Speakers: Religions, governments must work for religious freedom

Paul Haring | Catholic News Service

ROME — Promoting and protecting religious freedom is a shared priority of the United States and the Vatican, said Callista Gingrich, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

"Together we will continue to defend and support those persecuted for professing their faith," she said June 25.

The ambassador was among several speakers at the symposium, "Defending International Religious Freedom: Partnership and Action," sponsored by the embassy, Aid to the Church in Need and the Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio.

The one-day event was a forerunner to the "Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom," to be hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington July 25-26. The D.C. meeting will gather governments, religious groups and others to find concrete ways to rein in religious persecution and promote religious freedom.

Given the reports of increasing violence, discrimination and persecution against people of all faiths around the world, "it's a dangerous time to be a person of faith," Gingrich said. "We can and we must do more.

"Religious liberty and tolerance are bulwarks against the forces of extremism ...(and are) the foundation of peace and security. History has shown that governments and societies that champion religious liberty are safer, more prosperous and secure."

According to Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Eastern Churches, the key to establishing true equality and mutual respect in the Middle East is the concept of "citizenship" as the basis for social cohesion rather than religious or ethnic affiliation.

Christians in the Middle East "love their country, they feel a bond, and they want to serve" their nation, he said, adding that they don't want to feel like "guests or foreigners" or second-class citizens, but as full-fledged citizens with equal rights and access to employment and opportunities.

Measures are needed to do remove outright and more subtle forms of discrimination, including having proper, benign reasons for registering people's religious affiliation.

"Only in this way can all members of society — Christians and non-Christians — be authentically free, that finally they can no longer feel constrained to align themselves more or less overtly to the person who is in power at the time in order to see their own survival guaranteed," he said.

Creating segregated, protected zones for Christians in Iraq, for example, isn't the answer, he said, but it could be the first step on a path of stable coexistence and harmony based on shared citizenship.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, told the symposium the Catholic Church encourages everyone to raise awareness about the importance of full religious freedom and how governments, religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations and communities need to cooperate in order to achieve this.

Promoting religious freedom isn't about giving preference or privilege to one side or another, but is the simple "recognition of the equal dignity of every human person," he said.

"The Holy See does not tire of intervening" in calling for the respect and recognition of the rights of all religious and ethnic groups, particularly those who are suffering the most, he said. 

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