as a player that he deserved until late in his career.

And he deserved acclaim because he could play. He won twelve Golden Gloves for his defense. He had one of the strongest throwing arms that have ever been seen. He ended his career with 3,000 hits.

The people of Puerto Rico and Pittsburgh admired Clemente for his athletic ability but even more we admired him and we admire him for the way he lived his life off the field. In the words of Ephesians, he “made the most of his time.”

Clemente engaged in humanitarian work in Puerto Rico and in Pittsburgh alike. He demanded respect for himself and the people of Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries. He worked for people who lived in poverty and responded to the needs of his sisters and brothers. He reached out to children and provided them with opportunities to develop their own athletic talents. In 1973, Clemente was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the first Presidential Citizens Medal. In 2002, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Baseball has named its annual award for community involvement after Clemente.

A massive earthquake hit Managua, Nicaragua on December 21, 1972. The quake devastated the city, with thousands either dead or left homeless. Clemente organized relief efforts in Puerto Rico. When he learned that some of the aid had ended up in the pockets of the leaders and had not reached the people of Nicaragua, Clemente decided to deliver the next shipment personally. On New Year’s Eve, he stepped into a DC-7 plane along with the supplies and headed for Nicaragua. Not long after takeoff the plane suddenly lost altitude and crashed somewhere into the waters off Puerto Rico. Clemente’s body was never found.

I tell his story this morning, because the United Nations has designated today, August 19, as World Humanitarian Day. The day marks the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. That bombing killed 22 people present to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq. The UN chose the day to pay tribute to Sergio Vieira de Mello and the other individuals who died in Iraq and others who gave their lives while seeking to serve sisters and brothers in need.

It is also a day to give thanks for those individuals and groups who continue to help people around the world, regardless of who they are and where they are. It is a day when we remember that we all can make a difference when we show that we care and do something for someone else. In the language of the church, this is a day to invite, to challenge us all to make the most of our time by loving others as God in Jesus Christ loves us. Of course that is not just a task for a day—it is a calling for a lifetime.

On this World Humanitarian Day, I give thanks for the life and witness of Roberto Clemente. I advocated for an end to violence against women and for the strong regulations on minerals that fuel conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other places. And I made a financial gift to efforts to address leukemia. Tomorrow I will need to find other actions.

See you along the Trail.




Filed under Baseball, Human Rights, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Humiliation and diplomacy

The art of diplomacy is to avoid placing yourself in a position where you can be humiliated.
Sergio Vieira de Mello

The book of the moment is Chasing the Flame by Samantha Power – thanks Joe, Joel, and Ryan for the recommendation!

Power tells the story of Sergio Vieira de Mello and his career with the United Nations. Vieira de Mello joined the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1969 and found himself engaged in many of the most critical UN efforts from the birth of Bangladesh in 1971-72  until his death in Iraq in 2003. As she recounts his life, Power provides insight into the man and a fascinating view of the UN and how it works.

The quote above relates to a moment when UN officials were turned back at a checkpoint in Cambodia as they tried to exercise the free movement promised to the UN by the Paris peace agreement. In the agreement, Cambodia’s four main factions agreed to demilitarize, allow refugees to return, and hold free elections. The UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia, a peacekeeping mission began to arrive in March 1992.

Vieiera de Mello’s assessment of diplomacy resonates with experience. There is wisdom in refraining from asking questions when one knows the answer and does not want to hear it. There is also wisdom in silence when one knows what answers could be and knows that among those answers are some one does not want to hear.

But – does the time not come when for the sake of truth, for the sake of justice, for the sake of others, for the sake of solid relationships – we must move ahead, make ourselves vulnerable, and take the risk of humiliation and even worse? Perhaps the question is how we recognize those times and how we respond when we do?

It will be interesting to see if this concept is explored any further in the book – either directly or simply through the life of Vieira de Mello. There is much to ponder.

See you along the Trail.


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