Secretary-General, at New York Ecumenical Service, Stresses Special Role of Religious Leaders as Standard-Bearers of Reason, Respect

18 September 2012

Secretary-General, at New York Ecumenical Service, Stresses Special Role of Religious Leaders as Standard-Bearers of Reason, Respect

18 September 2012
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, at New York Ecumenical Service, Stresses Special Role

Of Religious Leaders as Standard-bearers of Reason, Respect


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the Church of the Holy Family in New York on 17 September:

It is an honour to join with you once again.  This service always has deep meaning for me.  And this year is even more special because it is the first of my second term as Secretary-General.

We gather at the beginning of another season of diplomacy.  Soon, world leaders will gather from every corner of the globe.  They will engage at the United Nations in the spirit of dialogue — with faith in diplomacy — as believers in our mission to advance peace, human rights and development.  Regardless of religion, these are the values that unite us as global citizens.

But those tenets are being tested today — unfortunately.  Conflict continues to claim the lives of innocents from Syria to Central Africa to Afghanistan.  In all regions, communities are facing economic hardship and political uncertainty.  Unemployment is on the rise.  So is intolerance.  Perhaps it is easy for some to despair at these tests.  But I am a believer.  I believe we can rise to the challenge.  And I know you believe that, too.

We gather this evening against a backdrop of global protests and violence in response to yet another harmful instance of hatred and provocation.  Therefore, I would like to stress the special role of religious leaders and community voices of conscience.  Whether priest or lama, rabbi or imam, you are all standard-bearers of reason and respect within and among religious traditions.

People everywhere look to religious leaders for guidance, support and direction.  We need religious leaders in all parts of the world to help lead the way in promoting tolerance, seeking forgiveness, healing divisions and building mutual understanding and mutual respect.  This pursuit is rooted in all faith traditions and it is needed now more than ever.  We need voices of moderation and calm everywhere to make themselves heard.

As Secretary-General, I travel the world.  I have seen hardship and heartache.  And I have seen resilience in the face of great challenge.  I have seen the best of humanity and I have seen the worst of humanity, over the course of one year or one month or one day — sometimes I see it all in a day.

Let me tell you about one of those days — 26 July this year.  I began the morning in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I travelled to Srebrenica.  There is perhaps no more difficult place for a United Nations Secretary-General to visit.  Srebrenica was the scene of the worst act of genocide in Europe since World War II.  The United Nations — the international community — failed to protect thousands of Muslim men and boys from slaughter.  I visited the graves.  I wept with the mothers.  I resolved that the road from Srebrenica must take us to a world that is more civilized, more accountable, more humane.

That same day, I went to London.  It was the eve of the London Olympic Games.  I was invited to run the city streets with the Olympic torch.  I had my running gear — I was trained and I was ready.  But in the end, I couldn’t run as I had imagined.  I had to slowly jog.  Because there were so many people along the roads — people from everywhere coming together, cheering each other on, in such a heart-warming celebration of global solidarity and good fellowship.

In the span of a few hours, I saw the open wounds of fresh memories, and the open joys of fresh hope.  I saw the world as it was, and too often still is — and the world as we know it can be.  Sometimes the image of that better world comes in short bursts, in Olympic moments.  But I believe it is out there for all the people of this Earth to grasp if we labour and dream and pray for it together.

Almost 50 years ago, Pope Paul VI delivered a sermon here at this very ecumenical service.  He said, “The work of peace is not restricted to one religious belief, it is the work and duty of every human person, regardless of...religious conviction.”

That remains our mission — our obligation — and our calling.  Lastly, I sincerely hope that under the leadership of the President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremić, we will be united and able to address all the challenges we are facing.  Let us strive together to advance our common humanity and shared future.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.