BY BETH GRIFFIN
THE UNITED NATIONS should adopt a common language of dignity and decency to overcome challenges which are akin to the biblical Tower of Babel, the Archbishop of New York has said.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan said the UN would be best served if it used as an official language “a voice, a tongue common to all of us” that recognises the human person as “the heart of all institutions, laws and works of society”.
He was speaking at a prayer service on the eve of the opening of the 64th session of the UN General Assembly. The interreligious service, held on September 14, is an annual event sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York, the Holy See’s permanent UN observer mission and the Church of the Holy Family, where it was held.
An overflow crowd of more than 400 clergy, diplomats, parishioners, UN representatives and staff spilled out of the church. They sang, prayed, and heard reflections from Archbishop Celestino Migliore, papal nuncio to the UN, Ban Kimoon, UN secretary-general, and Archbishop Dolan.
Archbishop Dolan said the voice he envisioned for the UN was often best detected through a smile, a song or an embrace and spoke 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 said. “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 Pente cost, “when all understood God’s word of salvation and mercy in a common language”.
Archbishop Migliore, papal nuncio to the UN, said Archbishop Dolan’s heart was “as big as your broad shoulders to include the endeavours and concerns of the United Nations”.
He said: “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. 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 UN 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”. Mr Ban lauded the tradition of the prayer service, saying: “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 said. “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 visit to the 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. That means we can overcome these problems only when all countries are united and join forces in response. Not just governments, but civil society organisations, including religious groups and people of faith.” He said solutions to problems including climate change and the financial crisis were suggested by the multicultural features of Holy Family’s sanctuary. Pointing to Brazilian granite and Italian statuary, he said: “The unity we seek is in evidence here in this church.”