Thursday 19 April 2012
Keynote Address by H.E. Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, Apostolic Nuncio, at the 2012 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast
Keynote AddressThe Most Rev. Francis A. ChullikattTitular Archbishop of OstraApostolic NuncioPermanent Observer of the Holy See to the United NationsThe 8th Annual National Catholic Prayer BreakfastMarriott Wardman ParkWashington, D.C.19 April 2012Your Excellency, Archbishop Carlo Maria ViganĂ³, Apostolic Nuncio to the US,Rev. Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson, Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter,Dear Rev. Fathers and Sisters,Mr. Leonard Leo and the Board of National Catholic Prayer Breakfast,Dear Congressional Guests, Honorable Senators,Your Excellencies the Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,Distinguished guests,Ladies and Gentlemen,At the outset I would like to thank the organizers of this event for having invited me to speak this morning. In particular, I applaud Mr. Leonard Leo and the Board of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast for their continued efforts to bring us all together in prayer and fellowship.It is also a great joy to be joined today by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. The Knights of Columbus have not only been friends of the Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations and to me personally, but also remain a dedicated organization for encouraging lay men to carry their weight, grow in holiness and become a courageous voice in defending the moral truths and ethical standards necessary for building a free and just society.Let me also acknowledge Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, Superior General of the Sisters of Life. I have known their apostolate since the 1990s and I have to say that it has always brought me great pleasure to see the generosity and enthusiasm that the Sisters of Life demonstrate in their support of mothers and children.Dear Friends,This is a great day to gather as Catholics in America: this seventh anniversary of the Election of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and fourth anniversary of his Apostolic Journey to Washington, D.C., New York, and the United Nations. Moreover, it is a special honor to speak under this emblem of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast three years after my friend Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman. He was then and still is the Latin Archbishop of Baghdad. At that time I was in my third year as Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq and Jordan. Most of my time was spent in Baghdad; so I got to know Archbishop Sleiman well.CONCEPT OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOMThis morning’s focus on threats to religious liberty, at home and abroad, lies close to my own heart and is much on the mind of the Holy Father. I stand before you as your first non-American keynote speaker, I come from a nation in which Christians are a minority and I have spent a number of years living in countries where being Christian and publicly practicing the faith is to risk one’s life.As Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq, I have seen the horrors of sectarian violence and have personally known an Archbishop, some of my brother priests and numerous fellow Christians suffer martyrdom in having been abducted, tortured and killed. These are not abstract issues; they were not mere statistics in a conflict; they were and are my friends, my colleagues and my neighbors. They are your brothers and sisters in the faith. They grieve in fear, frustration, disappointment and desperation at the loss of their husbands, wives, children and relatives. You cannot imagine what it is like to hear them weigh the heartbreaking decision of choosing between being murdered in their beloved homeland and moving to far off lands for the safety of their children, especially their daughters. Why are they caught in an impossible choice? Because they love Christ, their faith and their country, the home of their ancestors for millennia where they are still the original citizens.These experiences, etched deeply in my memory, impel me to speak for those persecuted on account of their faith and to raise our collective commitment to ensure that in all corners of the globe the right to religious freedom is not an elusive promise, a fleeting reality, a prohibited dream, but a realized individual right and an obligation of governments - within their responsibility to protect the religious minorities struggling to survive in their homelands.Religious freedom is intrinsic to the transcendent dignity of the human person and the integrity of the act of faith.1  This dignity is not based on relativistic notions of the human person but on every human being, created in the image and likeness of God.2  Thus an openness to the transcendent is necessary for society to be receptive to the Truth of authentic human freedom and religious freedom in particular. The past century has demonstrated the perils which exist when this freedom is diminished or denied, when God is deemed to be of secondary importance and can thus be temporarily or permanently set aside in the name of interests erroneously considered more important. That is why in his recent address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, the Holy Father argued that religious liberty is “the first of human rights, not only because it was historically the first to be recognized but also because it touches the constitutive dimension of man, his relation with his Creator”.3 Blessed John Paul II spoke similarly when he stated that “The defence of this right is the litmus test for the respect of all other human rights”.4Faith in God and respect for religious freedom go hand in hand. The one who respects the existence of God will always and everywhere respect also religious freedom for to deny or ignore religious freedom is to deny the truth and close the openness of individuals and society to the transcendent. When transcendence is denied, religious freedom itself is ignored, neglected, disrespected and betrayed. Denial of religious freedom is denial of that “sacred freedom” with which God Himself has endowed us all and which no one, not even the most powerful country or government or dictator or would-be dictator, can erase from us.As we read in Dignitatis Humanae of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, religious freedom “is a sacred freedom, because the only-begotten Son endowed with it the Church which He purchased with His blood. Indeed it is so much the property of the Church that to act against it is to act against the will of God”.5Among the fundamental rights of the person is our right to search for the truth, especially religious truth, to profess and share it with others and to worship God in truth and freedom. That is why it is important that we continue our conversation on the substance of religious liberty, on its fundamental connection with truth, and on the difference between religious freedom and a form of relativism that only tolerates religion with hostility. Here I wish to quote from the 2011 Message for the World Day of Peace of our Holy Father: “Religious freedom,” he said, “should be understood […], not merely as immunity from coercion, but even more fundamentally as an ability to order one’s own choices in accordance with truth.… A freedom which is hostile or indifferent to God becomes self-negating and does not guarantee full respect for others.... The illusion that moral relativism provides the key for peaceful coexistence is actually the origin of divisions and the denial of the dignity of human beings”.6 The Church cannot possibly allow that immorality is imposed on its faithful. What is at stake here is the future of humanity itself.Religious liberty is not based on a relativistic understanding of humanity but on the truth about human nature. The same can be said about freedom of conscience,7 which does not justify any private opinion whatsoever but rather requires the exercise of conscience which is rooted in the objective moral truth of God’s Law. As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council taught, that law is written by God in the heart of man, the obeying of which is his very dignity, and according to which he will be judged.8 As Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman once said, “conscience has rights because it has duties”.9 These duties, as so eloquently addressed by the Holy Father last September in his speech to the German Parliament, require that ‘all men and women work to properly understand the dictates of the natural moral order so that our relationships with one another can be governed by truth and love and what we as a society can identify what is right and just from what is capricious and destructive’.10Pope Benedict XVI has often drawn attention to ‘the danger of a radical secularism that relegates, a priori, all kinds of religious manifestations to the private sphere. Relativism and secularism deny two fundamental aspects of the religious phenomenon, and hence of the right to religious freedom, that call for respect: the transcendent and the social dimensions of religion in which the human person seeks to be related, according to the dictates of his or her conscience, to the reality, so to say, above and around him or her’. But, religion is more than just a private opinion or Weltanschauung. It always has an impact on society and its moral principles.11 Hence we can see “the need for recognition of a twofold dimension within the unity of the human person: a religious, spiritual or transcendent dimension and a social or public dimension”.12 This explains why authentic religious liberty is more than just freedom of worship. It must also include the unimpeded capacity to be a good citizen whose opinions are formed and guided by the wisdom of God that is knowable by human intelligence.That is why, in recent years much has been said about the public dimension of religious freedom with some arguing for a complete removal or rejection of religious beliefs from the public forum. While a healthy secularism calls for a distinction to be made between religion and politics, between Church and State, it must do so without turning God into a private hypothesis or excluding religion and the ecclesial community from public life. A healthy secularism, therefore, does not systematically proceed at a public level as if God did not exist.13 To do so would be to impose an ideology or nihilistic arguments upon society.This would be clear violation of the criteria of equality and reciprocity which are at the root of political justice, as it is manifested in any form of public life. Hence, a constant dialogue between government institutions and religious communities of all faiths is necessary, among other things, in order to respect the principles of an authentic pluralism and to construct an authentic democracy. As you may recall, the famous author de Tocqueville emphasized that “Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?”14The supreme end of liberty is God. If pluralism is taken to mean that the human will never be able to encompass the mystery of the divine, it is inevitable and justified; there will always be different points of view, different