Vatican City, 27 September 2015 (VIS) – The Independence National Historical Park, considered the “most historic square mile in America” for its numerous buildings linked to the American War of Independence between the United States of America and Great Britain (1763-1783), was the scene of the Pope's meeting with the Hispanic community and other immigrants. The central theme of his discourse was religious freedom and the defence of the roots of every individual and people. Upon arrival, the representatives of the “Encuentros Nacionales del ministerio Hispano” asked the Holy Father to bless a “Biblia Catolica para la Familia y para el Joven” - a Catholic Bible for the Family and the Young – and the “Cruz de los Encuentros”, the cross carried on pilgrimages throughout all the United States in preparation for each national “Encuentro” of the community. The initiative was started in 1972, and is intended to enhance the contribution of the Hispano-Latin community to the life and decisions of the Catholic Church in the country. The next Encuentro will take place in January 2017.
In his address to the thousands of people gathered in the Park, the Pope remarked that one of the highlights of his trip was his visit to Independence Mall, the birthplace of the United States of America, where the freedoms that define the country were proclaimed for the first time. “The Declaration of Independence stated that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights. Those resounding words continue to inspire us today, even as they have inspired peoples throughout the world to fight for the freedom to live in accordance with their dignity. But history also shows that these or any truths must constantly be reaffirmed, re-appropriated and defended. ... We remember the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labour movement, and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at successive waves of new Americans. This shows that, when a country is determined to remain true to its founding principles, based on respect for human dignity, it is strengthened and renewed”.
He went on to speak of the importance of remembering the past, as “a people which remembers does not repeat past errors; instead, it looks with confidence to the challenges of the present and the future. Remembrance saves a people’s soul from whatever or whoever would attempt to dominate it or use it for their interests”. He then reiterated his wish, “in this place which is symbolic of the American way” to “reflect … on the right to religious freedom. It is a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbours whose religious views differ from our own”.
“Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate”, he explained. “But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families. Our various religious traditions serve society primarily by the message they proclaim. ... They remind us of the transcendent dimension of human existence and our irreducible freedom in the face of every claim to absolute power. We need only look at history, especially the history of the last century, to see the atrocities perpetrated by systems which claimed to build one or another 'earthly paradise' by dominating peoples, subjecting them to apparently indisputable principles and denying them any kind of rights. Our rich religious traditions seek to offer meaning and direction. ... At the heart of their spiritual mission is the proclamation of the truth and dignity of the human person and human rights. … In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others”.
We live in a world “subject to globalisation … which consciously aims at a one-dimensional uniformity and seeks to eliminate all differences and traditions in a superficial quest for unity. The religions thus have the right and the duty to make clear that it is possible to build a society where a healthy pluralism which respects differences and values them as such is a precious ally in the commitment to defending human dignity… and a path to peace in our troubled world”.
He went on to mention the Quakers who founded Philadelphia, “inspired by a profound evangelical sense of the dignity of each individual and the ideal of a community united by brotherly love. This conviction led them to found a colony which would be a haven of religious freedom and tolerance. That sense of fraternal concern for the dignity of all, especially the weak and the vulnerable, became an essential part of the American spirit. During his visit to the United States in 1987, St. John Paul II paid moving homage to this, reminding all Americans that: 'The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenceless ones'”.
“I take this opportunity to thank all those, of whatever religion, who have sought to serve the God of peace by building cities of brotherly love, by caring for our neighbours in need, by defending the dignity of God’s gift of life in all its stages, by defending the cause of the poor and the immigrant. All too often, those most in need of our help are unable to be heard. You are their voice, and many of you have faithfully made their cry heard. In this witness, which frequently encounters powerful resistance, you remind American democracy of the ideals for which it was founded, and that society is weakened whenever and wherever injustice prevails. A moment ago I spoke about the tendency towards globalisation. Globalisation is not an ill. On the contrary, the tendency towards globalisation is good in that it unites us. The aspect that can be bad is the way in which it is realised. If globalisation aims to make us all equal, like a sphere, then it destroys the specific character of each person and each population. If instead it aims to unite all, but respecting each person, with his or her richness and particular characteristics, then this globalisation is good and makes us all grow; it leads us to peace. I like using geometry to describe this. If globalisation is a sphere, in which we are all equal, equidistant from the centre, then it annuls difference and is not good. If on the other hand it unites us like a polyhedron, in which we are all united but each person conserves his or her individual identity, then it is good, allows the people to grow, endows all men with dignity and grants rights to all”.
Finally, he addressed America’s large Hispanic population, along with representatives of recent immigrants to the United States. “I greet all of you with particular affection!” he exclaimed. “Many of you have emigrated to this country at great personal cost, but in the hope of building a new life. Do not be discouraged by whatever challenges and hardships you face. I ask you not to forget that, like those who came here before you, you bring many gifts to your new nation. You should never be ashamed of your traditions. Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land. I repeat, do not be ashamed of what is part of you, your life blood. You are also called to be responsible citizens, and to contribute fruitfully to the life of the communities in which you live. I think in particular of the vibrant faith which so many of you possess, the deep sense of family life and all those other values which you have inherited. By contributing your gifts, you will not only find your place here, you will help to renew society from within. Do not lose the memory of what happened here more than two centuries ago. Never forget that Declaration which proclaimed that all men and women were created equal, that the Creator has endowed them with inalienable rights, that governments exist to protect and defend these rights”.
Pope Francis concluded by thanking all present for their warm welcome, adding, “Let us conserve this freedom. Take care of freedom. Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, the freedom of every person, every family, every people, which gives rise to our rights”.