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Celebrating Thirty Years of Loretto’s Presence at the United Nations

Posted on March 1, 2022, by Loretto Community

By Marcella Hannon Shields

Marcella Hannon Shields and Eldon Shields pause for a photo.
Photo courtesy of Marcella Shields

In preparation for Loretto’s celebration of our 30 years of presence at the United Nations, I reflected on the memories of Eldon’s and my invitation to be part of Loretto’s commitment to justice and peace for the ever-widening world.

Twenty-two years ago Betty Obal, then Loretto representative at the United Nations, contacted us in Toronto at the Centre for Creative Ministries. We had founded the Centre in 1982 at the invitation of the Canadian Province of the Passionist Community. Our mis- sion was to work for compassion and peace for persons, communities and the earth. Betty had heard about the Children’s Peace Theatre, which we founded in November 1999, with the support of the Loretto Mission Fund. Betty was the first to let us know that the United Nations had declared the first decade of the new millennium (2000-2010) as the Decade of Peace for Children of the World. This was very affirming news for all of us at our Centre in Toronto as our first Children’s Peace Theatre performance had just happened in July 2000!

The beginning of the Children’s Peace Theatre came out of a dream I had in early November 1999. When I told the Centre team, they said, “Let’s do it!” As we didn’t have money to initiate such a project, I asked the Loretto Community for funds. They generously responded with $10,000, and the Children’s Peace Theatre was born and is still flourishing!

To honor the opening of the Decade of Peace for Children of the World, Betty invited our children to perform at the opening celebration, scheduled for Sept. 12, which was canceled after the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. When the children returned from where they were stopped at the Canada/U.S. border, one of our young Muslim girls said in shock, “If only they had waited and listened to the children, maybe they would not have done this!” The children and staff returned to the Centre. They worked with the Centre Team to develop a program which they performed in various areas of Toronto calling for peace and reconciliation in diverse communities, which included many Muslim immigrants.

The following September, the U.N. restated its commitment to a Decade of Peace for Children of the World. Betty invited Eldon and me to do a side event presentation for Assembly. We did not bring the children as we did not want to add to their trauma from the previous year. Instead, we presented a film of the 2002 performance of the Children’s Peace Theatre. We received very positive feedback as a result and ended up meeting people from all over the world who worked with children using creative ways to promote a peaceful future. An Israeli and Arab peace group was using puppets to engage their children in peace-filled play!

When we returned to the United States in the summer of 2004, Betty asked us to work with the Loretto at the UN Office representing Loretto on the U.N. NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security. How could we say no? We had committed ourselves to work for peace for children of the world. The development and potential use of nuclear weapons would destroy not only their lives but their children’s lives and the very earth that is our home! When we attended the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September of that year, I stayed with Betty at the convent where she was living. No men were allowed so Eldon stayed with the Maryknoll priests and brothers in New York. When Paulette Peterson heard of our dilemma, she and her husband, Mark, offered us hospitality when we needed to be in New York City for meetings.

Eldon and I were very active in our work in the name of Loretto on the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security for more than eight years. We helped design and facilitate the annual retreats and set goals for the coming year. We assisted in updating the bylaws. I served as one of the editors of Disarmament Times.

It was our joy to work with three wonderful Loretto at the UN leaders: Betty Obal, Mary Peter Bruce and Sally Dunne. Each year we invited the Loretto at the UN interns to our home in the Poconos for a weekend celebration. Many of them wrote prayers for peace, which remain under the stones of the labyrinth garden there.


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