perspectives, and limited insights. Thus, the line must be drawn where pluralism is cultivated for its own sake, as if all points of view were equally legitimate.15The irreplaceable role of religion is precisely what the Church wants to preserve in society. Religious freedom is, therefore, a non-negotiable civil right given by the Creator and not by the state. The Christian faithful, like all others, must enjoy constitutionally the civil right to lead their lives in accordance with their consciences and to play their part for the good of the society. When religious freedom is constitutionally recognized, it is not only a moral but also a civil right.16  These are the reasons why religious freedom is formally recognized as a civil right in most constitutions and international documents. However, it still awaits effective implementation in many countries.17Therefore, as earlier suggested, the authentic notion and practice of religious freedom cannot be restricted merely to freedom of worship, although the latter is obviously an important part of it; religious freedom rather must also include, among other things, the right to preach, educate, evangelize, and participate in the political process as well as in public life.In addition to the right of religious believers to participate, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council categorically stated that religious freedom also requires that everyone be “immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power (that is, including the Governments), in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his or her own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits”.18 The “due limits” are determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with “legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order”.19Government transgresses the limits of its authority, when it prohibits the participation of religious believers in public life, seeks to command or inhibit acts that are religious,20 fails to respect the rights of religious communities to govern themselves according to their own norms and principles, or when it seeks to coerce by force or fear or other means, individuals to violate their own beliefs, repudiate their religion, prevent an individual from leaving their religious community or when it seeks to destroy or repress a religion or a religious institution.21In recognition of the truth of Christ, including that one’s individual response to God must be with free will, the Church, in exercising religious freedom, has an obligation to teach and spread the message of salvation, Jesus Christ,22 but also to recognize that all people have the right to choose or change one’s religion.23 While today the evangelical mission of the Church is seen by some as proselytizing or forcing a belief upon another, the fact is that evangelization is an invitation: spreading the message of Christ, not through force or coercion, but rather through love and “witness to the truth and proclaiming the truth”.24This right is not only enshrined in the teachings of our Church but has also been universally recognized in all corners of the globe, for example, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.25In fact, as we know, this fundamentally important right is also reflected in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States when it states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Let us be very clear here: the Founding Fathers did not create the First Amendment “to keep us FROM religion”, but rather to ensure “freedom OF religion”.So, it is important to value religious freedom per se and not just for the sake of a religious group’s breathing space. It belongs to the entire life of society and the nation at large; it is meant not only for ‘the good of the Church but also for the welfare of society’.26CHALLENGES TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOMToday, ensuring the right to religious freedom remains one of the greatest challenges facing our world and is likely to only increase in difficulty. Major threats to religious freedom are surfacing with more frequency in what many consider the great democracies of the world.Around the world there are increasing incidents of intolerance towards religion or religious believers. Unfortunately one sees that Christians are at present the religious group that suffers the greatest intolerance, discrimination and persecution because of their faith. For example, the annual hate crime report of ODIHR (The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) provides irrefutable proof of a growing intolerance against Christians. In addition, according to one study, 70% of the world’s populations live in countries with high restrictions on religious beliefs and practices, and 51% of governments have used force against religious groups or individuals in the form of killings, physical abuse, imprisonment, detention or displacement and destruction of personal or religious properties.27We see countries passing laws which make expressions of other religious beliefs a crime of blasphemy against the majority religious group. We see countries restricting or prohibiting the building of churches or the wearing of religious objects or symbols. We see countries imprisoning religious leaders for teaching the tenets of their faith. We see groups killing people merely because they have sought to bring the Good News to people of other faiths. We see states forbidding their citizens to change religion without the official approval of government authorities, and we continue to see governments and individuals use religion as a pretext for violence, destruction and massacres. Just