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Remarks from the 2017 Prayer Service

Most Reverend John O. Barres

Bishop of Rockville Centre




Mr. Secretary General, Mr. President of the General Assembly, Mr. President of the 71st Session, Archbishop Auza, Your Excellencies, Esteemed Diplomats, United Nations Staff and NGO delegates, fellow religious leaders, and dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

As we ponder together the critical themes of the 72nd General Debate “Focusing on People: Striving for peace and a decent life for all,” we also remember, on this 16th Anniversary of 9/11, the souls of those who were killed on that day.

Many of us remember the New York Times series after 9/1l that gave individual portraits of every person who was killed. There were portraits of employees of the Windows of the World restaurant from hard-working immigrant families, investment bankers, security guards, office workers, firefighters, police officers and other first responders.

The people represented a huge variety of religions, ethnic backgrounds and economic levels. The journalists from the Times captured each person’s particular humor and personality, their hopes and dreams, their relationships with their families, friends and co-workers. 

The underlying theme of this series was that those who died on 9/11 still matter, still inspire us and are, mysteriously, still with us.

For Christians who believe in the Communion of Saints and for all those who believe in relationships that bridge the chasm of death,[1] we draw inspiration from these souls and from the sacrifices that we witnessed on 9/11. Each one of us here, the tens of thousands associated in the mission of peace of the United Nations, all those involved in “Focusing on People and Striving for a decent life for all on a sustainable planet,” find in the 9/11 heroes’ ongoing witness a calling to expand our souls and our global vision of peace and justice in the world and to commit ourselves anew to the sacrifices necessary to make that vision a reality.

On September 25, 2015, Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. Citing his encyclical on the Care for our Common Home, Laudato Si’, he emphasized that the “defense of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself.” By this Pope Francis was pointing out that the inherent ethical law inscribed in our humanity bears witness to human dignity and is the foundation for all human rights. It is the cornerstone for an integral ecology and the basis of ecological conversion. The protection and promotion of human life in all its stages that flows from it provide the starting point for every human-centered approach and for the striving for a decent life for all on a sustainable planet that is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda.

The dignity of human life is at the core of a humane, ethical and compassionate approach to the global reality of migration. When human life is not recognized as inviolable, all barriers fall. Human rights and the preservation of the environment become simply options without particular normative value. The tragic deaths of migrants fleeing war and conflict sadly become mere statistics that are easily forgotten and eventually consigned to the back rows of dusty archives.

When Pope Francis traveled in February 2016 to Ciudad Juarez, on the border of Mexico and the United States, he described why the migration crisis ultimately derives from inadequate respect for the human person. It is above all, he indicated, a “human tragedy” that cannot be quantified only “in numbers and statistics,” but must be measured “with names, stories, families.” (Homily at Ciudad Juarez on the Border, February 17, 2016)

A few weeks ago on Long Island, where I became the bishop in January, we were visited by Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez of El Salvador. Cardinal Rosa Chavez was a close friend and right hand of El Salvador’s courageous Archbishop and martyr, Oscar Romero, who was murdered in 1980 while celebrating Mass in a hospital caring for the terminally ill. He was assassinated minutes after he had summoned soldiers conscientiously to obey God in respecting the human dignity of their neighbors rather than follow the directives of government and military leaders ordering them to violate their neighbors’ human rights through torture, slaughter and other evils.

Cardinal Rosa Chavez and I jointly made an appeal for comprehensive immigration reform in this country and globally, grounding that appeal in the principles of the dignity of the human person, human life and the family, and in the social justice practice of going to the roots of social problems and systematically addressing poverty. We also appealed to gang members on Long Island and throughout the United States, who are enmeshed in the evil of human trafficking and drug cartels, to reject the culture of death and dehumanization and embrace a culture of life and love. 

Archbishop Romero was executed because he would not bend in this defense of the intrinsic value of the lives of all people, especially the poorest and most marginalized. His message in support of life and dignity has never faded but instead has become louder and more powerful with every passing year. How moving it was that in March 2015, to mark the 35th anniversary of his death, there was a stunning exhibition at the Curved Wall of the UN Conference Building detailing his life, work and martyrdom, and illustrating how his example of service and leadership in the cause of human dignity continues to shine as a summons for all peoples of the world to emulate.

