New York — Peace is never achieved once and for all, but is the fruit of a daily quest for greater justice and respect for one another, the new papal nuncio to the United Nations said Monday.
For believers, it is not merely a result of human efforts, but also a gift from the Almighty, Archbishop Bernardito Auza said.
He spoke at a prayer service on the eve of the opening of the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly. It was his first official function since arriving Sept. 8 in New York. He was the nuncio to Haiti from 2008 until July 1.
The interreligious service is an annual event sponsored by the New York archdiocese, the Holy See's Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations and the Church of the Holy Family, where it was held.
Clergy, diplomats, parishioners and U.N. staff stood side-by-side in the airy church, which is near U.N. headquarters and identifies itself as "The United Nations Parish."
Auza urged participants to "work toward an ever-greater realization of the founding ideals of the United Nations, first among which is to 'save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.'"
"The current situation of violence and war in many parts of the world reminds us that lasting peace has remained elusive to many. ... It would seem that we have yet to learn the lesson from the madness of war and the senselessness of violence," the nuncio said.
"We cannot construct a world more genuinely human unless each one of us devotes himself or herself to the cause of peace with ever-renewed vigor, and makes the pursuit of peace a constant rule of life," he said.
The archbishop encouraged stakeholders in the General Assembly to reach agreements "on difficult questions that affect us all, not only on issues of war and peace, but also on the respect of fundamental human rights and on improving the quality of life for all, which are key to consolidating peace and security throughout the world."
Auza read a message from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state, which said Pope Francis "encourages all nations to keep the dignity of every human person foremost in their deliberations."
The pope also urged participants to seek solutions that promote peace and confront poverty through "valuing of fraternal relationships in the heart of families and communities, through the sharing of joys and sorrows, of hardships and triumphs that are part of human life."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the annual prayer service "is the calm before the storm of events, meetings and photo calls that is the General Assembly" and "reminds us that many people around the world turn to faith as a source of guidance and inspiration."
He said the "disturbing trend" to use faith as a weapon is "a gross misreading and malpractice of religion." It is not the province of any one religion, but of people "twisting many faiths in many parts of the world," Ban said.
The prayer service was designed, in part, to dispel such distortions and "reclaim and reaffirm faith -- faith in our beliefs, faith in our shared values, faith in our common humanity," he said.
Ban pointed to widening conflict, death and displacement of innocent people, and the kidnapping of children "simply for wanting to learn to read and write."
"There are more people displaced by war, including children, than at any period since the end of the Second World War," he said.
"Intolerance is growing toward 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," he observed.
"World leaders gathering for the General Assembly must find ways to protect religious minorities from persecution and 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," Ban said. The world cannot afford to divert attention from the promotion of development and human rights, he added.
Ban recounted his May 9 audience with Pope Francis, whose "sense of humility and humanity should be infectious" and said he looked forward to hosting the pope at the United Nations in 2015.
In his invocation at the prayer service, Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Walsh of New York, archdiocesan vicar general, said all human beings are entitled to food, water, medical care, education and religious freedom. He said they cry for dialogue, which challenges people to see the best in one another.
"Dialogue is a medicine that heals wounds and helps make the world more livable for present and future generations," Walsh said.
"Our world is a legacy bequeathed from past generations, but is also a loan to us from our children, who are worn out by conflict and yearning for the dawn of peace. Our children plead with us to tear down the walls of enmity and set a path to dialogue and peace so love and friendship will prevail," he said.
At an informal reception in the church hall after the prayer service, Archbishop Auza greeted well-wishers and rekindled friendships with people he knew from an earlier assignment in New York. He served at the Holy See's U.N. mission from 2006 to 2008.
Auza succeeds Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, who was removed from the post July 1 after serving since 2010.