Washington Event Gives In-Depth Look at Religious Freedom Across the Globe

Vatican Representative to the UN Among Speakers at Conference

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By Junno Arocho

WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT.13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America hosted a symposium on Wednesday titled “International Religious Freedom: An Imperative for Peace and the Common Good”. 

The event was co-sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Catholic University of America, and Catholic Relief Services. 

The symposium featured a range of speakers, ranging from US foreign policy experts to religious leaders. Among those who addressed the participants were Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva. 

In his opening address, Cardinal Dolan denounced the Tuesday attacks in Egypt and Libya. The attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador  J. Christopher Stevens.

The American prelate also called for greater action to protect Christians abroad, where according to this year’s U.S. State Department study on International Religious Freedom, violence has increased against religious minorities, particularly Christians, in Muslim-majority countries.

“Not only is it morally imperative, consonant with the urgent gospel demands of justice and charity, for us as Catholics to be prophetic leaders in defending our co-religionists around the world who are today being ‘thrown to the lions,’ but it is strategically necessary, as our own laudable efforts to defend our ‘first and most cherished freedom’ here at home, are hollow and hypocritical if not coupled with a ringing solicitude for those under more overtly violent attack throughout the world,” the cardinal said. 

Taking a stand

In his keynote address, the Vatican’s Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, Archbishop Tomasi called on participants at the symposium to take a stand for religious liberty. “We stand for religious freedom so as to free others to become fully human,» he said. 

Archbishop Tomasi also stated that for some time now, the United States had been the example of freedom of religion for the world. “The special relationship between the United States and religious liberty has not been fruitful just for Americans. It has been fruitful for everybody. The American sensitivity to religious freedom played a prominent role in shaping the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he said. 

The archbishop also stressed that in these times where the world is becoming more diversified, it is essential that religious freedom is “fully respected.»

Concluding his address, Archbishop Tomasi stressed the importance of maintaining the United States’ example of freedom of religion in achieving peace throughout the world.

“Indeed, this is the human right that, in the end, guarantees all other human rights,» he said. «The preservation of the American experience must remain a contribution for the peaceful and truly democratic future of our world.»

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