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 CNS Story:

UN-MEDITATION Apr-20-2008 (780 words) With photo to come. xxxn

U.N. room seen as reminder of world's need for prayer, meditation

By Angelo Stagnaro
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- When he welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to the United Nations April 18 and introduced him in the General Assembly hall, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that the world body is "a secular institution" with 192 member states and "six official languages, but no official religion."

"We do not have a chapel," he said, but "we do have a meditation room."

He was talking about the Dag Hammarskjold Meditation Room, named for the Swedish diplomat who was U.N. secretary-general, 1953-61.

After delivering his General Assembly speech and addressing U.N. staff, Pope Benedict was given a brief tour, which included the meditation room.

It was created by Hammarskjold specifically for the use of diplomats, staff and all visitors because he recognized that even in a secular institution there is a place for silent prayer and meditation.

"We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence," Hammarskjold said in dedicating the room in 1957.

"This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense," said Hammarskjold, a Christian. "It has been the aim to create in this small room a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer."

As one enters the main U.N. entrance, the meditation room is located to the right of the information desk, next to the "Chagall Peace Window."

The window was made as a tribute to Hammarskjold, who died in 1961 in a plane crash in what is now Zambia.

The blue glass of the window is a warm azure that echoes the beauty of Marc Chagall's other works.

The window is 15 feet wide and 12 feet high and contains several symbols of peace and love, including an image of a small child being kissed by an angel that emerges from a bouquet of flowers. On the left, below and above the child, motherhood and people struggling for peace are depicted. In the upper right-hand corner is found a crucifix.

Musical symbols are spread throughout the window, possibly a reference to one of Hammarskjold's favorite pieces, Ludwig van Beethoven's "Symphony No. 9."

The sign outside the room, which is open to the public, bears a message for all visitors: "Please respect the sanctity of this room."

It's a simple room with a block of iron ore in the middle, a stone that can serve as an altar or simply as a focus for meditation.

"We may see it as an altar, empty not because there is no God, not because it is an altar to an unknown god, but because it is dedicated to the God whom man worships under many names and in many forms," Hammarskjold said in his dedication remarks.

The stone "reminds us also of the firm and permanent in a world of movement and change," he said. "The block of iron ore has the weight and solidity of the everlasting. It is a reminder of that cornerstone of endurance and faith on which all human endeavor must be based."

The material for the stone was chosen to purposely lead visitors' "thoughts to the necessity for choice between destruction and construction, between war and peace," according to Hammarskjold.

"Of iron man has forged his swords, of iron he has also made his ploughshares. Of iron he has constructed tanks, but of iron he has likewise built homes for man. The block of iron ore is part of the wealth we have inherited on this earth of ours. How are we to use it?" he asked.

An abstract painting covers the back wall of the room. It's "a simple pattern" that opens up the room "to the harmony, freedom and balance of space," Hammarskjold said.

Other than the abstract painting and the iron ore "altar," the only other striking symbol in the room is a single shaft of light.

"The shaft of light strikes the stone in a room of utter simplicity. There are no other symbols; there is nothing to distract our attention or to break in on the stillness within ourselves," Hammarskjold said.

He reminded people to seek inner silence.

"There is an ancient saying that the sense of a vessel is not in its shell but in the void," he said. "So it is with this room. It is for those who come here to fill the void with what they find in their center of stillness."

Hammarskjold is the only person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously.

END


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