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USCIRF Welcomes Pope Francis to the U.S.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 21, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) warmly welcomes Pope Francis on his historic visit to the United States.  On September 24, the Pope will be the first pontiff to address a joint meeting of Congress.

USCIRF welcomes Pope Francis as a champion of the dignity of each and every member of the human family, a bold witness and apostle for religious freedom, and a powerful voice for the persecuted and the displaced around the world,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George. “Especially during this tumultuous time of upheaval in many parts of the world, we welcome the Pope’s presence and prayers, teachings and messages, as well as his affirmation of the imperative of dialogue and cooperation between religions.” 

As Pope Francis has stressed repeatedly, religious freedom is “not just a matter of thought or private devotion,” but a “fundamental right of the person” which national and international laws and organizations must “recognize, guarantee and protect” as well as “an indicator of a healthy democracy and one of the principal sources of a nation’s legitimacy.”

Millions of refugees and displaced persons, forced to flee their homes in shocking numbers due to war, privation, and persecution, have no greater friend than Pope Francis,” Chairman George said.  “His meeting in May with Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan, his condemnation of violence including the 'repulsive and damnable' atrocities of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram’s brutality in Nigeria, and the 'atrocious, inhuman and incomprehensible persecution' of Christians  which he has deemed genocide, has been heard around the world, and he has rightly urged the international community to take further action in response to these calamities.

In a recent conference of some 60 nations on the plight of victims of ethnic and religious violence across the Middle East, the Vatican made the following three-fold plea for  action:  the international community must respond to the immediate humanitarian needs of refugees, while working in the longer term to ensure respect for religious rights and freedom of religion – especially the right to change one’s religion; guarantee the rights of refugees, especially religious and ethnic minorities, to return to their countries of origin to live in dignity and security and enjoy the full rights of equal citizens; and tackle terrorism and encourage interfaith dialogue.  

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