U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and actress Angelina Jolie were in Loudoun on Monday to encourage interfaith leaders to continue to do all they can to welcome refugees displaced from war-torn countries.
Kerry and Jolie, joined by several area religious leaders, spoke at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, the second largest mosque in the country. They took part in an iftar, the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan, and highlighted World Refugee Day.
Just hours before their visit, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees had reported that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people around the world had topped 65 million, the highest on record.
Kerry said the world is looking to the west for leadership and compassion toward refugees. He noted that the U.S. will accept 80,000 refugees this year and 100,000 next year, and that each of them would have to undergo stringent screening before they can resettle here.
“There is absolutely zero evidence that refugees that make it through our process pose more of a threat than members of any other group,” he said, prompting loud applause. “Let me be clear: There is nothing ideological about coming to the aid to someone in need. … Americans say here we are what can we do to help. That’s who we are.”
Jolie, who is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy, has dedicated much of her time the past 15 years to the world’s refugee crisis. In her comments, she stressed that those who are accepting of people of different religions, cultures and backgrounds do not do away with their own identity.
“When we are at our strongest is when we draw on our diversity as people, to find unity based on our common values and our identity,” she said. “We are not strong despite our diversity, we’re strong because of it.”
ADAMS Chairman Rizwan Jaka and Rev. Bob Roberts Jr., pastor of NorthWood Church in Texas, commended those in Northern Virginia, especially the faith community, for accepting refugees with open arms.
“We appreciate that,” Jaka said, looking to the congregation.
The world looks to the two largest religions, Islam and Christianity, to lead the way in that effort, Roberts added. “It’s time for the two largest religions of the world to start acting what we believe what the Quran and the Bible says we believe,” he said, that means opening up homes and hearts to those in need.
Syed Hossain, a 21-year-old student at John Hopkins University, attended the event to better understand the refugee crisis, which he said he and his friends often debate.
“I wanted to hear what those who are most knowledgeable about the topic have to say,” he said. Asked his opinion on whether the U.S. should welcome those who have fled war zones, he responded, “I always think, if my country was being bombed and I had to flee to another country, how would I want them to treat me? And the answer becomes clear.”
An estimated 375 people attended the event, representing Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Bahai faith communities.