What's Happening


Representatives of nation states gather in one of the large conference rooms at the United Nations for a town hall meeting

April 4, 2024, New York, New York – Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, the Dominican Representative to the United Nations, urged participants at the UN’s 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68), held March 11-22, 2024, to promote women throughout the year. “Women in all their diversity – take that with you and promote it,” she said. “That’s one of the most important things we can do this year.”

Sister Durstyne hosted 10 other Dominicans – including five Adrian Dominican Sisters – at the annual event at the United Nations. 

The Dominican sisters were among an estimated 6,000 people who attended the conference in person and another 15,000 who attended virtually. Along with the UN officials and governments were members of civil society organizations, experts, and activists. 

Worldwide, women experience extreme poverty and suffer from gender violence, domestic violence, and inequality in their access to education and funding – all while, for the most part, shouldering the most responsibility for the care of their families. Officials at the United Nations addressed these issues during CSW68 under the theme, “Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective.” At the end of the session, UN delegates signed on to a statement on women and agreed conclusions.

Members of civil society did not attend the official proceedings, but they spent their two weeks at CSW68 attending a series of side events – workshops and presentations by UN governments and their NGO partners – and parallel events presented by other members of civil society. 

Dominican Community Experience
Among those attending the side events, along with Sister Durstyne, were Adrian Dominican Sisters Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, Jolyn “Jules” Dungo, OP, Xiomara Méndez-Hernandez, OP, Maria Eneida Santiago, OP, and Barbara Kelley, OP; Sister Yelitza Ayala, OP, of Puerto Rico; Sister Philomena Benedict, OP, of the Dominican Sisters of Stone, England; Sister Ameline Intia, OP, of the Philippines; Sister Selena Wilson, OP, of the Amityville Dominican Sisters in the United States; and Sister Valentine, of South Africa. 

During the often frenzied two weeks of sessions at the United Nations and nearby parallel – after daily commutes on the train from the Marydale Retreat Center of the Dominican Sisters of Hope in Ossining, New York – the Dominican Sisters formed community and shared numerous experiences and perspectives. Among the notable experiences was attendance on March 16 at the St. Patrick’s Day Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in downtown New York and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. 

Reflections on the Experience 
Sister Eneida recalled the “positive energy that was lived at every moment” during CSW68. “It gives me a lot of energy and hope to hear so many women, all in their diversity and in the same cry, united to provoke the changes that we deserve in any context of today’s world, which in turn produces a transformation of lives away from violence, exclusion, poverty, and abuse of power.” Sister Eneida said this message is key to her ministry as a counselor at a school in her native Dominican Republic. She said she hopes to transmit to the school’s adolescents and their mothers “all that energy that I received to continue multiplying that desire to get out of the oppressive situations that keep them afraid to raise their voices.”

During an interview with Global Sisters Report reporter Chris Herlinger, the Dominican Sisters joined other women and men religious in reflecting on their experiences during the first half of the two-week conference.

From the beginning of the experience, Sister Xiomara was impressed by the sense of “sisterhood,” not only among the Dominican Sisters but also among the CSW68 participants. She recalled standing in line on the streets of New York for two hours on March 10 waiting to receive her credentials for the event when another woman in line spoke of dancing the flamenco. Sister Xiomara offered to show them the Latin salsa and another woman sang an opera. 

“It was so much joy, that power of sisterhood, that when we went inside, we were just clapping and talking.” Asked by a UN guard why they were so happy, Sister Xiomara responded, “Because we are women.” She said she was inspired by “listening to the voices of women and the power of women … and all the possibilities we can do together, claiming our voices. … I’m leaving inspired.” 

Sister Bless was especially inspired by the sessions focusing on women’s education and financial empowerment. “If we educate women, women will know their rights. It’s essential for them to know their rights so they can assert themselves and they will not just be subjected to abuse by men.” 

She also noted that domestic violence is a “worldwide issue, one of the factors that is really contributing to the abuse of women.” To counteract domestic abuse, Sister Bless focused on the need for education not just for women and girls but also for men and boys. “Men and boys can be educated in terms of their role in having a good family, and also [in] respect for women,” she said.

Many of the Sisters named as a highlight their experience of participating in a silent march several times around the US Mission to the United Nations to call for a ceasefire in Palestine. “I was very touched by the organization and the compassion,” Sister Xiomara said. “I felt like I was one of the women from Palestine walking. They couldn’t be there. I was there because of them. … It was inspiring to feel like I was walking as one of the women from Palestine [calling] for the ceasefire.”

Sister Durstyne raised another issue: land rights for the Indigenous peoples whose lands have been taken from them. She serves on the US Caucus of UN Women and the Amazon Subcommittee for the Indigenous People. “How can we address women and their right to own land, their right to have this incredible gift that should not only be a gift but a right?”

