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Former Vice President Biden Makes Surprise Visit to Athenagoras Human Rights Award Banquet; Praises Ecumenical Patriarch

Vice President Joe Biden addresses nearly 1,300 attendees of the Athenagoras Human Rights Award Banquet, which honored Father Alexander and Presbytera Xanthi Karloutsos. © J. Mindala

Former Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise appearance at this year’s Athenagoras Human Rights Award Banquet. Biden, who served two terms under President Barrack Obama, originally said because of his tight schedule he would not be able to attend, but at the last minute he squeezed in a surprise appearance and then had to leave after addressing the gathering.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Biden said it was a special honor to be at the banquet, noting that the top three greatest honors he had received were the Medal of Freedom, the Martin Luther King Library Award, and the Athenagoras Human Rights Awards from the Archons in 2015, adding that “the Greek community has meant so much in my life.”

“Your family is family to the Biden family. Your decency, loyalty and love will always be remembered,” he said. ”Your prayers meant so much to the Bidens at the death of (his son) Beau,” who died of brain cancer in 2015 at the age of 46.

Biden extended praise to the Orthodox Church and especially to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, noting that “one of my greatest honors of my life” was meeting the Ecumenical Patriarch several times including in America, Greece and Turkey. Biden described Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as the “most Christ-like figure I have ever met,” adding that “he radiates grace, conviction, faith in every movement.” With a touch of humor, he recalled the time when the two of them “were stuck in a broken small elevator in Greece.” 

He supported the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s decision to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine by recognizing its freedom and at the same time emphasizing that the holiest Orthodox sites in Turkey need to be protected as well as Muslim sites in Greece, adding that “protecting freedom of religion and universal rights never ends.

On a serious note, the former Vice President expressed  concern that “hate is on the march in America.” Attending the annual banquet on the same day eleven innocents were fatally shot at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mr. Biden noted, “I think we are facing a moment in this nation where we have to stand up against this hate.”

Citing a series of recent tragic incidents, including two African-Americans shot to death while shopping in a grocery store in Kentucky, the mailing of 15 pipe bombs to various individuals, threats against the press, growing anti-Semitism, and attacks on immigrants, Biden emphasized that “words matter and our silence is complicity,” stressing that Americans must see  that ”we are not  complicit. That is not what America is. Protecting religious freedom and upholding human rights never ends. The power of example is the value of America’s DNA.” 

Biden, a  Roman Catholic, ended his comments on a humorous note by pointing out that earlier in the evening he had  made his cross the wrong way and then did it again -- the Orthodox way.

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