The 11th session of the Youth Forum , parallel to the 40th General Conference , took place at UNESCO headquarters on 18 and 19 November 2019. The young people worked on the theme “Youth spaces in action” and they were invited to give their contribution to UNESCO’s strategic thinking.

The Holy See participated in this Forum: it was represented by Mr. Azeez Sadeq , of Iraqi nationality, living in France, member of New Humanity , an NGO of Catholic inspiration, partner of UNESCO with consultative status.

To prepare him for this Forum, the Observer Mission of the Holy See to UNESCO interviewed him, with questions and answers available below:

1. Thank you for starting well with a few words about yourself.

I am Azeez SADEQ, 23 years old, Iraqi Christian refugee from Nineveh. Student in Technical Sales at Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle. Victim of war, violence and Daesh. Political refugee in France for 5 years. I give lectures on my experience of violence and conflicts and how I live it thanks to my Christian faith.

2. The 11th session of the UNESCO Youth Forum will take place around the theme “Youth spaces in action”. The aim will be to discuss the significant commitments of young people with UNESCO and for UNESCO activities. When did you first get involved with UNESCO, in what area? Describe.

I was invited by the young people of the Focolare Movement to be part of the Organizing Committee of Genfest under the Patronage of UNESCO, with the support of the national commission of the Philippines, in July 2018. The Genfest, is a gathering international audience of more than 10,000 young people from 100 different countries whose title was

“Beyond all borders” I was able to testify before these young people about my history in Iraq. Despite the harm done to me, I believe that each person and each people has a treasure that must be shared. In the drama I experienced, I understood that, to disarm violence, a given smile can open a small space of peace.

3. What are your expectations for this Forum?

What I expect from this forum is that member states can hear the desire of young people around the world for real change to reduce inequality and corruption. Because our world needs a hope of peace to end all the conflicts that result from these problems.

4. How do you see your task of being a sort of spokesperson who represents the young people of the Catholic Church in the world on the occasion of Forum?

It is a great mission and a lot of responsibility to be present at the Forum to represent young Christians. I would like to be the voice of their lives, their thoughts and their hopes for a better life. I am thinking in particular of people excluded from the economy, people who are victims of wars and human rights violations.

5. Young people are often defined as “tomorrow’s leaders”. The recommendations of the Youth Forum will be presented to the 40th session of the General Conference of UNESCO where all the member states meet to decide. In terms of Education, Sciences (especially Climate) and Culture, what suggestion and what project would you propose on behalf of young people in the Catholic world?

In the field of education I believe it is important to give more power to individuals and groups of citizens to act on the social, economic, political or ecological conditions with which they are confronted. How? by helping children and young people to discover their talents, above all for people who are forgotten by society, such as refugees and many others. If we get together by accepting our differences, we will be stronger to face the challenges of today’s world like climate and poverty. Imagine with me the world of tomorrow with people filled with talents, hope, social responsibility and mutual benevolence.

6. Does the Forum with young people from all over the world correspond to your approach to meeting different cultures?

Of course, this is totally what I’m looking for. I come from a very old culture (Assyrian) of which I am proud, I also have a second culture in I am proud, obviously French culture. Meeting people from other cultures will allow me to start to realize what is most important to me, to build a united world.

7. The main objective of UNESCO, written in its Constitutive Act, is that of building Peace in the minds of men and women. In this regard, in your opinion, as a Catholic at the 11th edition of the Youth Forum at UNESCO, what can be the main contribution given by young Catholics in the light of the teachings of the Church?

The most specific contribution of young Catholics seems to me to be: forgiveness in conflict situations, whether personal, collective and between peoples. It is the hope that we can bring for a world of peace.

On this occasion, Mr. Azeez Sadeq, as the representative of the Holy See among young people, prepared a reflection, in the form of a speech to be addressed to the governing bodies of UNESCO, as well as to young practitioners.