last March, as you may have heard in the news, the grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, who is the highest official on religious law in that country, called for the destruction of all churches in the Arabian Peninsula.These acts of intolerance and persecution invariably thrive in environments where religious freedom is not understood let alone respected. Likewise, we should not forget that there are serious problems even in areas of the world where fortunately there is no violent persecution of Christians. Therefore, it is essential to promote religious liberty in all corners of the globe so that the two hundred million Christians, of different confessions, who are in difficulty because of legal and cultural structures that lead to their discrimination, may live in the dignity afforded to them by God.28Moreover, there are countries, especially in the West, where the great importance given to institutionalized pluralism and tolerance is neither pluralistic nor tolerant. Instead religion tends to be considered as a factor foreign and destabilizing to modern society. Hence they seek, through different means, to marginalize it and impede it from influencing social life, as noted by Pope Benedict in his speech to the Diplomatic Corps last year.29 While not experiencing violent persecution in the western countries, Christians in Europe increasingly encounter discrimination, exclusion from public life and acts of vandalism against churches and cemeteries.30 Let us not forget that these western countries have a Christian past and for centuries were the places where Christianity flourished. A particularly disturbing manifestation of this phenomenon here in the United States is the marginalization of Christianity in the very institutions of higher learning - many of them founded by Christian communities.In some other corners of the globe these menaces come in the forms of disagreements over the role of secularism and religion in civil life where members of government and society seek to push religious expression into the margins of society or completely remove a religious voice from discussion. The rapid growth of secularism makes people “tone-deaf” to religion of any kind. As Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi has said, “One of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities. That’s why in the 20th century, one of the first acts of totalitarian regimes was the targeting of organized religion”.31In the pursuit of marginalizing a religious voice, opponents seek to smother expressions of the truth and any advocacy for policies based on the great tradition of our faith. While ‘nobody would confuse this marginalization of religion with the actual persecution and killing of Christians in various parts of the world, it is from this marginalization and denial of religious freedom that violent religious discrimination and persecution is born’.32This effort to replace a religious voice with a so called secular voice seeks to advance the idea that one’s faith is something only for private sphere or only on special events. For us Catholics – and, I think, also for other religious communities - this proposal is unacceptable as all have the responsibility to participate in public life so as to work to create a more just society in furtherance of the common good,33 including civil peace. This requirement necessitates that we as Catholics - together with other religious communities who share our view - speak out when society fails to protect the gift of life, including that of the unborn, to speak out when the sacred institution of the family and marriage are undermined, when attempts are made to disregard, ignore or efface fundamental moral and ethical principles of our society. Likewise, this obligation requires us to join together in solidarity to protect the dignity and rights of everyone, especially the voiceless, powerless and defenseless, to work to ensure that economic decisions are not guided by avarice, selfishness and self-interest but rather by moral and ethical principles and thus toward greater justice, equity and solidarity. Participation further requires us to work to ensure that the needs of the poor, the weak and the disenfranchised are given priority in all that we do, that the dignity of work – at home and at the workplace – is honored and that we are responsible stewards of creation.In addition to the threats by governmental or societal hindrances to religious freedom, there also remains a great concern regarding the use of religion by some as a justification for violence. As Blessed John Paul II once affirmed, “recourse to violence, in the name of religious belief, is a perversion of the very teachings of the major religions”.34 On this topic we recall also what many religious leaders have repeated so often: “The use of violence can never claim a religious justification, nor can it foster the growth of true religious feeling.” This requires that religious leaders firmly and unequivocally condemn all acts of violence in the name of religion as the “antithesis of religion”.35 “The enemies of religion […] see in religion one of the principal sources of violence in the history of humanity and thus they demand that it disappear. Pope Benedict cautions that when consideration of God is obscured, it is the meaning of human existence itself that is obscured.36 In this regard, Blessed John Paul II, asserted consistently throughout his pontificate37 that it is "only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear".38 We know only too well from the history that the denial of God has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds, which only becomes