Good evening, and please be seated. I want to welcome all of you to the Ben Franklin Room here on the eighth floor of the State Department for such a special occasion. It is indeed an honor for me to welcome His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, whom I have had the great honor and personal pleasure of getting to know over the years. And I know we have a number of other very distinguished representatives, His Eminence Geron Metropolitan Athanasios of Chalcedon, His Eminence Metropolitan Ambrosios of Korea, and, of course, a personal friend of mine, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, who is celebrating his 10th
anniversary here in America.
His All Holiness and I have had the pleasure of meeting a number of times since I first visited him as First Lady at the Patriarchate in 1995, but one of our most memorable times together came when Archbishop was enthroned in New York 10 years ago. A lot has happened in the intervening decade, but one thing that has not changed is his All Holiness’s commitment not only to his church and to the people of the church, but to the world, and the work that he has done, which is so important to us all.
The institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate dates to the dawn of Christianity and His All Holiness is the 270th
successor of St. Andrew the Apostle. Now, one might think that someone who carries such a mantle of history, such a legacy of service and faith, would be, you know, a little stuffy. (Laughter.) But those of us who know him know nothing could be further from the truth. He is a person of such great warmth and humor and care and concern, and his tireless work for religious tolerance, his award-winning advocacy on behalf of the environment – he’s been a champion for dealing with the global challenges of our time.
It is not a coincidence that when I travel around the world and discuss climate change or environmental stewardship or the imperative for peaceful coexistence among people of different faiths, I often find myself echoing sentiments that he’s been expressing for years, and even quoting from him.
I particularly appreciate what he did in the aftermath of 9/11, when he united leaders from across the religious spectrum to condemn the terrorist attacks and call for harmony among the world’s faithful. His campaign on behalf of religious freedom and peaceful coexistence has helped to bridge divides among believers. And the United States has been proud to support his calls for religious tolerance, both in Turkey and around the world. It is one of the reasons that President Obama and I have been so vocal about the need to reopen Halki Seminary and protect the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. (Applause.) We have raised these issues repeatedly and publically, and will continue to do so until they are addressed.
I know we have several ambassadors here. I believe we not only have the Ambassador from Greece to the United States, the Ambassador from Cyprus, but indeed the Ambassador from Turkey. And we look forward to working with Turkey and we welcome Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit to Washington next month.
Now, in this room there are many friends of mine, people whom I have known for many years who have been friends of my family and myself, who have invited me into your homes, who have been the supporters and advisors and counselors, and I am grateful that each and every one of you could be with us. It means a great deal to me. I said, well, I want to recognize my friends, and then I realized we would be here all night. Because I look out and I see so many familiar and really beloved faces, particularly from the times when my husband was president, and of course, the times of my great privilege of serving the people of New York for eight years. So I welcome particularly all of you here this evening.
And we are welcoming His All Holiness not only as the leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, but as a living embodiment of the positive role that faith can play in healing and humanizing our world. Many people claim faith. Few live it the way that he has. He represents both centuries of tradition, and an agenda that is at the very cutting age of our modern time. The message that he carries around the world is timeless, but you can follow his travels on Twitter and Facebook. (Laughter.) We value his wisdom, his vision, his leadership. And I look forward to continuing our long and productive friendship as we work together for the benefit of all God's children.
With that, please join me in welcoming His All Holiness to share some remarks, and then provide us with an invocation. I know that he loves many things and many people, but particularly children and music, and later we will hear from some of the talented musicians of the DC Youth Orchestra. But I have been looking forward to this evening for many months, and it is with great personal honor and delight that I ask him now to address us. (Applause.)