Vatican and U.S. Co-host High-Level Religious Freedom Symposium

Pope John Paul II and U.S. President Ronald Reagan stroll through the gardens at Vizcaya, a local museum, after holding private meetings, 10 September 1987 in Miami. AFP PHOTO MIKE SARGENT (Photo credit should read MIKE SARGENT/AFP/Getty Images)
MIKE SARGENT/AFP/Getty Images

ROME — The Vatican’s Secretariat of State and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See co-sponsored a symposium in the Vatican Wednesday in commemoration of 35 years of diplomatic relations established by President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II in 1984.

Speakers at the one-day conference, titled “Pathways to Achieving Human Dignity: Partnering with Faith-Based Organizations,” featured such heavy hitters as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

The symposium, opened by U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Callista Gingrich, focused on three themes where the Trump administration and the Francis papacy see eye to eye: religious freedom, the fight against human trafficking, and humanitarian assistance.

The Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, insisted that states must protect human rights and fundamental freedoms effectively, promoting “peaceful coexistence and inclusive societies in which people can express their beliefs freely.”

Gallagher also called human trafficking “one of the darkest and most reprehensible realities in the world today,” underscoring the need for “brave leaders to take appropriate decisions to fight and gradually defeat this horrible crime against humanity.”

For his part, Mr. Pompeo said that “the stakes today are arguably higher than they were even during the Cold War” when it comes to defending human dignity “because the threats to it are more diverse and more numerous.”

The most evident source of religious repression around the globe can be found in authoritarian regimes that “will never accept a power higher than their own,” Pompeo said, while adding that the most fundamental issues of human dignity and religious freedom “transcend everyday politics.”

Cardinal Parolin voiced his agreement, insisting that abuses of religious freedom “remain one of the greatest global challenges.”

“Taking away freedom of conscience is the first step to taking away freedom of worship,” the cardinal said, but “we know that God is with us when we engage to promote human dignity.”

Ambassador Brownback underscored the importance of the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the United States.

“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,” he said.

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