Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced China’s persistent attacks on religious freedom, and the grave effects this has on society at large, during a speech Wednesday in Vatican City’s Old Synod Hall.
“When the state rules absolutely, God becomes an absolute threat to authority … human dignity is trampled … moral norms are crushed completely,” Secretary Pompeo said, as reported by Catholic News Agency.
Pompeo made his remarks during a symposium co-hosted by the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. The event, titled “Pathways to Achieving Human Dignity: Partnering with Faith-Based Organizations,” aimed to showcase the role faith-based organizations and global leaders can play in defending religious freedom, ending human trafficking, and providing humanitarian aid.
Pompeo said countries around the world should “follow the wisdom of Jesus: ‘Be not afraid’” and defend religious freedom where it is under attack. He cited Iran, Myanmar, and Syria as clear examples of countries that suppress such freedom, and he rebuked Cuba for canceling National Catholic Youth Day this year.
For those tempted to dismiss or ignore religious persecution around the world, Pompeo shared some sobering statistics, saying the “stakes today are arguably higher than they were even during the Cold War.”
“More than 80 percent of mankind lives in places where religious freedom is threatened or entirely denied,” he said. “Approximately 71 million people around the world are displaced as refugees, roughly 25 million people are caught in human trafficking situations, and it is not coincidence that this has happened as unfree societies have proliferated.”
Last week marked one year since the People’s Republic of China signed an agreement granting the Vatican more say in the appointment of bishops who are part of the state-mandated Church. The ordination of the country’s first-ever Catholic bishop took place in August.
Though some progress has been made, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback stressed that there remains much work to be done in combatting China’s “war on faith.”
“We are deeply concerned about what China is doing,” Brownback told CNA Wednesday, citing the State Department’s concerns over the government’s use of technology like facial recognition to track people of faith in the country.
“That system is starting to be exported to other places, other authoritarian repressive regimes … I think that is why the secretary talks about it, and it is certainly why I talk about it,” he said.
The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. Secretary Pompeo asked the Vatican Wednesday to consider joining the International Religious Freedom Alliance, a new organization created by the U.S. Department of State to defend religious freedom internationally.
“What could be more powerful than our voices all together calling for the freedom to worship God?” he said.
Pompeo also praised Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis advocating on behalf of Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother who was jailed for a decade and almost lost her life after being unjustly accused under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
To highlight the importance of religious bodies partnering with state leaders, Pompeo cited the cooperative work of St. Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan during the Cold War.
“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.
According to CNA, Pompeo is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis on Thursday in the Vatican library.