Monday 16 September 2013
Prayer Service for the Opening of the Sixty-eighth Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Remarks of H. E. Archbishop Francis A. ChullikattApostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations
  Your Eminence, Cardinal Dolan,Your Excellencies, Mr. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,President of the 67th Session of the General Assembly, Mr. Vuk Jeremic,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 and family.  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 See.  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.    Dear Friends,   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:   His 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.   Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone Secretary of State of His Holiness Pope FRANCIS