By Benedicta Cipolla and Angelo Stagnaro
Catholic News Service
UNITED NATIONS (CNS) – Reflecting the organization's mission, U.N. workers form a kind of family in which the strong protect the weak, Pope Benedict XVI said.
Addressing the staff of the United Nations April 18 following his address to the General Assembly, the pope said they laid the foundation for the organization's mandate of monitoring how well various governments protect their own citizens.
Expressing appreciation for their work, he said U.N. personnel represent a "microcosm of the whole world, in which each individual makes an indispensable contribution from the perspective of his or her particular cultural and religious heritage."
In his introduction, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said U.N. staff members are "driven by their own brand of faith, but one which unites them with one another."
The pope's visit, said Ban, lifted their spirits and faith.
The pope noted the similarity between the United Nations and Vatican City State: Both are surrounded by large cities, and both strive to fulfill a "worldwide mission to promote peace and justice."
The 16th-century frescoes on the walls of the Apostolic Palace, he said, have reminded popes throughout history "of the vast extent of the known world" and the "immense outreach of the church's mission."
In the same way, the art at U.N. headquarters reminds those working inside of their responsibilities to the world at large, he said.
"We see images of the effects of war and poverty, we are reminded of our duty to strive for a better world, and we rejoice in the sheer diversity and exuberance of human culture, manifested in the wide range of peoples and nations gathered together under the umbrella of the international community," said Pope Benedict.
A copy of "Guernica," Pablo Picasso's famous painting depicting the horrors of the Spanish civil war, hangs outside the entrance of the Security Council.
Before the pope left, the choir of the U.N. International School, with several members dressed to represent their respective countries, performed "What a Goodly Thing," a hymn to peace, and "Weisst du wieviel Sternlein stehen," a well-known German children's song about God the creator.
The smiling pope mouthed the words. "Do you know how many little stars in the wide blue sky?" the song asks. "The Lord God counted them so well that none are missing from the whole lot of them."
Outside the United Nations, tens of thousands gathered to catch a glimpse of Pope Benedict on his first day in New York.
Maria Meister of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Bergenfield, N.J., went to Washington to greet the pope and then immediately came to New York. She led a group of nearly 130 members of the Neocatechumenal Way, with 30 from California.
Meister was exuberant about being at the United Nations.
"I'm really happy to be here," she said. "This is our pilgrimage and we're happy to offer it up. This is such a wonderful experience for everyone. Not just the kids, but for me, too."
Among the group was 8-year-old Sabrina Sisson, clearly exhausted from her early departure from Washington.
"I think the pope's great! He's so wonderful," Sabrina said. "I'm really happy to be here to see him."
Michele Menendez, 20, a sophomore at Bergen Community College in Paramus, N.J., was particularly grateful to be in New York.
"I'm very excited," she said. "I didn't get permission to cut classes but I came anyway. This was too important."
To be able to see the pope "enlivens your faith," Menendez added. "It gives you a certain zeal."
Ken Rodriguez, 16, a junior at Bergenfield High School, chimed in.
"This is a really big experience for me to see the pope," he said. "The church has helped me a lot in my life. I'm happy to do my part to make the pope feel welcomed."
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