“Life has meaning to the extent that it becomes a free gift for others…” was the challenge put before senior global leaders from around the world at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul this week by Allen Ottaro, a young Kenyan youth leader who was directly quoting John Paul II. The World Humanitarian Summit was called by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to tackle the overwhelming humanitarian needs confronting the world and attended by over 5,000 senior government and humanitarian leaders. I was privileged to attend as a voice from the faith community and to specifically explore the unique role the church plays in meeting some of the world’s worst suffering.
Approximately 5,000 senior government and humanitarian leaders attended the World Humanitarian Summit.
What impressed me most during the Summit was hearing Allen, this young Kenyan, boldly challenge senior world leaders from the United Nations, the United States, Europe and from around the world with his deep faith and belief in what God can do through the church. He had only three minutes in front of this audience and he leveraged it well by quoting John Paul II’s 1995 exhortation at World Youth Day in Manila. He was on to something in echoing John Paul’s words on that day to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to make our lives a gift. Jesus gave the ultimate gift of life and meaning and he asks those of us who follow him to give our lives meaning by giving it away in service of God and others. After his resurrection Jesus said, “as the Father sent me, so I am sending you into all the world”. Two thousand years later that “little community of the first disciples, like a tiny mustard seed, have grown to be like a very large tree. This great tree, with its different branches reaches all the continents, all the countries of the world…in the shade of this tree, in the shade of its branches and leaves the peoples of the world can find rest.”
The global presence of the church was echoed again and again by Christian leaders, including Allen, at the Summit and was a reminder that when disaster strikes it is the local church supported by the global church that is often the first to respond. This very large tree of Christ’s church is everywhere and can be a most effective vehicle for ministering life-saving care and hope. May we as Christian’s remember this particularly when a region of the world is sweltering from the heat of crisis and is in need of the rest and shade that the church can provide. And let’s remember the words of our Kenyan friend Allen to world leaders and give our lives meaning by being that gift to those suffering in emergencies as we spend ourselves on behalf of others.
 From Address of His Holiness John Paul 22 to the Young People in “Rizal Park” – World Youth Day: https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul- ii/en/speeches/1995/january/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19950114_vigilia-manila-gmg.html (Part 1, Section 3)
 Ibid, Part 1, Section 4