Jim Nicholson, Ambassador of the U.S.A. to the Holy See
Freedom: Rx for a Life of Dignity
World Youth Day – Toronto, Ontario – July 26, 2002
As the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, my job is to represent President Bush to the Pope. In that capacity I met with the Holy Father, just the two of us, on September 13th and we discussed the tragedy that had befallen my country just 48 hours before. The Holy Father expressed through me his condolences to my people, but then went on to say that he had thought and prayed about it intensely and concluded that it was an attack not just on the U.S.A. But on all mankind.
He then acknowledged in a supportive way that we had to take action against these murderous terrorists, and asked only that we adhere to the high traditions of justice for which our country has become known in carrying out our duty to protect the world from this threat. I assured him that we would, and thanks to President Bush’s leadership, we have.
As Ambassador of the United States of America to the Holy See my job is to promote the interests and policies of my country to a state that most of the world’s people regard as the champion of justice, peace and human rights. My country’s understanding of freedom finds a close resonance with that of the Vatican and many other nation states as we work together to ensure our society and our world are truly free.
One very precious freedom is freedom of religion.
When people are not allowed to practice their faith because their society promotes only one religion or bans all religions – that’s a serious threat to freedom as a whole and to human dignity. That’s why the United States government has an office at the state department to promote religious freedom. We publish a report every year on how each country is doing in regard to religious freedom issues.
In every United States embassy around the world, a professional diplomat is designated to monitor religious freedom in the host country. By this work we hope to influence positive change for people all over the world.
But there is another threat to freedom, one i have been very interested in. Free societies everywhere are threatened when women and children are taken against their will across international borders and enslaved as prostitutes in the sex industry.
This is one of the most clear and grievous assaults on human dignity. As many as four million human beings are traded as merchandise annually. Their wills are broken by physical or sexual violence, or by threats against their families back home.
The United States is committed to fighting this modern day slavery—by working closely with many countries to plan prevention, rescue and rehabilitation strategies.
It is all part of our commitment to freedom. So, in our diplomatic encounters we strongly urge all countries to do more to abolish this twenty-first century slavery. We abolished slavery once; we must do so again. I urge you to help.
A free society composed of free people also means that both their souls and their bodies must be fed. We had an international food summit in Rome last month that exposed the shameful truth that over 800 million people go to bed hungry in our world each night!
That is unacceptable. Indifference must not make us accomplices in the deaths of millions. We must and can end hunger too! I’m pleased to be part of an effort to do so. The wonders of agricultural biotechnology to enhance food production for the developing world are manifest. I believe that diplomats, scientists, politicians, theologians and philosophers can work together in a partnership that will have a life-changing and liberating effect on literally hundreds of millions of people.
Freedom is also about responsible members of a society working to set others free from the tyranny of hunger so that they too can enjoy their lives. I urge you to become involved in this endeavor too!
Real freedom is not free. Just as martyrs died for the church, brave soldiers have often given their lives to defend justice and liberty. Human life is precious, but when something so worthy of preserving and enhancing – like a free society and a free world is threatened, people are still willing to fight to their death to defend it.
Some of you may have heard of the medieval italian writer Dante Alighieri. He’s famous for a work called: The Divine Comedy, which calls for moral renewal as people move towards eternal happiness. In one of the verses he writes:
“consider ye the seed from which ye sprang. Ye were not made to live like unto brutes. But for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge.”
Dante is speaking of the qualities that are at the core of our humanity. Intellect has the power to overwhelm irrational inclination. We are not animals acting without reason or rules.
As free people we come imprinted with a morality founded on truth and accessible to all people of good will.
So what’s the action plan for free people and a free society?
First of all – appreciate your freedom. It’s a precious gift that hasn’t come cheaply and which needs to be vigorously preserved at all costs. Indifference cannot sustain a free society.
Secondly – protect your freedom from threats to human dignity such as injustice, racism, thoughtless conformity, unreasonable political correctness or the threat of brutal domination by radical terrorists acting under the guise of their own religion. As the people about to inherent the responsibility of preserving the freedom of so many now living freely, and obtaining it for the rest, i ask you to speak up, and stand up for what you believe – you can do so precisely because you are free. Indifference cannot sustain a free society.
Thirdly – work to make others free by getting involved in your communities at the local and international levels. We’re not on this planet just as individuals and we need to make it a more peaceful and freer place for all people. To do that we must iradicate hatred among people. There is no greater authority for this point than the Pope himself, who said in Rome just 3 weeks ago:
“A society that really desires to be civil and contribute to the progress of people must cultivate in all of its members an objective and impartial understanding of others.
An understanding of this type has inestimable value, helping others to accept cultural and religious traditions that differ from their own.”
If the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, the successor to Peter, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, can speak in such a conciliatory manner certainly the path to a just, free and peaceful world can be forged by man in our time.
So, my hope for you, my prayer for you, is that you enjoy yourselves with the Pope here in beautiful Toronto, and that you leave here more committed to a life of service to the cause of freedom such that this world of ours will be better than the way you found it.
Remember: indifference cannot sustain a free society.
Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you and god bless you all.