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Religious Freedom Mission to Germany and Turkey: An update from the National Commander

Archon George C. Rockas, National Commander Anthony J. Limberakis, M.D., His All-Holiness and Archon Christopher Stratakis.
View photos of the Mission »

On behalf of the Order of Saint Andrew, I express deep appreciation to the members of the Religious Freedom Mission Team who just returned from Berlin, Germany and Constantinople having left last Saturday, June 15 and returned this past weekend with the blessings of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America.  The purpose of the mission was to finalize plans and logistics for the Second International Archon Religious Freedom Conference scheduled this December in Berlin, Germany, to further our religious freedom advocacy with Turkish government officials and to pay our respects to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Hosted in Berlin by His Eminence Metropolitan Augoustinos of Germany who opened many doors for us, we had extensive and productive meetings with religious leaders, including the Roman Catholic Cardinal of Berlin H.E. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki and the President of the Evangelical Protestant Church of Germany Dr. Nikolaus Schneider, whose members exceed 24 million faithful; leaders of respective think tanks including the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Foundation and the Inter Dialog Institute; officials of political parties including the governing CDU/CSU party and previously with the Green Party and diplomats, including the ambassador of Greece H.E. Panagiotis Zografos, the ambassador of Cyprus H.E. Minas A. Hadjimichael and the ambassador of Turkey H.E. H. Avni Karslioglu.  These officials were presented with Philadelphia Liberty Bell replicas symbolic of the religious liberty for which the Order is striving on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and religious minorities in Turkey.

On Tuesday, June 18, the Archon delegation met with U.S. Ambassador Philip D. Murphy at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin.

We had an outstanding meeting with the Hon. Philip D. Murphy, the United States Ambassador to Germany on the very day President Obama arrived in Berlin last Tuesday.  We received the wholehearted support of our ambassador and the Embassy for the Conference and its willingness to host a reception at the new, magnificent Embassy (and underwritten by the Order), which is located next to the Brandenburg Gate, Germany’s most famous landmark.  We continue to work out a multitude of details with the Conference headquarters hotel regarding conference rooms, interpreters, guest rooms, etc.

The Archon delegation traveled to Constantinople to pay our respects to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and received the blessings of His All-Holiness regarding the Conference and other Archon activities.  The Order hosted a dinner meeting with His All-Holiness, Turkish EU Minister Egemen Bagis, Patriarchal Clergy and lay leaders including Archon Laki Vingas.

After close consultation with the US Ambassador to Turkey, the Hon. Francis J. Ricciardone who in his own right is an effective champion of religious freedom and strong advocate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, our planned meeting to Ankara was postponed due to local unrest and the use of teargas near the Embassy.

The Archon delegation with His Eminence Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Berlin.

Finally, productive meetings were held with members of the religious minorities of Turkey who will be participating in the Conference.

It should be noted that prior to the Religious Freedom Mission, on May 15th, the Archon leadership along with Regional Commander Andrew E. Manatos had meetings at the State Department with Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs; at the office of US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, at the headquarters of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and its Chair Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett and at the White House Complex with Acting Senior Director for European Affairs and current Director for NATO and Western European Affairs Tara Leweling.  (View photos of these meetings) At the request of Archon Congressman Gus Bilirakis Co-Chair of the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance (CHIA) Commander Limberakis made an informal presentation on the religious freedom concerns of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the CHIA Lunch Briefing on the State of Religious Freedom and Human Rights Abuses in the Eastern Mediterranean at the U.S. House of Representatives, where Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, Former Vice-Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (2004-2012) offered a compelling presentation.

The Religious Freedom Delegation consisted of Fr. Alexander and Presvytera Xanthi Karloutsos, Legal Counselor Archon Christopher Stratakis, Conference Chairman Archon George C. Rockas and the National Commander.

In the Service of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,

Anthony J. Limberakis, MD
Archon Aktouarios
National Commander