Archbishop Romero — like the heroes of 9/11, like so many agents of the United Nations who give their lives to travel into areas of war and abject poverty to save lives or provide them with a better life — is one in a firmament of bright stars illuminating the world’s darkest nights and indicating to us all the path to personal fulfillment through lifting others up. He humbly shows us how to focus on people and strive effectively for peace and a decent life for all.

As we come together tonight in prayer on the vigil of the beginning of the 72nd session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, we ask God to bless the efforts of all those associated with the UN to advance human dignity and the human rights that flow from it, to protect us and the world from the scourge of war and environmental destruction, and to lift up all those who are on the margins. We ask him to bestow on us wisdom, prudence, perseverance and integrity, to give us courage not to give up when we encounter obstacles and mercifully to draw long-term good even from our failures. We ask him in a special way to grant the leaders and all those who work at or for the United Nations, the gift of compassion and passion, so that, like Archbishop Romero, hearing the cries of the poor, needy and abandoned, they may live up to the high hope the peoples of the world place in them and, indeed, lead the way to a more united, fraternal, just and merciful world. 

May God bless you all and help you bring great fruit from the 72nd Session that begins tomorrow.

[1] Cf.Bishop Michael Saltarelli’s 2002 Pastoral Statement to the People of God of the Diocese of Wilmington entitled September 11th One Year Later.  Bishop Barres was the primary writer of the statement.




António Guterres

Secretary-General of the United Nations



I am deeply honoured to be with you today. For many of you this is a time-honoured annual event. For me, it is the first time as Secretary-General. For us all, it is a moment of togetherness before the United Nations General Assembly. We come from many nations and we practice many faiths. But, as the name of this place of worship reminds us, we are all one family. Despite our many differences, our common humanity unites us. This is my belief, and it is the belief that underpins the Organization that all of us here work with and for.

The United Nations is built on the premise that we are all equal in rights and worth, and that we have a duty to “practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours.” Whatever our faith, this is a creed that we can all follow, and it is a directive that we must all observe. Reading the headlines, you could be forgiven for thinking that this essential duty has been forsaken by too many in too much of the world. And it is true that terrible things are happening. Civil wars in Syria, Yemen and South Sudan are pitting neighbour against neighbour. With countries in ruins, unprecedented numbers are fleeing. Elsewhere, political flames are being fanned by populist opportunists. Leaders in all regions are being found wanting.

So, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is too little empathy and too little responsible, visionary leadership of the kind we so sorely need. But sometimes the headlines blind us to other realities.

Across the years and across the world, I have met so many young people, refugees, civil society leaders, women’s rights activists and so many others, who are committed to working for a better world. Many had every right to express anger at their plight and frustrations. Yet instead I saw them reaching out to others in an embrace of fellowship and mutual support.

That spirit of unity has particular meaning today, the 16th anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks on World Trade Center and other targets. This was an assault on the United States.  But dozens of our Member States saw their citizens murdered that day. The attack also targeted our wonderful host city.  The United Nations is very much part of the fabric of New York, and we draw strengthen from its diversity and vibrancy. I know you join me in expressing our sorrow and solidarity on this day.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Every day, in every country, innumerable acts of kindness and compassion are easing the lives of migrants, refugees, the victims of disasters, the poor and the powerless. Such stories may be harder to find, but they are no less real and relevant than the lurid tales of slaughter and distress that dominate the headlines. These are the stories we must honour and draw inspiration from.

They are the stories that can unite us.

We may follow many faiths, but we all share a common ethical foundation – to treat humanity with humanity. This is the message loudly conveyed by so many inspiring religious leaders. The message that is behind the humanitarian work of faith based organizations around the world.

So, here, today, on the eve of the General Debate, let us all recommit to end war and live in peace, to respect each other and uphold human rights, and to work together for the well-being of all. That is my prayer.

Thank you.



Miroslav LajĨák

President of the 72nd Session of the General Assembly



Good evening to you all — excellencies, distinguished delegates, Mr. Secretary-General, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends.

Thank you, Archbishop Auza, for inviting me to participate in this important, annual event.

Inspired by some of the words I have already heard, I think it is fitting to talk, today, about people.

