Observer provides Anglican voice at U.N.

August 6, 2003

The new Anglican Observer to the United Nations arrived in New York from her home in Samoa days before terrorists leveled the twin towers of the World Trade Center. In the tense days that followed, the contingent from her province – including her presiding bishop – could not attend her installation on Sept. 16, 2001, at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

Coming from a very peaceful part of the world, Archdeacon Taimalelagi Fagamalama Tuatagaloa-Matalavea said she believes her Sept. 11 experience was God’s way of telling her she must identify with the pain of many people.

The observer represents the views of the Anglican Church’s primates, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council at the United Nations. At General Convention, she has been making connections, meeting potential supporters and thanking current ones.

Tuatagaloa-Matalavea has examined all the convention resolution issues that her office could cover – if it had the staff, she said. Because the office is small, it must focus its efforts, she said. It currently concentrates on issues of women and children; sustainable development, especially concerning the environment; international trade and debt; indigenous peoples; and world conflicts. This continues some emphases of previous observers, she noted. “I want some continuity.”

The primates and Anglican Consultative Council also “flag” her to address particular issues, she said. During the Iraq crisis, she worked closely with international institutions and ecumenical partners in a “working group.”

“We actually tried to stop the war,” she said. This included lobbying efforts – writing letters and speaking with members of the Security Council. She worked to convey the communion’s stand on the conflict. “I also had a statement when the war broke out,” she said.

U.S. actions greatly influence what happens on the world stage, so one of her goals at this convention has been to talk with people about their role as U.S. citizens in their own foreign policies, Tuatagaloa-Matalavea said.

At the United Nations, she has also worked ecumenically to address the crisis in Liberia. On Tuesday, when peacekeeping forces arrived in Liberia, she said, “I felt like dancing in my room, watching those women dancing when they saw the armed forces landing.”

That happiness balanced her concern that the church’s consent that same day to the election of its first openly gay bishop might divide the communion, she said.

During convention, Tuatagaloa-Matalavea addressed a group of young people, whom she invited to visit her office. More than 40 signed up to come, and she plans to work with Thom Chu, program director of the Youth Ministries Cluster at the church center, to develop a program for their visit. Perhaps youth can convince the U.S. Congress to consider the international convention to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, which the United States has yet to ratify, she said.