13 September 2001





NEW YORK, 12 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan delivered at the Holy Family Church in New York on 10 September:

I want to thank you all for being here today, and special thanks to Archbishop Martino and Cardinal Egan for organizing this service. It is an event that means a lot to me personally.

Strictly speaking, it is not for me to welcome you all, since I am here as your guest in this Church.

But somehow I feel entitled to do so, because this annual service has become an important, if unofficial, part of the United Nations calendar.

It cannot be an official part, because the United Nations is a secular institution. But it is important to understand what that means, and what it does not mean.

Next week, we shall commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the death of Dag Hammarskjöld, a man of great wisdom and spirituality, who gave his life in the service of the United Nations. So it may be appropriate if I remind you of his words which are posted outside the Meditation Room in the Visitors’ Lobby.

He wrote that, because "people of many faiths" would meet in that room, it was not possible to use any of "the symbols to which we are accustomed in our meditation". But "there are simple things which speak to us all in the same language".

After describing some of those things, which are in the Meditation Room, he went on to explain that the altar is empty -- "not because there is no God, not because it is an altar to an unknown God, but because it is dedicated to the God whom man worships under many names and in many forms".

I think those words capture the secular spirit of the United Nations. It is not anti-religious. Quite the opposite. It needs the support of all religions.

It needs all your prayers, just as it needs all your support in other, more practical ways.

Brothers and sisters, I need your prayers to sustain me in my work, and if you pray for me I am deeply grateful.

But you have this service for the General Assembly, which begins its fifty-sixth session tomorrow. And that is right, because the Assembly represents all the United Nations -– the great and small, the rich and poor.

Please pray for all the peoples of the United Nations -- and pray for the Organization, which is their Organization. Pray that in the coming year they find it more effective in serving their needs, and protecting them from the scourge of war.

Amen. Thank you very much.

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