New York

16 November 2021

Secretary-General's remarks at the Path to Peace Award Ceremony (as prepared for delivery)

Archbishop Caccia,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am greatly humbled and honoured by this Path to Peace Award.

I see it as a tribute to all of the women and men of the United Nations who forge the path to peace every day around the world.

Striving to end conflict.

Feeding the hungry.

Healing the sick.

Protecting and sheltering those fleeing strife.

Building bridges among communities.

Reducing human suffering and expanding dignity in the most difficult and dangerous places on earth.

All in pursuit of the greatest cause of all — peace.

My friends,

My life’s journey has been guided by the parable of the talents.

The parable reminds us of our solemn responsibility to recognize the great opportunities and privileges we have been given — and to use them to give back. 

To lift up.  To support and help others.

Like the talents, hope is not for hoarding.

We need to extend hope — and help — and affirm our common humanity.

When one future is blighted, we are all at risk — as the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate emergency have both demonstrated in such dramatic fashion.

But the reverse is also true.

When we build bridges of trust among all people — and recognize the inherent dignity we share as human beings — we are all enriched.

I commend Pope Francis for his many efforts to do just that.

Including through his inspiring encyclicals —

His groundbreaking 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, which drew attention to the effects of our actions on our climate and environment — our common home.  

And last year’s Fratelli Tutti, in which he described the state of our troubled and divided times as “Dark Clouds Over a Closed World” — and reminded us all that only by walking the path of peace, in solidarity, can we build a better future.

Because right now, poverty and hunger are threatening lives.

Lack of education and equal opportunity are limiting futures.

The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing its destructive march — jeopardizing our health, economies and livelihoods.

At the same time, it is amplifying the stubborn inequalities that persist within, and among, every society on earth.

And it is making clear a profound truth: 

The tests we face today are not policy tests.

They are moral tests. 

Our shameful inability to vaccinate tens of millions of people in the developing world is one tragic example.

We are confronting the disastrous effects of a changing climate — famine, floods, fires and extreme heat.

Scripture tells us that after creation, God looked at everything he had made — and he was pleased.

In 2014, Pope Francis said: “When we exploit creation, we destroy the sign of God’s love for us.” He reminded us that human beings are “custodians” of this creation, not “masters” of it.

We must stop intentionally destroying our natural world and its gifts.     

As we seem bent on the destruction of our planet, we often seem bent on the destruction of one another, too.

Conflicts continue to rage — from Yemen to Myanmar to Ethiopia and beyond. 

A perilous sense of impunity is taking hold, through seizures of power by force and military coups.

And people are turning their backs on trust and solidarity.

The very values we need to fulfil our moral obligation to build a better, more peaceful and sustainable future for all people.

To deliver vaccines to everyone, everywhere.

To ensure an equal economic recovery.

To reduce inequalities by increasing social protections and investments in all aspects of human development — from health to education.

To support the most vulnerable in every society — including refugees and migrants seeking safety and opportunity.

To balance the scales of power for women and girls, so they can build better futures for themselves and for all.

To preserve our common home by addressing the planetary emergency of climate change, and support all countries — especially developing ones — as they decarbonize their economies.

And to — finally — end the cycle of destruction and devastation of the conflicts that are scarring our world.

We need all parties of conflict to lay down their guns and focus instead on fighting humanity’s common enemy — COVID-19 and its disastrous effects on people in every country.

We need peace — now.

My friends,

Seventy-six years ago, the United Nations was created in the wake of the horrors of the Second World War.

Learning the lessons of past conflicts is enshrined in the UN Charter’s promise to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”

As your organization’s name reminds us, peace is not a naïve dream.

It is a necessary and practical pathway to a better future for all.

The path is seldom straight.

There are many barriers along the way.

Barriers that hinder our progress — or take us in the wrong direction.

Voices of division and mistrust that seek to destroy any notion of truth, and prevent understanding and tolerance. 

Or forces of narrow nationalism that seek to exclude and tear societies apart.

But humanity has shown — time and time again — that we are capable of great kindness, great understanding, and great achievements when we work together.

When we focus on what unites us — rather than what divides us.

When we look to our neighbours and fellow citizens — or people who live on the other side of the world, people we may never meet — with goodwill and tolerance.

When we respect and support the essential human rights and dignity of every person.

When we work together — and walk together along the path of peace.

The United Nations is proud to be with you every step of the way.

Thank you.