Pastor Paul Adeferasin,
Dr. Obi Ezekwesili,
Members of the clergy,
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
First let me thank Pastor Paul Adeferasin for the great relationship we have enjoyed to advance shared values. Pastor Paul, many thanks to you and your team. Please give them a big round of applause. Let me also extend a heartfelt Independence Day wish to all of you in this magnificent cathedral and all the people of Nigerian.
Tonight, we are gathered here for a purpose – to celebrate your Independence Day and to jointly view a powerful movie titled “Captive” that projects despair and hope. Together, we’ll experience the triumph of hope over despair. Pastor Rick Warren said that living a meaning and purposeful life is a human issue not a religious issue and I completely agree.
Last week, His Holiness Pope Francis was in the United States for a historic visit. President Obama hosted His Holiness at the White House and thanked him for the ways in which he is inspiring people around the world to embrace justice, mercy, and compassion, particularly toward those who have been marginalized.
The President and Pope Francis discussed their shared values and commitments on a wide range of issues, including our moral responsibility to provide refuge for people who are forced to flee from their homelands;
The belief that we have an obligation to seize the historic opportunity to end extreme poverty within a generation;
The conviction that all members of the human family have equal value and infinite worth and should have the opportunity to realize safe and productive futures for themselves;
The belief that reconciliation can happen not only between people but also between nations;
The conviction that we must secure the unalienable right of all people to practice their faith according to the dictates of conscience;
The obligation to stand against those who would target people for violence, persecution, or discrimination based on their religion;
And the duty to manage the resources of the earth today in such a way that will allow our children and grandchildren to live their lives abundantly tomorrow.
Let me reiterate that the United States is using its wealth and influence to lead a peaceful world. The United States will continue its solidarity with people in crisis. The human toll of the world’s humanitarian crises is staggering. Over 100 million people around the world are beset by conflict, food insecurity, and natural disasters. The United States has provided over $4.6 billion in humanitarian assistance since the start of the Syrian crisis to help the 7.6 million internally displaced people in Syria and 4 million refugees in the region.
Nigeria has its share of humanitarian problems with internally displaced people due to the vicious atrocities of Boko Haram. In 2014, the United States provided about 11 million dollars for humanitarian assistance to Nigeria and we continue to support Nigeria to crush Boko Haram. On this day, the Chibock Girls have been missing for 535 days. Everything humanly possible must be done to “Bring Back the Girls.”
The United States also continues to provide refuge to the most vulnerable. Since its founding, the United States has offered freedom and opportunity to refugees fleeing the world’s most dangerous and desperate situations. Next year, the United States aims to admit at least 85,000 refugees, including at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. In 2017, the United States projects further expanding the program to a minimum of 100,000 refugees. Our response to mitigate pain and suffering around the world is second to none.
Promoting and protecting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy. In recognition of the increasingly important role that religion is playing in international affairs, and of the core importance of freedom of religion and conscience as a universal human right, the State Department is expanding training for its diplomats on how to monitor and advocate religious freedom. We will continue to stand for the universal right of all people to practice their faiths in peace and in freedom. Our partnership with the House on the Rock to advance the shared values of a purpose driven life is a good example of partnership that we seek.
The United States is also working to end extreme poverty. If we marshal our political will, we have the tools, knowledge, and technologies necessary to end extreme poverty within two decades. There is progress upon which to build; aggregate poverty rates are now falling for every region of the world, and there are 700 million fewer people living in extreme poverty today than in 1990. However, even with this progress, 1.2 billion people are still living in extreme poverty and the majority live in Africa.
Last week, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) released its new Vision for Ending Extreme Poverty that sets forth our definition of extreme poverty; our understanding of what has driven progress; an analysis of pertinent trends and challenges; and a strategic framework for USAID’s ongoing commitment to this mission. I encourage you to go to usaid.gov to get detail of the study and objectives.
On September 22, USAID hosted an event with religious leaders and other stakeholders, entitled, Faith Works: Partnering to Advance Peace, Prosperity, and Development Around the World. At the event, senior administration officials and religious and civil society leaders discussed their vision for ending extreme poverty, the importance of the Pope’s visit to this goal, and the role that faith-based, development and humanitarian relief organizations play in advancing peace and prosperity around the world. I am aware that the House on the Rock and other religious organizations are doing similar activities in Nigeria. However, engagement by public, private, and non-governmental organizations is not enough. I believe that making the world a better place is the responsibility of all citizens of the world. If you agree, please clap your hands.
At the TED conference in 2006, Rick Warren, the author of “Purpose Driven Life,” said that each individual has a gift and how they use the gift of “affluence and influence” is the key question. You don’t have to be a religious person to ask yourself, why am I here? What am I here for? Where am I going? It is when we ask these questions that we discover our gift of life and find meaning and purpose in our lives. William Shakespeare said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift the purpose of life is to give it away.” I am reminded of Bill Gates, Rick Warren, Warren Buffett and others around the world who are generously giving to lift people from poverty.
Whether it is religion, politics, business, and the arts, discover and sharpen your gift of life to make a difference in the world. Education, hard work, and hands-on experience help us sharpen our gift of life. When we succeed with the gift of life/talent, we are presented with tremendous opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives.
Now, let me challenge you as Pastor Rick Warren challenged his audience. What are you doing with the gift that you have in your hands: your identity, income, and influence? Are you making a difference in your families, your communities, your nation, and the world at large? If you are, please give yourselves a big round of applause.
As we reflect on ourselves and our contributions to society, we also need to ask if our nations are doing all they can to address national and global challenges. As I just shared with pride, let me assure you that the United States is using its affluence and influence to speak up for marginalized people around the world.