Your Royal Highness, Princess Haya Bint al Hussein,
Your Excellency Mogens Lykketoft, President of the General Assembly,
Your Excellency Hervé Ladsous, Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, who this evening represents the UN Secretary General His Excellency Ban Ki-moon;
Eminence and my fellow ambassadors,
Friends of the Holy See and the of the Path to Peace Foundation,
I warmly welcome you to the Annual Gala Dinner of the Path to Peace Foundation and I sincerely thank you for your presence tonight.
The Path to Peace Foundation was founded in 1991 to support the work of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations and to sponsor projects that foster justice and peace.
Tonight is our 23rd Gala Dinner, held each year to help the Path to Peace Foundation meet both of these principal objectives, raising resources to strengthen the work of the Holy See’s presence at the UN and also honoring those leaders who, as peacemakers, are inspiring examples and champions of those in situations where the tranquility of order, solidarity and social harmony does not reign.
Later in our program tonight, I will have a chance to speak directly about the promotion of peace and the laudable work being done by tonight’s honoree in various parts of the world.
I note that this is by far the largest Path to Peace Gala Dinner we have ever had and, I’m told, it’s the largest banquet ever held at the United Nations with more than 600 guests. Thus I recognize that some, here for the first time, may not be aware of what the Holy See does at the UN and, even more fundamentally, when and why the Holy See began a permanent presence. My hope in doing so is to help everyone, whether you are here for the first or 23rd time, to appreciate more profoundly the work that will benefit from your generous presence tonight.
The United Nations was born, as you know, in 1945 out of the ashes of the Second World War. The Preamble of the UN Charter, signed 70 years ago this year, described at the very beginning of its Preamble the purposes of its existence: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm faith in human dignity and fundamental human rights, to promote social progress and better standards life in larger freedom and to establish the conditions for nations justly to keep their treaty obligations and follow international law.
For Catholics in the room, these goals — peace, fundamental human rights, fidelity to one’s commitments and to just laws, social development and the promotion of freedom —sound very familiar, because they are all central pillars of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. And so it is not surprising that the Holy See lent its moral support to the UN project from the beginning.
The Holy See became a Permanent Observer State in 1964. But even before then, UN authorities had invited the Pope to send a representative to the annual General Debate. The status of a Permanent Observer State is rare today — encompassing only the Holy See and since 2012 the State of Palestine — but over the course of UN history, a number of countries that are now full members were previously Observer States for periods ranging from months to 56 years.
The overall goal of the Holy See’s work at the UN has always been to bring its own millennial experience of humanity to all the complex reality of international relations and to international debates about the problems that our world faces.
When the Popes have visited the United Nations, they have all affirmed the Catholic Church’s regard for the importance of the United Nations for the world.
Pope Paul VI, in his 1965 Address to the UN General Assembly, affirmed that the UN “represents the obligatory path of modern civilization and world peace.”
When St. John Paul II addressed the General Assembly during the Golden Jubilee of the UN in 1995, he said, “Fifty years after its founding, the need for such an Organization is even more obvious,” while he challenged it “to become a moral center where all the nations of the world feel at home and develop a shared awareness of being, as it were, a ‘family of nations.’”
Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2008 visit, expressed his hope that the UN would “increasingly serve as a sign of unity between States and an instrument of service to the entire human family.”
And on September 25, Pope Francis called the UN “the appropriate juridical and political response to this present moment of history” and said that without its work at the international level over the last 70 years, “mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities.”
Pope John Paul II emphasized during his first visit in 1979: “Although their respective purposes and operative approaches are obviously different, the Church and the United Nations constantly find wide areas of cooperation on the basis of their common concern for the human family.”
It’s that concern for the human family that, in short, inspires all of the Holy See’s work at the United Nations.
When Pope Francis concluded his remarks on September 25th, he said:
“The praiseworthy international juridical framework of the United Nations Organization and of all its activities, like any other human endeavor,” he said, “can be improved, yet it remains necessary; at the same time it can be the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations. And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good. I pray to Almighty God that this will be the case.”
Your presence here tonight demonstrates that you share Pope Francis’ vision of the United Nations and want to make it prosper. Let us make his prayer our own.