By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Religious freedom and how to defend it internationally was the theme of a one-day symposium held on June 25. The US Embassy to the Holy See hosted the event at the Pontifical Holy Cross University with the partnership of Aid to the Church in Need, and the Sant’Egidio community.
US Ambassador to the Holy See, the Honorable Callista Gingrich, opened the symposium explaining the US’ commitment to the defense of religious freedom on an international level.
Iraqi genocide survivor and human rights activist, Salwa Khalaf Rasho, and Ziear Khan provided Victim Impact Statements. Cardinal-designate Coutts, Archbishop of Karachi, Pakistan, Msgr Akasheh from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and Professor Marco Impagliazzo, President of the Community of Sant’Egidio, sat on a panel on promoting religious freedom through dialogue and sustainable action. Another panel regarding religious minorities in the Middle East was made up of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, and Mark Riedemann from Aid to the Church in Need.
Cardinal Sandri raised the important issue of “asking ourselves how and in what measure the inviolable rights of the human person are really guaranteed and promoted within our social and political systems. Otherwise, on various fronts, we risk committing the same errors which the West (even though motivated by good intentions) committed in the Middle East in preceding decades when it wanted to ‘export’ a model of democracy in those lands”.
Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, provided the Symposium’s closing remarks saying that, “In the midst of the many situations which challenge the right to freedom of religion and conscience, the Catholic Church encourages all people of good will to continue to raise awareness in order to allow members of various religious communities to enjoy freedom of religion fully and to profess freely and publicly their faith in every part of the world”.
Christians in the Middle East
Vatican News’ Patricia Ynestroza spoke with Mark Riedemann about how Aid to the Church in Need is supporting Christians in the Middle East by building churches and through education. He said the Christian presence is essential for cultivating peace in the Middle East. Since Christians have never taken up arms against any of their Muslim neighbors, they can successfully negotiate problems between antagonistic groups.
US position on religious freedom
Victoria Alvarado, Senior Adviser at the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Office, also spoke with Vatican News regarding the Symposium. She said that religious freedom is a “national security priority” of the US and that it is considered the “first freedom” of the US Constitution by the current, and past, Administrations. Protecting and empowering religious minorities is one expression of this priority. “How we can work with interreligious groups to increase dialogue, to advance religious freedom” is the focus of the symposium, Ms Alvarado said.