It gives me great pleasure to add my voice to the chorus of international acclaim for Sir Sigmund Sternberg, this year’s winner of the renowned Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
Shortly after taking office as Secretary-General, I had the good fortune to join Sir Sigmund in London for the unveiling of a monument dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg, my wife’s uncle.
That monument was commissioned by Sir Sigmund’s organization, the International Council of Christians and Jews, as part of the Council’s longstanding efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding. I was extremely grateful to Sir Sigmund for this initiative — for this important act of remembrance — and I was impressed by his strong belief in the dignity and worth of every human being.
The ceremony itself was not easy, like the opening of a new building, bridge or motorway; rather it forced me to dwell on difficult questions — matters involving atrocious violence, injustice and the dark side of human history. And then I realized that this is precisely what Sir Sigmund had been doing so well for so many years: looking forthrightly at some of the most vexing issues facing humankind, and finding solutions that bring people together in common cause.
Sir Sigmund saw Jews and Christians arguing over the proper handling of the Auschwitz concentration camp site, and crafted a compromise that helped bring even deeper reconciliation between the two communities. He saw Jews, Christians and Muslims still struggling with a troubling history, and established the Three Faiths Forum as a pathway towards mutual understanding. And he saw himself, increasingly successful in business, having much to offer those less fortunate that himself, and so became a successful philanthropist as well.
In short, Sir Sigmund has not only borne witness, he has acted, creating a legacy of great works. For this he richly merits this award. In that same spirit, I would also like to express my gratitude to Sir John Templeton for his generous and enlightened endowment of this award. The prize is in the best tradition of the universal ideas enshrined in the UN Charter.
One might think the United Nations is an institution from which matters of religion and spirituality are necessarily excluded. But as Pope John Paul II said in an address to the General Assembly in 1995, “The politics of nations can never ignore the transcendent, spiritual dimension of the human experience.”
That is a message I take to heart. In an era in which identity politics based on religion and ethnicity have intensified; and in which intolerance still finds its way into textbooks and official pronouncements; it is remarkable individuals such as Sir Sigmund Sternberg who represent the correct and countervailing trend — who give us hope for the future. The United Nations shares his vision of harmony among peoples and nations, and on this occasion, on behalf of the world Organization, I extend to him my sincere congratulations and good wishes.
[Delivered by Ms. Gillian M. Sorenson, Assistant Secretary-General]