possible when a person no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself, now having only himself to take as a criterion. The horrors of the concentration camps reveal with utter clarity the consequences of God’s absence.”39  The denial of God corrupts man, robs him of his criteria and leads him to violence. Godless societies, politics and policies lead ultimately to the abolition of the human being. Whereas, when rightly lived in relationship with God, religion becomes a force for peace. Respect for religious liberty is the fundamental path for peace building,40 the recognition of human dignity and the safeguarding of the rights of every man and woman.41In the Middle East, the Arab Spring has brought about new questions and concerns on the future and survival of Christians in the region and has renewed fears that the ongoing violence and persecution faced by Christian minorities in these countries may only get worse rather than improve. The Middle East continues to see Christians detained, punished and imprisoned for committing the so-called “crime” of practicing their faith. These, our brothers and sisters, long for the day when they can gather without fear as we do today. They long for the day when they can wear a cross or a medal or carry a rosary as they walk down the street. They long for the day when they can come together to celebrate the Most Holy Eucharist without being harassed, attacked or killed. And I recall here the massacre that took place in the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Baghdad on 31 October 2010.As Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq, I witnessed the heart-breaking stories of terror and tragedies faced by the Christian communities. These modern martyrs of faith must not be forgotten. But the 20th century showed that the memory of tragedies does not guarantee that future generations will be protected from such tragedies of violence, cruelty and hatred.In Africa, Christians increasingly face violence amidst the continuing religious and ethnic tensions on the continent. The root causes of many instances of violence in these regions can be traced directly to the continued division based on religion and on racial or ethnic or sectarian grounds. You will remember, for example, the atrocities that are being committed by Boko Haram in Nigeria against Christians, including during the last Easter Sunday.In Asia, the continent of my birth and a place which has a long and proud tradition of religions living in harmony, we see more and more acts of violence and intolerance being directed against Christians and more countries imprisoning and putting individuals to death for practicing their faith or for endeavoring to found a church free of governmental intrusion and intimidation.Let us not think that these incidents of religious cleansing will always belong to those distant lands because someday the same fateful incidents could appear in your own land unless you rise up now for the rights of our disenfranchised brothers and sisters in those distant nations. They too belong to our common family, which we call the Church. Hence, by defending their rights we shall be defending our own rights; acquiescing to the violation of their rights would mean surrendering our own.The experiences of these regions are not only reminders of the need for Christians around the world to unite together in solidarity to bring these instances of injustice into the light of day but also for religious believers of all faiths to work together to promote greater religious and cultural understanding so that we can together create a world in which the positive contributions of the various religions are recognized, respected and welcomed.The Catholic Church proposes interreligious dialogue as one of the ways to overcome intolerance and discrimination. Last year, on 19 November, during his Apostolic Visit to Benin, the Pope acknowledged that “interreligious dialogue is not easy” and warned that “interreligious dialogue when badly understood leads to muddled thinking or to syncretism. This is not the dialogue which is sought”. By avoiding syncretism and relativism, we can find in interreligious dialogue a powerful tool against violence and discrimination. The Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, celebrated in Assisi last year on 27 October, was a witness of this truth to the whole world.RELIGIOUS FREEDOM - THE UNITED NATIONSAt the United Nations, the Holy See remains committed to addressing the need for authentic religious freedom in all corners of the globe. The Holy See continues to promote an understanding of religious freedom in the context of international law. In so doing, the Holy See has continually highlighted its concerns regarding the attacks against religious freedom around the world and has worked to ensure that in all aspects of its work, the United Nations respect the right to religious freedom and respect the mandate of religious organizations as they work to provide humanitarian relief. In negotiating resolutions at the UN, my Mission has observed a growing tendency by delegations to favor diluted expressions such as ‘belief’ or ‘opinion’ or ‘faith’, over the use of the term ‘religion’. This development must be viewed with concern because it demonstrates the creeping emergence of a subjective determinant in this important area of human rights. It will have the effect of relegating religious content to the private sphere. In this way, the separation of politics and religion would signify that the latter lacks all input or relevance in the public arena. Less frequently, we have also had to resist more direct efforts to prohibit religious freedom