In 2000, the United Nations (UN) held a Millennium Summit and in its Millennium Declaration adopted the eight international Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by 2015. As 2015 drew to a close, at the Rio+20 meeting (2012), the document, “The Future we want”, called for the formulation of sustainable development goals, as a continuation of the MDGs.
In 2014, the UN Open Working Group developed 17 goals and 169 targets, approved in 2015 as the UN 2030 Agenda. After four years, we realize the need of adequately answering to “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (Laudato sì 49). The response to those cries, and to the issue of sustainable development, has to be multi-layered and address multiple levels of society. We need to learn from the various cultural riches of different peoples, their art and poetry, their interior life and spirituality (LS 63), because 8 out of 10 people in the world are professing one belief or another. This represents an immense love potential to respond to the suffering of the earth and of the billions of people who have no access to adequate food, a decent dwelling, a secure and dignified job, and who are affected by climate change. Religious people are already playing a key role for development, in providing education, in representing the fourth (i.e. the 12%) of the total capital identifiable investment worldwide, and in running a third of all medical facilities of the planet. The vision of the SDGs therefore is one they share for a wide range of different reasons (See Vatican Conference Cites Importance of Sustainable Development Goals).
No surprise if since the beginning of SDGs process, 18 organizations of Catholic Religious felt SDGs as “ultimately a vocation, a call that requires a free and responsible answer” from all the baptized, above all missionaries and religious, especially those who are accredited by the UN.
They came together knowing “the SDGs’ just implementation would require independent monitoring within every nation as well as within the halls of the UN.” As members of women and men Religious’ bodies who have been working toward the SDGs for centuries – they stated – “we are well positioned to guide global and local leaders in fulfilling the promises of this agenda.”
Paul VI, in his Populorum Progressio (n°14), had already highlighted that speaking about human development means referring to all people – not just a few – and to the whole person – not just the material dimension. This implies social integration and ecological conversion, says Pope Francis, “Because we cannot develop ourselves as human beings by fomenting increased inequality and degradation of the environment”.
Following a year of planning and research, those 18 congregations formed “the Justice Coalition of Religious (JCoR) in 2017 to unite [their] voices and efforts in seizing this unprecedented opportunity.” The common mission of JCoR is to improve the quality of life for people living in poverty, therefore, “The primary aim of the Coalition is to enhance collaboration among our members, at UN Headquarters and around the world, in our work to address the root causes of poverty, destruction of the natural environment, and unsustainable development.”
This implies rejecting negative models, and proposing alternative ways forward committing oneself to promoting and implementing the development goals, based on our deepest religious and ethical values (See Caritas in Veritate, n° 16-17). However, Pope Francis reminds us, “Proposing a dialogue on inclusive and sustainable development also requires acknowledging that development is a complex concept, which is often manipulated. When we speak of development, we must always ask, development of what? Development for whom? For too long the conventional idea of development has been almost entirely limited to economic growth,” based on GDP (Gross Domestic Product) indices. “This has led the modern economic system down a dangerous path where progress is assessed only in terms of material growth,” irrationally exploiting the environment and the human beings (See Pope Francis Affirms Importance of Meeting Sustainable Development Goals).
Therefore, we welcome JCoR in its work “toward a shared goal by coordinating national, regional, and global efforts of Religious to call on their local and national leaders for a just, equitable, and rights-based implementation of the SDGs.” In 2019, they are to facilitate a series of workshops in Latin America and the Caribbean, in the East African region, and in India. In the months following the workshops, the participants will work together to plan, and execute collective actions aimed at their selected target issue. Their efforts will be reinforced by actions on the same issue among their UN representatives in New York. The hope is insofar that the JCoR will enhance collaboration among Religious working at grassroots and their representatives in the UN, and extend, in the years to come, its activities to religious communities in many corners of the globe.