ROME — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at a symposium in the Vatican Wednesday, urging a collaborative effort to end abuses of religious freedom.
Mr. Pompeo began by recounting the story of the torture of a Uighur Muslim woman named Zumrat Dawut at the hands of officials of the Chinese Communist Party.
In April of last year, Mrs. Dawut was arrested in Xinjiang, China. “She was shackled, interrogated, and taken to an internment camp, where she was forced to recite Chinese propaganda and beaten for giving an ailing fellow prisoner her food. She was injected with unknown drugs,” Mr. Pompeo said.
The choice of China as a first example of systematic violations of human freedom was particularly pointed, given the Vatican’s rapprochement with the Chinese government and invitations to members of the illegal underground Church to enlist in the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
“Nations are paying attention to the sweeping violations of human rights and human dignity in Xinjiang now,” he said. “They are standing up and speaking honestly about it. They’re following the wisdom of Jesus: ‘Be not afraid.’”
Mr. Pompeo went on to underscore the remarkable statistic that “more than 80 percent of mankind lives in places where religious freedom is threatened or entirely denied.”
“Approximately 71 million people around the world are displaced as refugees. Roughly 25 million people are caught in human trafficking situations,” he said.
The Secretary suggested that violations of religious freedom are a natural consequence of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes where the state takes the place of God.
When the state rules absolutely, “God becomes an absolute threat to authority,” Pompeo said. “That’s why Cuba cancelled National Catholic Youth Day back in August.”
“When the state rules absolutely, human dignity is trampled, not cherished,” he continued. “That’s why Assad kills his own people, and has no regard for the 11 million Syrians suffering today as displaced persons and refugees.”
“When the state rules absolutely, moral norms are crushed completely,” ha added. “That’s why the Islamic Republic of Iran has jailed, tortured, and killed thousands of its own citizens for four decades.”
This also explains why China “has put more than a million Uighur Muslims – Muslims like Mrs. Dawut – in internment camps,” he said. “It’s why it throws Christian pastors in jail.”
Mr. Pompeo also recalled the historic alliance between Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan, which led to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Holy See in 1984.
These two leaders “combined the moral authority of the Holy See with the prosperity and example of the United States, the freest nation on earth, to fight the evil empire,” he said, referring to the Soviet Union. “Through patience and unity of purpose, they prevailed.”
“Their words and deeds helped save – helped leave the Soviet leviathan on that ash heap of history.
Think of the millions of believers who can live with dignity and purpose, who can now worship without fear, thanks to the joint efforts of a pope and a president,” he said.
Mr. Pompeo acknowledged that the Holy See and the United States “have had our differences over the years,” adding that “good people can disagree.”
“But on the issues most fundamental, on the issues of human dignity and religious freedom,” he said, “these issues that transcend everyday politics, on the enduring struggle of the individual’s right to believe and worship, we must – and I know we will – march together.”
At our Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom this past July, “we launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance, the first multilateral organization, multilateral body of its kind. We aim to make it the premier body in the world for advancing the issues of religious freedom,” he said.
“We humbly ask the Holy See to join us,” he added.