The Face of CNEWA at the U.N.

The Servant of God, Father Paul Wattson, S.A., founded the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in 1898 “with the mission of promoting Christian unity.” Almost three decades later, he played an instrumental role in the founding of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, furthering the mission of his order and creating a space for humanitarian, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

As a member of this order, Father Elias Mallon, S.A., has a rich background in Roman Catholic/Christian-Muslim dialogue, with a doctorate in Middle Eastern languages.

In conjunction with his scholarship, Father Mallon taught Old Testament at the Washington Theological Union and American University, and Near Eastern languages — which included Akkadian, the language of ancient Mesopotamia — at the University of Washington in Seattle.

As a member of CNEWA’s team since 2011, Father Mallon is the special assistant to the president, which includes his role as CNEWA’s representative at the United Nations. CNEWA is U.N. accredited as a nongovernmental organization with the U.N. Department of Global Communications.

Father Elias Mallon, S.A., sitting on a panel with other religious leaders
Father Elias Mallon, S.A., at the Sacred Spaces in Judaism, Christianity and Islam conference in Rome, December 2011.

“What I try to do is to make people aware of the broader complexity of issues, and to make sure people are informed,” says Father Mallon. “I’m still a teacher and when you deal with ‘the other’ — and I don’t care who ‘the other’ is and what constitutes being ‘other’ — there’s always something to be learned.”

When Father Mallon was teaching in Switzerland at the Institut Œcuménique of the World Council of Churches on behalf of the Holy See’s Council for Promoting Christian Unity, he distinctly remembers his American coworker asking a group of Sub-Saharan African students why they seemed so uninterested in European history, particularly World War II.

To these students, the war was not theirs to be concerned with. Father Mallon also notes that World War II is not a part of Pope Francis’ history either, being from Argentina originally.

The Eurocentrism that these students rebutted years ago remains a fixture of international diplomacy and discussions today, and Father Mallon notes that when neither side considers the other’s perspective, progress is seldom made.

“Together, we make a stronger, common argument than either one alone has. I think that’s very good. But they have to be taken in as equals,” he says.

At the most recent U.N. Security Council meeting that he attended, Western representatives — particularly European nations and the United States — criticized Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine, and Russia refuted.

Southern Hemisphere countries — including Brazil, India, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates — spoke of their concerns pertaining to food insecurity resulting from the war, rather than naming aggressors and situating themselves on one side of the conflict.

Although nations in the Western and Southern Hemispheres have different priorities in this crisis, Father Mallon believes the presence of these varied perspectives should be viewed as a strength rather than a weakness.

“Bring them in as partners to the solution,” says Father Mallon. “They bring a new reason why this has to be solved. And just because it’s not our reason doesn’t mean it isn’t an equally good reason.”

The words of the students in Switzerland still resonate with him, serving as a reminder that history is more than one or two sided, and diplomacy should reflect the variance of perspectives across the globe, rather than strictly the Eurocentric West.

“It is a challenge as to whether the United Nations can really be called ‘United,’ ” he says. “Because it has got to be.”  

Father Mallon, as per the request of Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari, is interested in increasing CNEWA’s involvement with the U.N. by working toward Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) accreditation. This classification, which is a level above Global Communications, would allow for CNEWA to get issues on the floor of the General Assembly.

In addition to award-winning articles written for ONE, CNEWA’s blog and other publications, Father Mallon has two books: “Neighbors: Muslims in North America” (New York: Friendship Press, 1989) and “Islam: What Catholics Need to Know” (Washington, DC: National Catholic Education Association, 2006).

“While the United Nations may be flawed, it is the only secular international body we have to discuss issues of global importance,” he says, adding that “the Catholic Church understands this, especially as it advances its concern for the most vulnerable and the common good in the face of raw power.

“That is why CNEWA is there, to keep alive our concerns at the international level.”

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