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Athenagoras Rights Award To Archbishop Demetrios


John D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State
Remarks at the 2007 Athenagoras Human Rights Award Banquet
Washington, DC
October 27, 2007

Athenagoras Human Rights Award Awarded to Archbishop Demetrios

Thank you very much, Congressman, and first of all, thank you to the Order of Saint Andrew The Apostle and the Archons for having invited me to participate in this very happy event this evening.

Your Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, Cardinal McCarrick, leaders of the Orthodox Church in America, Rabbi Schneier, fellow diplomats, colleagues in the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, it's a great privilege for me to join you tonight to honor His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America as he receives the Athenagoras Human Rights Award on his 40th anniversary as Archbishop.

When President Bush met with Archbishop Demetrios during the commemoration of Greek Independence Day last March, he remarked that the Archbishop's presence soothed his soul. Everyone here this evening would agree with that apt comment, I am sure. Archbishop Demetrios is a warm and generous man whose reputation for integrity enables him to provide enlightened leadership to over 2 million Greek Orthodox Americans while advancing the frontiers of Orthodox Christianity throughout the world.

Tonight, we celebrate the Archbishop's contributions as a stalwart man of faith. The Athenagoras Human Rights Award has been presented annually by the Order of Saint Andrew The Apostle to a person or organization that has consistently exemplified by action, purpose, and dedication concern for basic -- for the basic human rights and religious freedom of all peoples regardless of race, color or creed.

Since it was established in 1986, recipients of this award have included Archbishop Iakovos, President Jimmy Carter, President George Herbert Walker and First Lady Barbara Bush, the President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, and Elie Wiesel. It is more than fitting that the -- that Archbishop Demetrios now be added to that distinguished list of laureates. For the last 40 years, he has demonstrated exemplary service to humankind as an Orthodox hierarch, theologian, statesman and biblical scholar. Not only is he universally acknowledged as a visionary leader of orthodoxy and defender of faith, but he's an extraordinary humanitarian and an advocate of human rights.

And it is particularly fitting that His Eminence receives the Athenagoras Award here in New York City, which saw the devastation that extremism and hatred can bring on September 11th, 2001. On that tragic day, His Eminence administered to the spiritual needs of his religious community, of our civic leaders and of our nation, affirming the Church's condemnation of acts of terrorism and offering words of love and healing to the families of the victims.

As interpreters of the sacred, religious leaders have critical responsibilities during crises like the attacks of 9/11. Their influence can be used to build relationships or exacerbate tensions, to unite or divide. They can fan the flames of conflict by polarizing believers with appeals to intolerance, or they can build bridges, as Archbishop Demetrios has done by citing texts and offering interpretations consistent with a commitment to tolerance, respect and peace.

These are the opportunities and the burdens to which religious leaders must respond, whether the challenge be a day of trauma or decades of enduring tensions. And His Eminence, the Archbishop, has indeed responded. He has been a pillar of support for religious freedom around the world.

To offer just three examples of his efforts, he has played an important role in this process through the National Inter-Religious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East. In 2005, he met with Pope Benedict to help negotiate the return of Catholic relics across the borders. And the Archbishop is well known for his defense of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the highest see in the holiest center of the Orthodox Christian Church throughout the world.

Your Eminence, thank you for striving to secure what President Bush calls the non-negotiable demands of human dignity and the hope for freedom that all men and women deserve. Your tenacity is both an inspiration and a necessity, for where human rights are under siege, freedom and democracy are assaulted as well.

Our modern concepts of human rights, freedom and democracy have deep roots in Greece, of course. As we know, the ancient Greeks insisted that their citizens had the right to govern themselves. They believed in the power of freedom to protect human dignity and basic human rights, including, of course, religious freedom.

The ideas, values and history of Greece were so powerful that 2,000 years later, America's Founding Fathers were inspired by Hellenic ideals as they framed our Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And now, we see people all over the world striving for greater personal and political freedom, and for the adoption of democratic institutions -- ideals that have been intrinsic to Greek culture from the time of Pericles.

Thanks to the inspired leadership of Archbishop Demetrios during these last four decades, the ideals and beliefs of the Greek peoples and Philhellenes everywhere have remained vibrant and vital. Your Eminence, we are in debt to your wisdom, your deeds, and above all your faith. Please accept my personal congratulations on this momentous occasion. And now, I believe the Order of St. Andrew The Apostle would like to show a brief video of the valiant work of Archbishop Demetrios. Thank you very much.

2007/942

Released on October 29, 2007

ENDS

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