(Vatican Radio) Though 2013 was one of the worst years ever for attacks on religious freedom around the world, there are numerous interfaith initiatives at grass roots level that give great hope for long term improvement. That’s the view of U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Ken Hackett, who also hopes America’s new point man on religious freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein, will bring new energy to such grass roots endeavours.
The ambassador was commenting on the latest International Religious Freedom Report, unveiled by U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry on July 28th. The annual report details violations in countries across the globe from anti-Semitism in Europe to sectarian conflict in Africa or Asia and the torture, displacement and killing of Christians in parts of the Middle East.
While it also includes a few inspiring stories of people of different faiths standing together to protect each other’s communities, overall the ambassador says, the report makes for very depressing reading:
Listen to Philippa Hitchen’s interview with U.S. Ambassador Ken Hackett
The ambassador says it’s depressing to see so many people who’ve had to flee their homes because of their religion, in the Middle East and elsewhere… “it’s so sad to see towns that have been at the cradle of Christianity now empty of Christians…”
He says many of the world leaders have talked about politicians using religion to further their ends… “this is something we’ve got to stop and call it out for what it is – wrong.” He believes it’s immensely important for all world leaders to speak out on issues of peace and religious freedom….“how can you avoid, as a political leader, responding when your constituents say ‘Pope Francis said this’ – you can’t avoid it.”
Despite the horrors that the report details, the ambassador says in almost every country there are areas where people of different faiths come together to work on peace, human rights and constructive development and he says maybe we don’t “highlight the positive” enough. “There are so many instances where Christians and Muslim leaders come together to show common cause and speak out against violence - is it enough? No, but I think we should applaud and hold it up when it happens.”
Ambassador Hackett says it’s timely that Secretary of State Kerry announced Rabbi David Saperstein as the new U.S. ambassador for religious freedom: “He’s a real advocate and a very wise leader on these kinds of issues and we hope that, once he gets into place, he will be able to convene many people of good will who want to find solutions to these terrible horrors.”
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