- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

The Catholic Church may be declining in numbers in the United States, but it seems to have the broad and enthusiastic support of U.N. employees and affiliates.

Hundreds of staffers poured into the General Assembly chambers this morning for a special address from Benedict XVI, who thanked them and their colleagues in far-flung duty stations for bringing hope and comfort to the poor and needy around the world.

Diplomats had given the pope a rare standing ovation when he entered the chambers an hour earlier, but the staff a younger and less formal group added full-throated cheers.

Pope Benedict looked genuinely surprised and touched as he entered, smiling broadly and raising his hands in a widescreen blessing.

“This organization performs an important service, in the name of the international community, by monitoring the extent to which governments fulfill their responsibility to protect their citizens,” he told the staff. “On a day-to-day level, it is you who lay the foundations on which that work is built, by the concern you show for one another in the workplace, and by your solicitude for the many peoples whose needs and aspirations you serve in all that you do.”

The Catholic Church has been an active non-state member of the United Nations since 1964, contributing a token amount to the regular budget and nothing to the peacekeeping or war crimes tribunals. However, the Vatican does support specific humanitarian and development efforts, and its volunteers and NGOs are active in the field.

Benedict XVI spent three hours at the United Nations Friday morning, his third in a six-day U.S. visit. He is the third pontiff to address the world body since its founding in 1945.

“We remember the vast multitude of dedicate their lives to work that is never sufficiently acknowledged, often in difficult circumstances,” he said.

While here, the pope also engaged in the quintessential U.N. activity: the receiving line.

Senior U.N. staff and heads of agencies, as well as a few New York notables, were invited to meet his holiness for a few moments of face time.

Marjorie Bloomberg Tiven, who heads her brother Michael’s liaison office with the diplomatic corps, committed a major faux pas by climbing on the little platform that elevates the pontiff, instead of looking up towards him.

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was there, looking remarkably calm considering how many police officers, sniffer dogs, sharp-shooters and undercover detectives were providing papal protection outside.

Chief architect Michael Adlerstein, peacekeeping head Jean-Marie Guehenno, and U.N. inspector general Inga-Britt Ahlenius each shook the pope’s hand when their turn came and exchanged a few polite words, shoving off down the line to greet Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, his wife Yoo Soon-taek and Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro.

UN Population Fund director Thoraya Obaid, too, greeted him politely. The Holy See has a wary relationship with her agency, which provides family planning in developing countries and disaster zones.

Anne Veneman, UNICEF chief, shook the pontiff’s hand repeatedly and then paused, beaming, for photographers.

Joseph Verner Reed, a veteran assistant to several secretaries general, handed the pope an object to be blessed.

U.N. management head Alicia Barcena thanked the pope for his public support of immigrants, and then dipped her head for a blessing.

And Edward Mulet, a peacekeeping official, dipped to one knee and kissed the pope’s ring.

In and around the General Assembly chambers, the scene was less formal, and more joyous.

Staff members clustered and jostled gently, many calling out to Pope Benedict when they got nearby.

As Mr. Ban and security looked on, the pope plunged through the crowd and patiently exchanged a few words, glances and handshakes with as many people as could get near him.

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