At the Joint House and Senate Luncheon in his Honor Hosted by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Remarks and Toast of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
The Rayburn Room
Direct Archdiocesan District
November 4, 2009
Madame Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, Your Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and brother Hierarchs, Honored guests and friends, beloved spiritual children in the Lord,
Standing again in this Capitol – this people’s house of democracy and freedom – whose dome rises above every other building in this capital city of the American Nation, our mind travels back in time to twelve years ago, when both we and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople were honored by this august body with the Congressional Gold Medal. At that time, we made a commitment and a pledge to you, the elected representatives of the great American people. We promised you that “in the spirit of freedom, we pledge to redouble our efforts as peacemakers among different peoples and faiths.”
We say to you this day, that in spite of rising tide of intolerance and fanaticism, the Ecumenical Patriarchate continues to fulfill that pledge.
Throughout the intervening years, but especially since the tragic events and aftermath of September Eleventh, we have circled the globe preaching peace, reconciliation, and hope. We have intensified our efforts to bring together disparate and divergent parties to a common table where mutual respect and understanding can be fostered in a peaceable atmosphere.
Whether in Brussels, or at Davos, or in Tehran, or Libya, we have lifted our voice into all the world (cf. Psalm 19:4), carrying the perennial message of peace, hope and reconciliation. In particular, we have issued a clarion call for environmental responsibility and the ecological stewardship of our common home, planet earth.
We note with great satisfaction that it was the vision of an esteemed member of this body, the late Senator Gaylord Nelson, which established the global celebration of Earth Day. Yet this should be of no surprise as he followed in the footsteps of that father of American Democracy, Benjamin Franklin. It was Franklin who pioneered an public consciousness that embraced environmental responsibility on behalf of all citizens that presaged the American dedication to ecological preservation. From the founding of Yellowstone as the first national park in 1872, to President Theodore Roosevelt’s first wildlife refuge on Pelican Island, Florida in 1903. From the establishment of the United States Forest Service in 1905, to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. The United States of America, a land blessed with tremendous bounty and natural resources, has always been willing to show leadership in the protection of the health and beauty of the lands and waters that lie between your shining seas.
Madame Speaker and Majority Leader Reid, twelve years ago, we had gathered beneath the magnificent dome of the Capitol, a dome inspired, as we said at that time, by the dome of an Orthodox Christian Church, St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg. But this dome, and indeed every dome, finds its primordial inspiration in the canopy of the heaven that prevails over all our world. Through the ages, the dome has served as a symbol of the all-encompassing reality of divine providence and care for the created world.
Thus we understand the famous American dictum: “one nation under God,” and we hear in these words – not the chauvinism of any particular religious creed, but rather an acknowledgment of the universal value of every human being and the world that all of us inhabit. As Jesus Himself said, God “makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).
It is precisely this sense of equality of all people that is enshrined in the American democracy, and which is so magnificently exemplified by the American Capitol, under whose dome we gather today. We say again: “In these halls, human rights are preserved and human dignity is enhanced.”
Madame Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid, yesterday with President Obama, we raised the very basic and philanthropic issue of health care for the poorest and neediest citizens. I assured him of our prayers for him in this vital effort of fundamental human dignity. At Georgetown University, we invoked the example of the Byzantine Empire, as a model that found, even in a pre-industrial era, the resources to honor every human person. We exhort you today with this same paradigm, and we pray for your success.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is both fully committed and fully engaged in the global search for the human rights and the human dignity of all God’s children. Our service to the Church and to humankind is ecumenical because we seek, through inter-cultural and interfaith dialogue, to weave of our world a fabric based in the values that are foundational not only to the United States, but to all great civilizations.
We seek to help shape a world where all God’s children can enjoy the bounty of creation, in the abundance of liberty and basic human rights. We thank you for your efforts on our behalf, whether it be through the resolutions of these esteemed legislative chambers that support the re-opening and full functioning of the Theological School of Halki, or through the resolve of this body to protect the human, religious and property rights of our Ecumenical Patriarchate.
As we close our remarks today, and lift our glass in praise of your noble efforts on behalf of fellow citizens and the people of the world, we invoke upon you and the United States of America, the blessing of God and His infinite mercy. Amen!