By Emily Drooby
The General Assembly of the United Nations opened on September 15, its 75th session. This milestone year was overshadowed by major changes caused by the global pandemic. One tradition that did carry on was the annual opening prayer service.
As the prayer to end the pandemic was offered, the pews were only half full.
“So, it’s more of a symbolic presence, but we really wanted to have this anyway because of the importance of the 75th anniversary,” said Monsignor David Charters, the First Secretary for the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the U.N.
Because of the pandemic, changes for the 34th annual opening prayer service meant it was held at the Church of the Holy Family in Midtown, Manhattan.
“We always begin by asking for the help that human beings need in order to accomplish the high goals that take place at the U.N.,” said Father Roger Landry, “for us to ask God’s help for all that we are going to be about this year, as we likewise pray for the needs of the world.”
Fr. Landry is the Attaché for the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the U.N.
Just like the prayer service, the General Assembly itself will look very different this year. Normally there’s a sea of presidential motorcades, but this year, the streets around the U.N. will be quiet as the General Assembly is held almost entirely virtually. It’s an odd change coinciding with the 75th anniversary.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York says that the adjustment is important because of the essential work that the U.N. does.
“The popes are forever like Jesus, trying to be bridge builders, to speak about dialogue and that’s what the United Nations does,’ he told Currents News. “It’s painful, it takes a lot of patience, there’s a lot of set-backs, but boy-oh-boy we need all the help we can get, and I think the U.N. gives us a lot.”
Social distancing stickers were on the ground and masks were worn by the faithful — a reminder that the prayer vigil was also adjusted to work with the times.
Archbishop Gabriele Caccia was grateful that this event was still held.
“Jesus told us to ‘go and preach the Gospel to all nations,’ and the U.N. represents all nations, so having this moment is like to fulfill the commandments of Jesus,” he said.
This was Archbishop Caccia’s first annual prayer service as the new Papal Ambassador to the United Nations.