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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter NovecoskyNew head for UN

The nomination for secretary-general for the United Nations is raising hopes among world leaders.

All 15 members of the UN Security Council voted unanimously Oct. 6 for former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres. The next step is considered a mere formality: approval by the 193-member General Assembly on Oct. 13. He will take up office on Jan. 1, 2017, replacing Ban Ki-moon who served two five-year terms.

The result disappointed campaigners for a woman or East European to be the world's top diplomat for the first time. Guterres, however, is expected to select a woman as deputy secretary general. He said one of the things that is "crucial" at the male-dominated UN is "to have gender parity."

The Portuguese Bishops Conference praised their former prime minister for his “deep sense of humanity and faith.”

Guterres is noted for his knowledge of international affairs, his moral integrity, his ability to mediate, his willingness to reform the United Nations, and his attention to the poor and human rights. As UN High Commissioner for Refugees for 10 years, from 2005 to 2015, he devoted a great deal of time to the refugee issue as part of his international commitments.

He said these 10 years, which ended in December, were "excellent preparation" for a secretary general who needs to be an honest broker and be seen by countries as independent in order to promote consensus and overcome crises. He said what’s needed is a new "diplomacy for peace" which requires discreet diplomatic contacts and shuttling among key players in conflicts and disputes. The secretary general should also engage as much as possible and "act with humility to try to create the conditions for member states that are the crucial actors in any process to be able to come together and overcome their differences."

A member of Portugal’s Socialist Party and a fervent Catholic, Guterres, 67, was one of the founders of the Franciscan-backed Grupo da Luz (Light Group) in the early 1970s while still a college student in Lisbon. The group worked with poor people living in Portugal’s capital. Among his colleagues within the group was Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal’s current president.

After a meeting with Pope Francis on Dec. 6, 2013, Guterres commented that “the Catholic Church has always been a very important voice in the defence of refugees’ and migrants’ rights. A voice of tolerance, respect for diversity in a world that is indifferent, hostile in fact, toward anything foreign.”

Guterres said the simple answer to why he wants to be secretary general can be found in "The Parable of The Talents" from the New Testament, which has been the central thing in his life. "I think that one in life receives a lot of gifts, and one has the responsibility to pay back, no? And to multiply the gifts that were received."

It’s a good attitude to help him in his new position.