Mr. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,
President of the 67th Session of the General Assembly, Mr. Vuk
Deputy Chef de Cabinet of the President of the 68th
Sess, of the GA, Ambassador Noel Sinclair,
Distinguished Permanent Representatives, Permanent Observers, and
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
and UN officers,
Dear religious leaders, brothers and sisters, friends.
Together with the Archbishop of
New York, His Eminence Cardinal Timothy Dolan, it gives me great joy to welcome
you all to our annual Prayer Service marking the end of the 67th
session and inaugurating the 68th session of the General Assembly of
the United Nations. This annual event is
a propitious opportunity for us to come together in a spirit of unity and
prayer, to implore God’s blessings and guidance so that we may work together more
effectively and harmoniously in our task to build a more just, secure, stable, prosperous
and peaceful world.
In particular, I extend a cordial welcome to
His Excellency the Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon and to Mrs. Yoo Soon-taek.
I also heartily welcome and express my gratitude to the outgoing President of
the General Assembly, His Excellency Mr. Vuk Jeremic (and Mrs. Nataša Jeremic). In addition, allow me to congratulate,
through his Deputy Chef de Cabinet Ambassador Noel Sinclair, the incoming
President of the General Assembly, Ambassador John Ashe on his election.
It is always with great anticipation
that I contemplate this event each year.
And each year it brings me such joy to see so many Permanent
Representatives and Mission staff, high ranking officials of the UN System and
Agencies, as well as representatives of a wide variety of non-governmental
organizations gathered together in this parish church to the United Nations,
dedicated to the Holy Family, to pause to pray together for a moment about what
is most important to us, and to foster in this way greater fraternity between
us, among nations and religious believers around the world.
In this light, I also recognize with
gratitude and esteem the presence of clergy, consecrated religious and members
of the lay faithful, as well as members of other faith communities assembled
here today. Your presence encourages us and is a reaffirmation of our
collective openness to the transcendent in our shared pursuit to advance human
dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
I would also like to acknowledge
with gratitude our co-sponsors for tonight’s event: Cardinal Timothy Dolan and
Fr. Gerry Murray, the Pastor of this Parish. Their continued commitment to
providing a spiritual home here for the numerous people from many different
parts of the world who travel to New York each year for their work at the
United Nations is greatly appreciated, especially this evening in such a
gracious expression of your hospitality and pastoral solicitude. We see in it a
deep and abiding commitment to open the doors of this great Archdiocese and its
parishes to all of us; so that, even though we may come from so many places and
different cultures, we are able in this way to come together as a single community
Since we gathered last year, the
world in general has seen a great many changes, and so too has the Holy
See. The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI
surprised the world, and the unexpected election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio
as Pope Francis were events none of us could have foreseen a year ago when we
last met here to pray: but these momentous events have provided the world with
a refreshing example of leadership at the helm of the Church.
As with any change, there follows
a renewed sense of vitality, interest and expectation. Already, the example and message provided by Pope
Francis’ Pontificate seems to be something which strikes a chord in all of us, particularly
as regards many of the aspirations and commitments of the work of the United
Nations. The subsequent visits to the Vatican of the Secretary-General and the
President of the General Assembly are eloquent gestures of the ongoing efforts
to foster the values and goals shared between the United Nations and the Holy
One of the issues continually highlighted
by the new Pope is: the urgent need for solidarity in today’s world. The word
solidarity can invoke different reactions and understandings, so if you would
indulge me for just a moment on this important theme. In some minds, the notion of solidarity may
seem discomforting, as it demands something of us which we are not yet ready or
willing to do for the other. To others, the word ‘solidarity’ might be raised as
a rallying cry to promote political or social unrest. When the Pope urges authentic solidarity
amongst all people, he intends it not as a vague sense of sympathy or
compassion towards those less fortunate, but rather as moral virtue which recognizes
that, through a firm and preserving determination to commit to the common good,
we can promote greater social justice and equality for all.
When the Holy See’s newly
nominated Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, recently highlighted
“the transcendental dimension” of every human being, not just the personal,
political, social, cultural or economic dimensions, which should all converge
to shape the common good, shared by all of us, our human dignity, it was a reminder
to all of us who wish to keep the human being at the centre of our concerns not
to forget also to keep God at the centre of our lives.
Solidarity demands, therefore,
that rather than protecting only our own self-interests, we should work to
promote the common interests of the whole human family. True solidarity urges
the rediscovery of an ethic based on promoting the common good rather than mere
individual goods. Deep in the favelas of Rio De Janeiro, Pope Francis proclaimed
this truth: “The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails
in our society is not… what builds up and leads to a more habitable world:
rather, it is the culture of solidarity that does so; the culture of solidarity
means seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but brothers and sisters.”
I find that these words are
particularly relevant here for us, too, as we begin the 68th session
of the General Assembly and dedicate our best efforts to formulate sustainable development
goals. Without solidarity, how can we hope
to ensure that the cares of those longing for food and fresh water are prioritized?
