VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the preservation of Christian communities in the Middle East and the promotion of religious freedom on Thursday.
According to State Department representative Morgan Ortagus, during the Oct. 3 meeting in Vatican City, the two “reaffirmed” the commitment of the U.S and the Holy See “to advancing religious freedom around the world and, in particular, protecting Christian communities in the Middle East.”
Pompeo’s audience with the Pope is part of an international trip to Italy, Vatican City, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Greece.
The meeting followed a Wednesday session between Pompeo and the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to mark the 35th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Holy See.
At that meeting, Pompeo and Cardinal Parolin discussed Vatican aid to Venezuela, preventing human trafficking, the conflict in Syria, and promoting international religious freedom.
Pompeo also attended a symposium on Wednesday that was co-hosted by the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.
At the symposium on “Pathways to Achieving Human Dignity: Partnering With Faith-Based Organizations,” Pompeo condemned human-rights abuses committed by leaders in China, Iran, Syria, Myanmar and elsewhere.
“When the state rules absolutely, moral norms are crushed completely,” he said. “We must recognize the roots of religious repression. Authoritarian regimes and autocrats will never accept a power higher than their own. And that causes all sorts of assaults on human dignity.”
Callista Gingrich, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, emphasized the importance of the U.S. and the Holy See working together on religious freedom and supporting faith-based organizations that are serving the poor and vulnerable around the world.
“Today, religious freedom is under attack in nearly every part of the world. Faith-based organizations, through their unique ability to build trust and encourage dialogue, can play a critical role in turning the tide,” Gingrich said.
In an interview with Sky TG 24 on Oct. 2, Pompeo was asked about the meeting in light of Pope Francis’ repeated exhortation to “build bridges, not walls.”
President Donald Trump made the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border a key platform of his campaign in 2016, and in February, he declared a national emergency on the border in order to divert funds to the border that had been appropriated for other purposes.
Pompeo said he was “honored” to meet with the Pope and said that, “on migration, there are differences in views.”
Where the U.S. and the Holy See could work together is on international development to reduce the need for migration, he said.
He told SKY News: “It’s a dangerous journey across Mexico into the United States. A much better solution is to try and create the conditions on the ground in those countries where those people can thrive.”