By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
NEW YORK — President Donald Trump called out world leaders who advocate for tolerance while failing to support people of faith during a historic gathering on religious freedom at the United Nations on Monday.
“Too often people in positions of power preach diversity while silencing, shunning, or censoring the faithful,” the president said. “True tolerance means respecting the right of all people to express their deeply held religious beliefs.”
Trump’s presence at the event marked the first time a sitting U.S. president had convened such a gathering at the United Nations, where he said that advocating for religious freedom remains one of the “highest priorities” of his administration.
During his 12-minute keynote address, the president said that religious freedom is a fundamental building block for any “peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society.”
“America stands with believers in every country who ask only for the freedom to live according to the faith that is within their own hearts,” Trump said.
He noted that 80 percent of the world’s population live in areas where freedom of religion is threatened or restricted, adding that 11 Christians a day are killed because of their faith.
“Who would even think that’s possible in this day and age?,” Trump asked.
The president also announced that his administration would be allocating another $25 million dollars toward religious freedom initiatives and protecting religious sites and relics. In addition, he revealed the formation of a new coalition of U.S. businesses aimed to encourage respect for faith within the private sector
In a room full of world leaders, diplomats, and survivors of religious persecution, the president paid tribute to a range of high profile victims of religious persecution in recent years, including Father Jacques Hamel, an 85 year old French priest who was killed by Islamic extremists while celebrating Mass in 2016; the victims of recent shootings in Pennsylvania and California by anti-Semitic gunmen; and the massacre of over 50 Muslim worshippers at two New Zealand mosques earlier this year.
Monday’s speech came on the heels of the Second Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom sponsored by the U.S. State Department, which brought together more than 1,000 representatives from civil society and religious groups and more than 100 different foreign government delegations in July. The gathering was billed as the largest religious freedom event in the world. In tandem with the Ministerial, the president also hosted nearly 30 survivors of religious persecution at the Oval Office.
Also in attendance for the meeting were Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence, who called out the Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, for “practically waging war on the Catholic Church” in his introductory marks for the gathering.
The president’s 3-day visit to New York comes at a time when he is engulfed in scandal over allegations that he asked the Ukraine government to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, for business dealings in the country. On Monday, he told reporters that his phone conversations pertained to rooting out corruption within the country.
Following his remarks, the president was expected to hold individual meetings with a range of world leaders, including President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, President Andrzej Duda of Poland, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.
Among the world leaders present at the United Nations this week is the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who is leading the Holy See’s delegation to the General Assembly. He will take part in high-level meetings on health care, climate change, human trafficking, and the persecution of Christians.