By Vatican News
It was Pope Saint John Paul II and US President Ronald Reagan who established formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the United States in 1984.
35 years of diplomatic relations
The Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, recalled that 35th anniversary in his opening remarks at the Symposium. He quoted Pope Francis who, during his 2015 visit to the United States, said: “The aim of our collaboration is to build a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive”.
Archbishop Gallagher also referred to the Joint Declaration on Human Fraternity, signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar on 4 February in Abu Dhabi. According to that Declaration, “religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism. These tragic realities are a deviation from religious teachings”. The document also calls for the development of “an International network of religious leaders and people of good will to build tolerance, fraternity and healthy pluralism”.
Protecting human rights
Archbishop Gallagher said the “principal emphasis with regard to religious freedom should not be political or ideological. The main concern should be to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms effectively and to promote peaceful coexistence and inclusive societies in which people can express their beliefs freely”.
Another topic under discussion concerned how faith-based organizations can cooperate in combatting the plague of human trafficking, something Archbishop Gallagher called “one of the darkest and most reprehensible realities in the world today”.
Present at the Vatican symposium were representatives of Catholic organizations that already work for the liberation, rehabilitation and reintegration of trafficked victims. “We need brave leaders to take appropriate decisions to fight and gradually defeat this horrible crime against humanity”, said the Archbishop.
Defending human dignity
United States Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, was also present at the Vatican Symposium. When it comes to defending human dignity, “the stakes today are arguably higher than they were even during the Cold War”, he said, “because the threats to it are more diverse and more numerous”.
The roots of religious repression, he added, lie with authoritarian regimes that “will never accept a power higher than their own”, causing “assaults on human dignity”. Which is why “we must exercise our moral voice to confront them”, he added. The most fundamental issues of human dignity and religious freedom, said the U.S. Secretary of State, “transcend everyday politics”.
In his closing remarks, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin acknowledged the participation of the faith-based organizations present: the Community of Sant’Egidio, Aid to the Church in Need, the Adyan Foundation, the AVSI Foundation, Caritas Internationalis, and Talitha Kum, thanking them for their contribution.
“Peace, human dignity and social justice, fighting poverty and promoting sustainable development”, said Cardinal Parolin, remain the hallmarks of the Church’s cooperation with states and faith-based organizations.
The Cardinal went on to stress how religious freedom is a fundamental human right and how abuses in this field “remain one of the greatest global challenges”.
Quoting Pope Francis, the Vatican Secretary of State said that “taking away freedom of conscience is the first step to taking away freedom of worship”. The challenges are many and great, he said, “but we face them with faith and commitment. We know that God is with us when we engage to promote human dignity”.
Pathways to human dignity
The United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom is Sam Brownback. He too was at the Vatican Symposium on “Pathways to Achieving Human Dignity”, and spoke to Vatican News about where he believes those pathways are leading.
He also gave concrete suggestions about what local communities can do to promote religious freedom: like “pushing your legislators to stand up for religious freedom”, or following the example of some parishes that have “helped rebuild churches destroyed in Iraq”, or “hosting those who have experienced persecution”.
Moving Heaven and Earth
The Ambassador acknowledged the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the United States, saying: “When you get the U.S. Government and the Catholic Church working together strongly in a particular area, like Pope Saint John Paul and Ronald Reagan did – you literally move Heaven and Earth”.