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 CNS Story:

UN-PRAYER Sep-15-2009 (890 words) With photos. xxxn

UN should adopt common voice of dignity, decency, archbishop says

By Beth Griffin
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- The biblical Tower of Babel could serve as an apt metaphor for the challenges faced by the United Nations, but New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan said the organization would be better served if it used as an official language "a voice, a tongue common to all of us" that recognizes the human person as "the heart of all institutions, laws and works of society."

Archbishop Dolan spoke Sept. 14 at a prayer service on the eve of the opening of the 64th session of the U.N. General Assembly.

The interreligious service is an annual event sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York, the permanent observer mission of the Holy See to the United Nations and the Church of the Holy Family, where it was held.

An overflow crowd of more than 400 clergy, diplomats, parishioners, U.N. representatives and staff associates spilled out of the church into a warm late summer evening on East 47th Street near the U.N. headquarters. They sang, prayed, listened to Scripture and heard reflections from Archbishop Celestino Migliore, papal nuncio to the United Nations; U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; and Archbishop Dolan.

Archbishop Dolan said the voice he envisions for the United Nations is often best detected through a smile, a song or an embrace and speaks a language that does not require a dictionary or grammar. He said it "is often not so much heard but rather sensed, groaned at times, prayed at its best."

"This tongue speaks of help and hope, mercy and tenderness, of fatigue over war, of longing for simple decency and dignity," he added. "This language wonders at times if anyone else can hear it, but at least God can, and it trusts that when all is said and done, many others can, too."

Archbishop Dolan said the language, which expresses itself as tears, smiles, sighs and sobs, is as old as Babel and as new as Pentecost, "when all understood God's word of salvation and mercy in a common language."

Archbishop Migliore said Archbishop Dolan's "heart is as big as your broad shoulders to include the endeavors and concerns of the United Nations."

"As we prepare to focus our new session on effective responses to the global crisis, we acknowledge that our efforts, our personal and communal resources, our wisdom and determination, need an evermore link with the transcendent: light, clarity and strength which come from above," the papal nuncio said. "This is the sense of our gathering in this temple of prayer this evening."

Archbishop Migliore read a message from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, which said Pope Benedict XVI hoped "that in the coming session a strengthened sense of ethical responsibility will inspire and direct policies and decisions marked by solidarity and respect for the dignity and rights of all."

The pope also encouraged U.N. member-states to "persevere in their efforts to advance a global political culture marked by integrity, honesty and accountability to the world's people, especially our brothers and sisters suffering from poverty, hunger, disease and the scourge of violence and war."

Ban lauded the tradition of the prayer service and said, "It is always heartening to join with you in prayer for peace and prosperity just before leaders from around the world come to the United Nations to discuss how to achieve these goals."

"I trust you all understand we are not getting together just for the sake of meeting," he added. "We are gathering to tackle the major problems confronting our world."

He said Holy Family's altar, made from black granite that comes from near the Arctic Circle, reminded him of a recent visit to that region. "The glaciers are melting at a frightening pace. I was alarmed by the destruction and what it means for our common future," he said.

"All countries are affected," Ban added. "That means we can overcome these problems only when all countries are united and join forces in response. Not just governments, but civil society organizations, including religious groups and people of faith."

The U.N. official said solutions to problems including climate change, energy and financial crisis, environmental disasters and rampant hunger are suggested by the multicultural features of Holy Family's sanctuary.

"The unity we seek is in evidence here in this church," he said, pointing to Brazilian granite and Italian statuary. The multicultural features "remind us that faith is a universal longing that can bring people together for peace and progress."

Ban appealed for support for a new U.N. disarmament campaign called WMD, which he said stands not for weapons of mass destruction, but We Must Disarm.

"All of you can have an impact on disarmament, on climate and across our agenda," he said. "The power of prayer is immeasurable. The power of prayer for the United Nations is invaluable. And your collective support is deeply inspiring."

Father Robert J. Robbins, pastor of Church of the Holy Family and director of the archdiocesan commission on ecumenical and interreligious affairs, said the prayer service this year was larger than in some other years.

"There is a renewed enthusiasm," he said. "We finally have all realized we're in this together and, without one another, there are no answers."


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