In a vital speech from Rome, Italy on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended religious liberty as an “absolutely essential right of mankind and central to our founding.”

The secretary spoke at the Religious Freedom Symposium as a part of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See’s symposium, “Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom Through Diplomacy.” The Holy See is the Catholic Bishop of Rome’s (Pope Francis’) primary jurisdiction.

A press release for the event said the symposium would “highlight diplomatic tools that governments, international organizations, and faith-based organizations can use to identify and confront religious persecution and encourage international cooperation to protect and promote religious freedom.”

“Religious persecution and restrictions on religious freedom are among the most pressing global human rights concerns today,” the release also noted.

In Secretary Pompeo’s remarks, he urged all leaders to have a “moral, bold witness for the sake of religious freedom, for human dignity, and for peace.”

He cited Father Lichtenberg, a German Catholic priest who spoke up for the Jews and resisted the Nazi regime in the 1930s, as a perfect example of this.

“In 1938, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, he began to speak up more loudly on… behalf [of the Jews]. Father Lichtenberg didn’t stop with mere words. From then on, he fearlessly prayed each day publicly for the Jews and other victims of Nazi brutality,” Secretary Pompeo remarked.

“Eventually, the Nazis arrested him in 1941, October. They offered that he could make a deal: He could go free in exchange for stopping his subversive preaching. Instead, he asked to accompany deported Jews and Jewish Christians to Poland, so he could minister to them.

“In May of 1942, some eight months later, he was given a two-year prison sentence. When asked if he had anything to add when the sentence was read, he said, quote, ‘I submit that no harm results to the state by citizens who pray for the Jews.’

“Towards the end of his sentence, the Nazis realized they could never break his spirit. They ordered him sent to Dachau concentration camp, but he died on the way before he reached that grim destination.”

Secretary Pompeo then highlighted the evil being perpetrated today by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“The Chinese Communist Party has battered every religious community in China: Protestant house churches, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and more. Nor, of course, have Catholics been spared this wave of repression. Catholic churches and shrines have been desecrated and destroyed. Catholic bishops like Augustine Cui Tai have been imprisoned… And Catholic lay leaders in the human rights movement, not least in Hong Kong, have been arrested,” Secretary Pompeo noted.

The secretary shining his spotlight on the CCP comes at a time when authorities at the Vatican have been widely criticized for being far too soft on the communist government. Indeed, some have said the Vatican has been “silent” on the ongoing human rights abuses carried out by the Chinese government.

But Secretary Pompeo did not remain silent in his remarks:

“We must support those demanding freedoms in our time, like Father Lichtenberg did… we work hard to shine the light on abuses, punish those responsible, and encourage others to join us in this advocacy.”

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Photo from REUTERS


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