Pope Francis told Americans this afternoon to defend their religious liberty, because it is a gift that has been given them by God himself.
The Pope said this during an address given in Philadelphia at Independence Hall during the last full day of his US-Cuba trip.
The Holy Father said that coming to the “birthplace of the United States” was one of the highlights of his visit, and he spoke of the truths of the Declaration of Independence: “that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights.”
Those truths, like any truths, have to “constantly be reaffirmed, re-appropriated and defended,” he declared.
The history of the United States, he added, is a “tale of a constant effort, lasting to our own day, to embody those lofty principles in social and political life.”
In this place so important to US history, the Pope said, he wanted to reflect on religious liberty.
“Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate,” he explained. “But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families.”
Francis spoke of the various attacks on religious freedom, carried out by “various forms of modern tyranny,” which “seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality.”
In this context, he said, “it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.”
Adding to his prepared text, the Pope exhorted, “Let us conserve liberty, take care of liberty, liberty of conscience, religious liberty, the liberty of each family, of each people, which is what gives space to rights.”
“May this country and each of you be renewed in gratitude for the many blessings and freedoms that you enjoy,” he said. “And may you defend these rights, especially your religious freedom, for it has been given to you by God himself. May he bless you all.”
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