By Joseph Cornelius Donnelly
Elena Chaves served as a distinguished volunteer delegate for Caritas Internationalis Office at the UN from the late 1980s through to 2006.
Through the decades she worked with many Caritas staff from Msgr Robert Vitillo to Joseph Donnelly – and numerous others through the years with the growing advocacy agenda of the Confederation.
She brought decades of shared experience in international relations with her husband, Ambassador Jose Chaves. He served as a Colombian diplomat in numerous international capacities during which Elena was an active partner assuring attention to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and humanitarian affairs.
Together they were respected as leaders and intellectuals – without ever forfeiting attention to the needs of the most abandoned, the poorest of the poor at home or far from the news. In New York Elena was a constant presence around the International Catholic Organizations Center where Caritas has been a longstanding member.
Due to Ambassador Chaves diminishing health in the last years, he and Elena retired to Florida to be near to other family members. Elena never let go of her consummate appreciation for the globally diverse challenges, arts, people and opportunities found in New York. She maintained communication with the Caritas office through the miles sending news clips in English and Spanish, as well as other comments/reviews from myriads sources. Ambassador Chaves died last December, just before Christmas 2008. Elena passing last week has come as quite unexpected news six months later.
She entered the hospital in Florida on Saturday morning, June 27th and died later that day. A Memorial Service will be hosted by Elena’s children in New York City on July 11, 2009, to bring together her countless friends and colleagues from the UN, the NGOs and Catholic communities. Caritas Internationalis will be a participant to honor and remember Elena.
REMEMBERING – ELENA CHAVES
If you knew her - you knew her.
If she knew you – she had a place for you.
If you were about the work, the needs, the issues -
Elena shared herself with you with vigor, insight and more.
If you knew her only months or long through the years,
you knew quickly there was much more to Elena
than whatever that first instance of meeting might suggest.
Elena generously shared her vast, stimulated interests with all.
If you knew her beloved husband of sixty plus years,
you knew she and the Ambassador carefully complimented each other.
Their own dialogue of civilizations was real, rooted in Colombia and USA,
in truth and justice - with faith and family as their first foundation.
If you knew Elena as the smart thinking person she was,
you knew her insights and opinions were quite substantial.
If you knew how she moved about the United Nations urban village,
you knew she “rushed” into many debates checking for value, actions.
If you knew her not to waste time - and took your own time with her,
you discovered a wealth of exacting details often not found elsewhere.
While Elena never boasted about what she and Jose might know,
she complained about wasteful nonsense, foolish premises anywhere.
If you knew her as many did - you tasted nature, the arts and the sciences.
If you read everything, she could apprise you on what you missed.
If Elena thought you absolutely needed to know something essential,
like the SC she was “seized of the matter” until a purposeful conversation arrived.
Elena cut clips from every newspaper everywhere she was - and dated them,
making them of value so they could precisely be shared beyond one reading.
Elena networked in meetings, thoughts and actions, challenging status quo,
while defending firmly, thoughtfully, true Catholic Social Teaching, the Gospel.
She constantly thought beyond the moment, deliberately pushing possibility.
She welcomed me into the Caritas file by offering heaps of necessary challenges.
She volunteered a vigilant presence at the center and edges of globalization.
She affirmed who and what she respected, taking nothing at all for granted.
If you knew Elena you knew there was more - priority treasures in her life.
Being mother and grandmother were matching heartbeats of being wife and partner.
Her interests and appetites were a library unto themselves, but open to all who might dare.
Her words and prayers, like dance, had deliberate poetic grateful movements all her own.
If you knew her then – you know her now.
If you knew her when – you are more grateful now that time/place put you together.
If you did not know her before – we who did can share as we should:
Elena Chaves was the glory of God, a believing woman fully ALIVE!
Respectfully offered for Elena’s loving family, friends, neighbors and colleagues
from Caritas Internationalis Delegation to the United Nations
Joseph Cornelius Donnelly