By Christopher White
The Tablet National Correspondent
On the 16th anniversary of a day that forever intensified the challenge of peace, ambassadors from around the world packed Manhattan’s Holy Family Church for the annual prayer service for the opening of the 72ndsession of the General Assembly for the United Nations.
While the date was coincidental, the September 11th anniversary loomed large as the themes of service and sacrifice were presented to the international community as necessary requisites for peace.
In his meditation for the interfaith service, Bishop John Barres of Rockville Centre paid tribute to the victims of 9/11 and asked that their witness “expand our souls and our global vision of peace and justice in the world and to commit ourselves anew to the sacrifices necessary to make that vision a reality.”
Bishop Barres used his remarks to offer the life and witness of Blessed Óscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, as a model for the international community to follow.
Archbishop Romero was brutally martyred in 1980 while celebrating mass for terminally ill patients in his native El Salvador after being targeted by local government officials for fearlessly preaching against government abuses of human rights.
“Archbishop Romero was executed because he would not bend in this defense of the intrinsic value of the lives of all people, especially the poorest and most marginalized,” said Bishop Barres.
“Ask him in a special way to grant the leaders and all those who work at or for the United Nations, the gift of compassion and passion,” said Bishop Barres, “so that, like Archbishop Romero, hearing the cries of the poor, needy and abandoned, they may live up to the high hope the peoples of the world place in them and, indeed, lead the way to a more united, fraternal, just and merciful world.”
On hand were 56 Ambassadors and over 50 religious leaders, including Catholic and Orthodox bishops, priests, Protestant ministers, rabbis, Buddhists, Muslims, and Mormons.
“We may follow many faiths, but we all share a common ethical foundation – to treat humanity with humanity,” Secretary-General António Guterres reminded those in attendance.
Guterres, who is a Portuguese Catholic, was elected in January 2017.
He used his first prayer service as Secretary General to remind those in attendance that while they must pay attention to a world torn apart by war and destruction to also be encouraged by the stories of hope.
“Every day, in every country, innumerable acts of kindness and compassion are easing the lives of migrants, refugees, the victims of disasters, the poor and the powerless,” said Guterres.
“Such stories may be harder to find, but they are no less real and relevant than the lurid tales of slaughter and distress that dominate the headlines. These are the stories we must honor and draw inspiration from,” he concluded.
The annual prayer service, which is organized by the papal nuncio to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, and the Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, was attended by over 300 members of the international community.
Just two years after Pope Francis visited the United Nations is September 2015, his spirit loomed large over the prayer service as attendees recited his Prayer for the Earth from Laudato si’, his Prayer for Peace from last summer’s World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, and his Prayer for Refugees and Migrants from his April 2016 visit to Lesbos, Greece.
The president of the General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák, praised the work of faith communities, saying “There are in fact many overlaps between the work the UN does on the ground, and the role of faith communities and organizations.”
“Faith communities are – and must continue to be – a valuable partner to the UN. We must learn from their experiences and knowledge,” said Lajčák.
“We must support each other in our work towards one common goal: to make the world a better place for all people to live in.”