UN and Catholic group agree to cooperate on promoting peace

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The United Nations formally agreed Friday to cooperate with the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic lay group that works behind the scenes to prevent conflicts and bring warring parties to the peace table.

At a ceremony at Italy's U.N. Mission, Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and Sant'Egidio's President Marco Impagliazzo exchanged letters formalizing the relationship that dates back 30 years to the war in Mozambique.

Feltman said the U.N. wants to recognize "the incredible role that the Community of Sant'Egidio has been playing ... often very, very quietly and very discreetly" to promote peace.

He saluted the work that Sant'Egidio has done to bring armed groups and "some of the most hard-to-reach actors in conflict situations" to the negotiating table.

"Through this exchange of letters we are formalizing what I think was already a very strong and important relationship between the United Nations and the Community of Sant'Egidio," Feltman said.

The U.N. political chief stressed that the United Nations cannot prevent or resolve the multiple conflicts in the world alone. "There has to be a network of partnerships," he said, and Sant'Egidio is an important partner.

Impagliazzo said Sant'Egidio, with almost 70,000 members working in over 70 countries on four continents, is now "stronger" because of institutional support from the United Nations which will enable "closer and more effective cooperation."

He said his organization has been effective because it is seen as neutral, non-threatening and independent from governments, and because it works patiently, confidentially and builds trust with armed groups.

Sant'Egidio has collaborated with the U.N. in past crisis situations including in Mozambique, Burundi and Guatemala, Impagliazzo said, and it is currently engaged in trying to help end conflicts in Central African Republic, South Sudan, Senegal's Kasama region, and Libya.

Italy's U.N. Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi said Impagliazzo will be one of three people to brief the Security Council Monday, on its work in the Central African Republic. Impagliazzo said Sant'Egedio is engaged with all 14 military groups in the country.