Several thousand United Nations staff members gathered in the General Assembly hall Friday to mourn the tragedy in New York and to express solidarity with their host country.

The event was organized by the U.N. staff union whose president, Rosemarie Waters, noted that many U.N. workers had friends and relatives who died in the terror attack on the World Trade Center. "We reach out with heavy hearts to offer condolences knowing our words can not heal but hoping they can offer some comfort, like light at the end of a tunnel that at this moment seems endless," she said. "But as each new day dawns and we crawl through that tunnel into recovery, we ask ourselves, what can we do for those who have suffered such losses?"

Ms. Waters said the staff has mounted a large fund-raising appeal for relief efforts. The staff union provided an initial contribution of $25,000 and donations are expected to at least double that amount.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said it is most appropriate for U.N. staff members to gather as a family in a time of tragedy. But as sad as things may be at the moment, Mr. Annan offered a word of hope. "Our host city is deeply wounded," he said. "Our host country is in mourning but their magnificent spirit is not broken."

Mr. Annan said the events of Tuesday make the U.N. mission of peace all the more important.

The gathering ended with members of the U.N. staff chorus singing the Christian hymn "Amazing Grace".