US Bishops' President Speaks at International Religious Freedom Symposium

Cardinal Dolan Calls for Action on Violence Against Religious Minorities

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By Junno Arocho

WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 13, 2012 ( Speaking at a symposium on international religious freedom, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), denounced this week’s attacks in Libya and Egypt. The Tuesday attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya resulted in the death of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. 

“We need to be respectful of other religious traditions at the same time  that we unequivocally proclaim that violence in the name of religion is wrong,” the cardinal said in his opening address.

The event, titled “International Religious Freedom: An Imperative for Peace and the Common Good” was held at Catholic University of America in Washington , D.C. And was co-sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Catholic University of America, and Catholic Relief Services. 

Cardinal Dolan said that while many in America are shocked when reading headlines on attacks on different people of faith around the world, sadly “too often the images of pain fade and with it the need for concerted action.” The American prelate also spoke of the challenges of religious freedom in the United States. 

“Today our focus is on threats to international religious freedom, but, as you are well aware, there are serious challenges to religious freedom within our own nation, serious problems the Church faces in her life and mission in the United States — threats that could marginalize the Church and her educational, charitable and health care institutions,” he said. The cardinal, however, said that such challenges cannot be compared with those faced by Christians and other denominations around the world.

The archbishop of New York expressed sadness and concern at reports of increasing violence in Muslim-majority nations. Citing this year’s report by the U.S Department of State’s International Religious Freedom report, the cardinal gave examples in countries in the Middle East where “Christians are being persecuted and killed at an alarming rate.”

“This violence and persecution is leading to a massive exodus of Christians from the Middle East. Thousands upon thousands are leaving—usually forced out of—countries where Christianity has not only flourished, but in many cases where it first took root 2,000 years ago,” the cardinal said. 

“These Christian families want to stay in the ancient lands of their birth, but too often make the difficult decision to leave as a result of harassment or violent threats by extremists. As many Muslims and Jews will tell you, this is not good for the region. Christians are indigenous to the Middle East, there longer than the Islamic community. They contribute to the common good of their societies, and their presence enriches diversity and tolerance, and beyond tolerance, respect.”

Commenting on the Holy Father’s visit this weekend to Lebanon, the cardinal was confident that the exodus of Christians from the Middle East would be a theme addressed by Pope Benedict XVI. 

The president of the USCCB concluded his address, calling on U.S. policy makers to give greater priority to religious freedom in policy discussions. 

Cardinal Dolan also called on Americans, and in particular Catholics, to be more aware of the changes in the fundamental right of religious freedom. “The first freedom, which we too often take for granted in our own nation, even as we are vigilant in its defense, is under often violent attack in other nations with terrible human consequences,” the cardinal said. 

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