Many people have written to me to ask for the text of my remarks at the Prayer Service at Holy Family Church last September 14 that marked the beginning of the United Nations General Assembly. I thought you might be interested in them as well.
Archbishop Migliori, Bishop Sullivan, Father Robbins, brother priests, colleagues in the clergy, Secretary General and Mrs. Ban Ki-Moon
Esteemed ambassadors, United Nations delegates and staff
Distinguished guests one and all:
I can only hope you realize what a joy and an honor it is for me as the still-new Archbishop of New York to be with you in prayer as we anticipate the opening of the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
It is a privilege for us to devote one of our parishes, this Church of the Holy Family, to the pastoral care of so many collaborating in the noble mission of the United Nations.
Thank you for the inspiration you give as you bow your heads in prayer to commence a new season of labor on behalf of world peace, promotion of human rights, care for those in peril and distress, and the furthering of justice. You are, in the words of Pope John Paul II, “a moral center where all the nations of the world feel at home, and develop a shared awareness of being a ‘family of nations.’”
It seems an indelible part of the human spirit to dream of a better world, to yearn for it and work for it; but it seems part of our nature as well to realize that such dreams, yearning, and efforts will be futile and frustrating without the help of the creator and sustainer of all the nations, who put those dreams, aspirations, and plans in us to begin with. Pope Benedict XVI said it well a year and a half ago when he observed, “The founding principles of this organization — the desire for peace, the quest for justice, respect for the dignity of the person, humanitarian cooperation and assistance — express the first aspiration of the human spirit.”
We’ve heard a reading from the Scriptures considered sacred by Jews and Christians, the first book of the Bible, Genesis. It’s the familiar episode of the Tower of Babel.
Please believe me that I make this comment more out of admiration than criticism, but would there be an institution on earth better able to appreciate the curse of the Tower of Babel than the United Nations?
Literally, you daily hear the babbling of dozens, hundreds of languages.
And daily do you sense the confusion, conflict, and cacophony, not only of words, but of agenda and interests that so often seem to clash and crush.
One of my prayers this evening is simply that you will never let this Babel discourage you; one of my prayers is that of thanksgiving that you persevere in your crucial work through all of this.
Yet, we also realize that, while humanity is indeed fractured by the Babel of different languages and interests, there is also a voice, a tongue common to us all.
Often, this can be detected through a smile, a song, an embrace, an extended hand.
Often, it can be heard in the common nature that speaks a language that does not require a dictionary or a grammar, what our American philosopher Thoreau called the “oversoul.”
This voice is often not so much heard but sensed, groaned at times, prayed at its best.
This tongue speaks of help and hope, of mercy and tenderness, of fatigue over war, of longing for simple decency, dignity, and duty; this voice speaks in the eyes of a mother nursing a child or holding the body of her dead soldier-son.
This language wonders at times if anyone else can hear it, but is confident that God can, and trusts that many others hear it, too.
This language expresses itself in tears and in smiles, in sighs and groans, in poetry and liturgy. It’s as old as the Tower of Babel yet as new as Pentecost, when all understood God’s word of salvation and mercy.
This is the official language of the United Nations, that needs no translation at all. It tells us, as did Jesus, that “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the earth;” as did St. Francis of Assisi, to “start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible; and suddenly, we are doing the impossible”; it tells us, as did the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that “the human person is at the heart of all institutions, laws, and workings of society.”
Tomorrow, you begin to speak that language once again, not, we pray this eve, a Babel but a benediction.
May the Lord who has begun this good work in you now bring it to completion!