Thank you for your warm welcome. Each year I look forward to joining you. I do so safe in the knowledge that this service is the calm before the storm of events, meetings and photo calls that is the General Assembly!
An evening like this reminds us that many people around the world turn to faith as a source of guidance and inspiration.
Yet today, too often, we also see the opposite.
Instead of protection, faith is used as a weapon.
This disturbing trend is not the province of any one religion.
We see it from those twisting many faiths – in many parts of the world.
This, of course, is a gross misreading and malpractice of religion.
This service is designed in part to dispel those distortions – to reclaim and reaffirm faith.
Faith in our beliefs … faith in our shared values … faith in our common humanity.
Soon world leaders will gather here from across the world. They come as representatives of the human family, a family that does not always agree, a family that often needs to be reminded that it is stronger together than apart.
World leaders come here at a time of widening conflict. There are more people displaced by war -- including children – than at any period since the end of the Second World War. Lives of innocent people are being claimed in unacceptable numbers from Syria to Iraq, from Ukraine to the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Children are being drawn into conflict and kidnapped simply for wanting to learn to read and write.
Intolerance is growing towards many of those who are seeking asylum or opportunities denied to them at home. Sadly, the reception they often receive is not what they may have expected or deserved.
As we come together for the General Assembly, world leaders must find ways to protect religious minorities from persecution, and to encourage tolerance for all regardless of race or sexuality. Above all they need to show vision and statesmanship in ending the conflicts that are raging across too much of the global landscape.
At a time when the world is facing so many deep and pressing challenges, from climate change to Ebola, we cannot afford any further such devastation, which diverts us from the essential work of promoting development and human rights.
Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to have an audience with His Holiness Pope Francis. His sense of humility and humanity should be infectious. He believes that people of faith must build bridges from one community to another, and from the present to a future of peace, tolerance and goodwill. So do I – and I know you do, too.
I am very much looking forward to hosting his holiness Pope Francis at the UN during his visit next year
So let us come together, join forces and build a world of dignity for all.