Bishop Paul Hinder, O.F.M. Cap., apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia, recalled as “extraordinary” the history made in February in Abu Dhabi when Pope Francis and Egyptian Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, signed the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”
The document was a highlight of the meditation Bishop Hinder delivered at the Prayer Service on the Vigil of the Opening of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, apostolic nuncio, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, presided at the evening liturgy Sept. 16 at Holy Family Church in Manhattan.
The declaration, Bishop Hinder said in his meditation, points to certain urgent topics that can be addressed only if religions are doing their duty properly and if the respective societies, their governments and the international community as a whole are working together.
“And this is where your own deliberations in the coming days must lead,” Bishop Hinder challenged the assembled diplomats, “in making provisions for protecting the family as the fundamental nucleus of society and humanity; providing right education for children, avoiding everything that could lead people to extremism and violence.”
Referring to the region where he has served for more than 15 years, Bishop Hinder said, “I can testify that the declaration has started to bear fruit…
“However, there is still a long way to go,” he said. “I simply wish to mention the disastrous war in Yemen, where millions of people are longing for justice and peace. Who will have the courage to break the vicious circle of violence?”
“On this vigil of the opening of the Assembly,” Bishop Hinder concluded, “let us make a humble, joint and earnest prayer to the Father of the universe in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi: “Make me an instrument of your peace!”
Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, the permanent representative of Nigeria, elected president of the present session by the U.N. General Assembly in June, said in remarks at Holy Family Church that the prayer service “reminds us of the place of faith and the role that empathy and love can play in agreeing, when we want to disagree.”
“I am not unaware of the difficult negotiations of the recent past and the arduous ones that will follow in the United Nations,” Muhammad-Bande said.
“However, I will have recourse often to remember the essence of religion, and its tenets of faith, love, compassion, and persevere in the hope of doing some good, especially in defending and advancing the interests of especially the vulnerable,” he said.
“This is important for all religions; it is also important for the United Nations.”
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, president of the 73rd Session of the General Assembly, also attended.
Also invited by Archbishop Auza to pray for peace and blessings upon the upcoming meetings were other diplomats, dignitaries, U.N. staff and representatives of countries, along with parishioners. Members of the Christian clergy, and clergy and representatives of other religions, were also present.
Known as the United Nations parish, Holy Family, on East 47th Street, is located around the corner from U.N. headquarters. The pastor of Holy Family, Father Gerald Murray, welcomed the congregants and delivered the invocation.
Prayers of Petition were offered in Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, French and English.
Marie-Thérèse Auguste Laguerre, 82, who served as a staff member at the United Nations for 37 years, attends the prayer service each year. Her father, the late Carlet Auguste, was the permanent representative of Haiti to the United Nations 60 years ago.
The prayer service is integral, she told CNY during the reception that followed in the parish hall, because “it gathers from the beginning everyone” from a diverse pool of “193 nations and all religions. This is very important, and this is the strength of it.”
Among her roles at the U.N., from which she is retired, was chief of the information and reception units.
“Peace is necessary” was a theme of the prayer service that resonated with Ms. Auguste Laguerre, a native of Haiti who belongs to Our Saviour parish in Manhattan. She said her father, also a native of Haiti whom she described as “a patriot,” was especially on her mind on the eve of the opening of the 74th General Assembly.
Enrico Gonzalez, 52, of St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in Manhattan, brought his and wife Natilya’s 7-year-old daughter, Veronika, to the prayer service.
“It’s important to pray for peace around the world,” said Gonzalez, who is a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
“I wanted to expose her to the other side of politics,” he said of Veronika, a third-grader at Blessed Sacrament School in Manhattan, “and what she’s learning in school about different countries and about the United Nations.”