Secretary Kerry’s Remarks at Sant’Egidio’s Conference on Christians in the Middle East

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters during a news conference in Tel Aviv after meetings in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on December 6, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Honorable and esteemed friends, while I cannot be present with you in person, I want to extend my warmest greetings and commend all of you — Sant’Egidio as the organizer and all the participants — for the important work you are doing here.

Promoting religious freedom is a priority for President Obama and for me, and it remains a core value that influences U.S. diplomatic engagement worldwide.  We have repeatedly condemned — and I take the opportunity to do so again now — violence, destruction of property, and any oppressive or discriminatory acts targeted on the basis of religious affiliation.

In recent days and months, the brutal persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East has been spreading at an alarming rate, with devastating effects on the communities whose leaders are represented here as well as many from other faiths.

You know better than anyone the tragedies that DAESH’s violence has inflicted on communities in Iraq, Syria, and beyond.  We have mourned with you the loss of loved ones, and of the homes and property that have been a part of the history of your peoples for centuries.  We continue to seek every opportunity to assist those suffering under the threat of extremist groups; we have assembled a broad international coalition to defeat DAESH; and we insist on the right of everyone to practice their religion freely and without fear.

Whether in or outside the Middle East, the United States believes that societies are strongest when they uphold the equality of all people, their dignity and rights, and when they reject discrimination against anyone based on spiritual beliefs.

closeup of secretary of state john kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry

That is why in February at the White House-hosted summit on countering violent extremism, President Obama called upon people everywhere to embrace efforts to promote understanding and respect both across and within faiths.  That conference was based firmly on the belief that civil society, not just governments, must play a leading role in defeating intolerance, and so I thank and applaud you for being here to do just that.  While religious differences can be exploited to divide societies, the values that are at the foundation of every major religious tradition can and must be a powerful motivator for bringing people together.

Thank you and best wishes for your important and timely conference.  Know that I am with you in spirit and that my government will always stand on the side of religious freedom for all people.

Letter from Ambassador Kenneth F. Hackett to the Conference on Christians in the Middle East, Bari, April 29-30, 2015

I regret that I was unable to attend this important conference.  I want to underscore the appreciation of the United States for the initiative that the Community of Sant’Egidio has taken to organize the meeting and to highlight the dire situation of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.  The protection of religious liberty and the protection of persecuted minorities the world over is a priority for the United States government, and it is a major focus for the work of my embassy.

I recall the meeting that some of the Christian leaders here today had with President Obama last September at the White House.  That meeting was an important opportunity for the President and his senior advisers to hear first-hand about the plight of Christian communities in the Middle East and beyond.  His Beatitude, Cardinal Rai, said at the time that those who met with President Obama felt how deeply moved he was by what was happening to Christians.  Unfortunately, the international community has not been able so far to stop the persecution and violence Christians are facing in the region, a situation of grave concern to the United States.  It is paramount that Christians and other religious minorities retain their important and historic role and place in the region in peace and safety.

I wish the Community of Sant’Egidio and all those present a successful conference, and we look forward to building on its momentum in the days to come.