Signs of Hope
Sister Durstyne hopes to see the issue of land rights for women included in the CSW’s official agreed conclusions. As an NGO, she said, the Dominicans have been able to “give some input into the statement on women and the agreed conclusions.” Though the document might not include everything she had hoped for, she said, “we have an opportunity to try to move the needle a little bit further, and that’s what the Commission on the Status of Women is all about.”

Sister Jules echoed Sister Durstyne’s hope. “This conference invites us to continue to be passionate in giving hope and uplifting the spiritual situation of our women in our own community, our own country, and the women who we live and work with,” she said. “And let us be an instrument in making their lives worth fighting for.”

For more information on CSW68, the influence of Catholic Sisters, and the formal documents that resulted from the session, read the article by Chris Herlinger in Global Sisters Report, a project of the National Catholic Reporter.

February 13, 2023, San Salvador, El Salvador – Adrian Dominican Sisters Leonor Esnard, OP, and Barbara Kelley, OP, were among 42 delegates – Catholic Sisters, graduate students, professionals, and activists – who took part in a November 29-December 12, 2022, delegation to Central America: a journey of discovery, solidarity, and advocacy.

The experience encompassed two separate delegations. Roses in December, the November 29-December 4, 2022, experience in El Salvador, was co-sponsored by the SHARE Foundation and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an organization of the elected leadership of the majority of congregations of U.S. Catholic Sisters.

Members of the Roses in December delegation at the altar where Archbishop Oscar Romero was slain while celebrating Mass in March 1980.

Roses in December marked the 42nd anniversary of the killing of four U.S. Catholic missionaries who were in ministry in El Salvador. Members of the delegation spent much of their time learning about and honoring those four martyrs. In addition, they learned about Archbishop Oscar Romero, who stood up for human rights and was shot on March 24, 1980, and six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter, who were murdered during the night in November 1989 in their residence at the University of Central America. 

True to the mission of the SHARE Foundation to focus on accompaniment, solidarity, and advocacy, the delegates also learned about the current political context in El Salvador – marked by increasing oppression and martial law – as well as the programs offered by SHARE’s local community partners to make a difference in the lives of the people. They also had the opportunity to hear the stories of the people and to show their support. 

Members of the delegation carry signs depicting the four U.S. Church women – Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan, along with a photo of Maryknoll Sister Karla Piette, who died during a flash flood in August 1980.

Immediately following this experience was the Vamos A La Milpah delegation to Honduras, December 5-12, 2022. Some participants stayed in the urban area of San Pedro Sula to learn about the circumstances of the people who live in cities and about the programs of the Sisters of Mercy that helped to address their difficulties. Others traveled about seven hours by bus to Bajo Aguan, an agricultural area, to meet people who continue to defend their water and land rights, often at the risk of their lives.

The experience of meeting the campesinos who were threatened by extractive industry corporations to give up their land became poignant to members of the delegation after their return to the United States with the news that several land rights activists in Honduras were killed.

Each day was filled with scheduled events and activities, but the delegates also had time to share their lives and their experiences with one another during long bus rides, meals and at the retreat center and hotels where they stayed. 

Members of the community of Chalatenango – where the four U.S. Church women were raped and murdered on December 2, 1980 – give the delegation a warm and enthusiastic welcome.

Sister Leonor said that, while this was her first trip to Central America, “the lush green woods were a warm reminder of my previous trips to Havana” in her native Cuba. Speaking Spanish throughout the two-week experience “was another way for me to engage with people and reconnect with my native culture and language.”

Sister Leonor said she learned much from the experience. “My most compelling awareness was the solidarity shared by the people among themselves and with us,” she said. “We learned about human rights violations, extensive poverty, the abuse of women, the detention of youth, political torture, and death. Suffering was endured, but it was not the center of people’s lives. Suffering was integrated into transforming and motivating [the people of Central America] to create collaborative, vital organizations for advocacy rooted in faith.”

Sister Barbara spoke of her gratitude to the Congregation for the opportunity to participate in the delegation. “It was an eye-opening and a heart-opening experience as I learned about the difficulties that the people continue to face – and yet the welcome, the joy, and the friendship they shared with us,” she said.  “The experience has changed me and has helped me to feel in my heart that the people in El Salvador and Honduras are my brothers and sisters – and that we’re all connected."

Sisters Leonor and Barbara will share their experience in greater detail during a live stream presentation, scheduled for 7:00 p.m. EST Thursday, March 2, 2023. 

View recordings of their presentation below, in English and Spanish.

English audio (presentation begins as 5:35):

Spanish audio:


Feature photo: Sisters Leonor Esnard, OP, left, and Barbara Kelley, OP, at a mural in El Salvador. The Sisters were members of the Roses in December delegation to El Salvador and Honduras.



Search News Articles

Recent Posts

Read More »