in the issues of conversions to Christianity and adoption of children by Christian couples. Moreover, the Holy See has raised concerns about resolutions related to the “defamation of religions” which had the potential to internationalize national blasphemy laws and thus make it impossible for legitimate criticisms and disagreements regarding religious beliefs to exist. Further, the Holy See continues to work to ensure that discussions of international politics are not driven by national self interest but rather by a concerted effort to promote the common good through the entire world. The work of the Holy See, internationally and at the United Nations, requires not only dedicated and comprehensive understanding of a vast array of challenges, but requires that lay and religious leaders in every country and diocese actively work to ensure that local, national, regional and international laws are adopted and implemented in a way which upholds and respects the inherent human dignity of all persons.RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE UNITED STATESFinally, I would like to acknowledge and applaud the work being done by the Bishops and faithful Catholic leaders in the United States to ensure that religious freedom is respected in this country and around the world. The recently published Statement on Religious Liberty by the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of its Conference of Bishops (USCCB) is a telling example of how, as in the past, the Bishops of this noble country, are determined to discharge their “solemn duty” related to religious liberty, the most cherished of American freedoms”, which is sadly under attack here particularly at this time, as Pope Benedict recently stated. As this document clearly puts it, indeed “religious liberty requires constant vigilance and protection, or it will disappear".42As the Holy See suggested at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the celebration of an “International Day against persecution and discrimination of Christians” might prove to be an important sign that governments are willing to deal with this serious issue.43 I look forward to this initiative receiving support in the United States.During the Ad limina visit of the US Bishops from this region, Pope Benedict XVI referred to America’s historical experience of religious freedom, and specifically the relationship between religion and culture. As he said, “At the heart of every culture… is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good the conditions for human flourishing. In America, that consensus, as enshrined in [this] nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God. Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such”.44I wish to recall here the work of the eminent English scholar who found his way to the United States, Christopher Dawson (who became a Catholic in his early adulthood). Dawson still reminds us that the modern state, even the democratic one, can exert all kinds of pressure on religious freedom. He insightfully warned, already as early as the 1950s, that the modern democratic state can join the totalitarian one in not being satisfied with “passive obedience” when “it demands full cooperation from the cradle to the grave.” In addition, he eloquently noted the challenges that secularism and secular societies can pose to Christians on the cultural as well as the political level. But he warned that “if Christians cannot assert their right to exist” then “they will eventually be pushed not only out of modern culture but out of physical existence.” He acknowledged that this was not only a problem in the totalitarian and non-democratic states, but “it will also become the issue in England and America if we do not use our opportunities while we still have them”.45In his 1991 Encyclical Centesimus annus, Blessed John Paul II reminds us that “totalitarianism attempts to destroy the Church, or at least to reduce her to submission, making her an instrument of its own ideological apparatus”.46  But he further noted that this threat is not solely expressed by the state established on dictatorship, for it can also be exercised by a democracy, for “a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism”.47  Since the conclusion of the Second World War and the formation of the United Nations, democracies around the world have periodically exhibited traits of this new totalitarianism that emerges from a democracy-without-values. Authentic religious freedom that is robust is the precise antidote to this poisonous transformation.CONCLUSIONBefore I conclude, I wish to thank again the organizers for inviting me here to address this distinguished gathering and for bringing this urgent priority to light. While the efforts to promote respect for religious freedom continues, it gives me great faith, courage and joy to know that with our united voice and unified efforts as well as through our continued prayers we can work together to promote a society which respects the rights of all individuals around the world to be free to practice their faith both in private and public, without discrimination and persecution.With the Bishops and the entire Church in the US, let us therefore implore the Lord “to bless us in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty; to give us the strength of mind and heart to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened; to give us courage in making our voices heard on behalf of the rights of our Church and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.” AMEN.Thank you, dear Friends. May God bless your noble battle for “the soul of America”! And God bless the United States of America!