Without authentic solidarity, how will we ensure that basic human rights and
human dignity are respected universally? Without solidarity between
individuals, communities, religious and government leaders, how can we pretend to
resolve conflicts that lacerate the lives of innocent people around the world?
What most burdens our minds
these days at the mention of conflict is, of course, is the ongoing tragedy in
Syria and the threat of a far greater calamity that could so easily unfold in
that country and region.
Mr. Secretary-General, as you said
rightly on your return from G-20 meeting: “The Syrian people need peace”.
Instead, as you briefed this morning the Security Council: “The humanitarian
situation in Syria is desperate. Food
supplies are dangerously low in some places. People are living under siege.
Families face intolerable choices between the risk of remaining in place and
the risk of taking flight. One third of the country’s people have fled their
homes”. Or, as President Jeremic stated this morning in his address to the
General Assembly “the death toll in Syria continues to rise with every passing
hour, as does the number of refugees and IDPs. The nation’s social fabric is
breaking down. Schools have been shut down and hospitals operate without
medicine. Continued militarization deepens the suffering of Syria’s people, and
strengthens those who seek to establish ethnic or sectarian fiefdoms”.
In an unprecedented gesture of
solidarity and solicitude towards those suffering in Syria, Pope Francis last Saturday
September 7, designated a Universal Day of Prayer and Fasting for peace in the
Middle East and the world, in particular in Syria. In a genuine demonstration
of his profound sorrow for the human tragedy in Syria, the Pope personally joined
a crowd of over 200,000 gathered in St. Peter’s Square from 7pm to 11 pm. So
many millions around the world joined his call. Echoing the words of his
predecessors, Pope Francis insisted that: War is always a defeat for humanity. He
said: war never again; no more war.
These were same words pronounced
almost half a century ago by Pope Paul VI, the first Pope to address the UN
General Assembly in October 1965. On that occasion, Pope Paul VI also visited
this Church of the Holy Family to do as we are doing, as attested by the
commemorative plaque displayed at the entrance of this church.
What Syria truly needs is a cessation of violence and
not a further escalation of violence. Our society today seems ever more seduced by, almost addicted
to, recourse to conflict and violence (as today’s disturbing developments from
Washington DC’s Navy Yards seem once again to confirm): the media and
entertainment industries increasingly glamourize and glorify the sensationalism
of violence and wars.
To its victims, however, the violence is a reality anything
but virtual. Even in this 21st century the seduction of war seems to
trump the logic of peace. We need to listen to the voice of the reason, of
dialogue, for the peaceful settlement of conflicts through negotiations. This
is the path to peace and durable solution.
So let us join Pope Francis in prayer, so that
God may enlighten the hearts and minds of our leaders, that they may commit
themselves to the cause of peace; and that God may grant lasting peace to us,
to our families, to our nations and to the world at large.
In a world in which
individualism and selfishness all too often seem to prevail in our interactions
with each other and our global community, let us work together to help peoples
and nations to build rather than to destroy, to hope rather than to despair, to
love rather than to hate, to make peace rather than to make war.
Gathering as leaders and members
of different traditions, this assembly is
a testament to the kind of solidarity that builds the peace sorely needed
around the world. We demonstrate by gathering here that those of different
faiths, different religious, social, cultural or economic backgrounds can work
together as brothers and sisters to care for one another and to love each
other. Let us recommit, therefore, as religious leaders, as members of faith
and diplomatic communities through our words and actions, to serve as first examples
of the power of solidarity, brotherhood and harmony, to encourage greater trust,
understanding and respect for each other.
With this, I wish you all a
successful and productive 68th Session of the General Assembly, which
happily coincides with the Holy See’s 50th anniversary as an
Observer State at the UN. It is my most sincere
hope that today’s gathering may constitute one of the many steps well-taken in
our long journey towards creating a more peaceful, just and caring society.
As we begin this journey for the
68th Session of the General Assembly, I have the honor to convey to
you the following Message of encouragement and blessing from His Holiness Pope Francis:
Holiness Pope Francis sends cordial greetings to all gathered in prayer on the
eve of the 68th Ordinary Session of the United Nations General
Assembly. As the United Nations faces ever growing challenges, the Holy Father
encourages all present to keep before them the good of each human person, with
their joys and hopes, grief and anguish, in the context of the entire human
family. With this in mind, he hopes that your deliberations on the Development
Agenda will give particular attention to the most vulnerable in society, for
whom the international community has a special responsibility and concern. He
trusts that this occasion of prayer will help promote the moral and spiritual
foundations that provide inspiration, strength and light to countless people
around the world. His Holiness willingly invokes abundant divine blessings of
patience and wisdom upon the members of the Diplomatic community, the Officers
and Staff of the United Nations Organization, the spiritual and civil leaders
and all those assembled for this annual moment of prayer and reflection.
Secretary of State of