Because the UN is about people. Sometimes this can get lost among the procedures, and budgets, and protocols. Which is why we have chosen people to be the main theme of the upcoming General Debate. It is also a focus I intend to maintain throughout my Presidency of the General Assembly.

A people-centered approach is something we, here, have in common. Faith communities work for people everyday.  They of course lend spiritual support and counsel. In many places of the world, however, they also provide essential, and even life-saving, services to people in need.

There are in fact many overlaps between the work the UN does on the ground, and the role of faith communities and organizations.  This applies across the spectrum – from humanitarian work, to longer-term development initiatives in education or health. I’ve heard stories of missionaries and religious leaders giving invaluable advice and help to UN colleagues in the field. This summer, with the signing of the peace deal for the Central African Republic*, we saw the important mediation role that can be played by faith communities. Also this year, we heard a Monseigneur Marcel Utembi briefing theUN Security Council on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (though unfortunately he wasn’t reporting good news).

Tomorrow I will open the 72nd Session of the General Assembly. We have some daunting challenges facing us this year. We need to prevent conflicts from breaking out, and address those that have already been waged. We need to find a comprehensive, long-term way to deal with migration. We need to continue to fight for all people to be able to live a decent life, on a sustainable planet. It is important - now more than ever - to identify partners to help us in facing these challenges.

Faith communities are - and must continue to be - a valuable partner to the UN. We must learn from their experiences and knowledge. We must support each other in our work towards one common goal: to make the world a better place for all people to live in.

Thank you again for inviting me to this service. I look forward to learning from you all - today and throughout the coming year.



Reverend Gerald E. Murray

Pastor of The Church of the Holy Family


Holy Family Parish is pleased to host the Prayer Service on the occasion of the opening of the Seventy-Second Session of the United Nations General Assembly. We welcome you all – religious leaders, diplomats, UN staff members, parishioners and friends - to what we are proud to call the United Nations Parish.

In particular, we welcome Pope Francis’ personal representative, His Excellency Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations. We are honored by the presence of His Excellency John O. Barres, Bishop of Rockville Centre. We are blessed by the presence of members of the Christian clergy, and by the presence of clergy and representatives of other religious faiths here with us this evening.

We are honored by the presence of the new Secretary General of the United Nations, His Excellency Mr. Antonio Guterres. Mr. Secretary General, “Bemvindo na paroquia da Sagrada Familia.” We are also honored by the presence of Madam Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed. We greet the President of the 72nd Session of the General Assembly, His Excellency Mr. Miroslav Lajcak [lie-check] and his wife Jarmila and the President of the 71st Session of the General Assembly, His Excellency Mr. Peter Thomson and his wife Marijcke.

Our gathering in prayer comes one day after His Holiness Pope Francis completed his four day Apostolic Visit to Columbia. The Holy Father’s words at the Great Prayer Meeting for National Reconciliation at the Parque las Malocas in Villavicencio can serve as an inspiration for those who work at the United Nations for the essential goals of peace and reconciliation among nations and peoples divided by warfare and hatred. Pope Francis said  [Quote] “I wish finally, as a brother and a father, to say this: Colombia, open your heart as the People of God and be reconciled. Fear neither the truth nor justice.

Dear people of Colombia: do not be afraid of asking for forgiveness and offering it.

Do not resist that reconciliation which allows you to draw near and encounter one another as brothers and sisters, and surmount enmity.

Now is the time to heal wounds, to build bridges, to overcome differences. It is time to defuse hatred, to renounce vengeance, and to open yourselves to a coexistence founded on justice, truth, and the creation of a genuine culture of fraternal encounter. May we live in harmony and solidarity, as the Lord desires. Let us pray to be builders of peace, so that where there is hatred and resentment, we may bring love and mercy.”

Let us Pray: God of truth and love, we turn to you, asking that you pour out your inspiration and guidance upon all those who work diligently at the United Nations to secure a world of peace, justice and freedom. Strengthen us all in your grace, and keep us ever mindful of our duty to love and serve one another, especially those in most need. Bless us today and always, you who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

You are all most cordially invited by Archbishop Auza to attend a reception immediately after tonight’s prayer service in Robbins’ Hall in the church basement. You can enter either through the door on the left side of the vestibule as you leave, or through the garden back entrance.