Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Pope Francis and the Catholic Church have a “central role” in promoting religious liberty.

Pompeo was speaking to Vatican News – the official news service of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication – ahead of the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, taking place in Washington, D.C., from July 24-26.

The state department has invited foreign ministers from over 40 countries, international organization representatives, religious leaders, and civil society representatives “to discuss challenges, identify concrete ways to combat religious persecution and discrimination, and ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all.”

“The State Department, under President Trump, has made religious freedom a true priority for this administration,” Pompeo said.

“Our mission is really straightforward and important. It is to spread the word of the importance of religious freedom for every individual around the world. The — we want to press for that,” he told Vatican News.

“There are countries that share America’s understanding of that, there are those who don’t, and we want to move each of them in the right direction towards increasing — increasing religious freedom. People of all faiths should have the right to worship as they please, or if they choose not to, they should be permitted to do that as well,” Pompeo continued.

The Secretary of State then said he thinks the pope and the Catholic Church can “play a central role” in promoting religious freedom.

“We think it’s incredibly important that not only governments — as in the State Department and the United States — but religious leaders too understand that they need to press for religious freedom for their particular faith and their beliefs, but that they should also play a role in ensuring that there’s religious freedom for those that share other faiths than the one. So, we think the Catholic Church can play an important role in the mission that we’re attempting to achieve through gathering these folks in Washington in the days ahead,” he said.

Pompeo also said that he thinks religious freedom, human rights, and economic interests are “deeply connected.”

“When individuals are permitted to act and behave freely with respect to their faith, they have the capacity for greatness. And so we see a deep connection between religious freedom as a fundamental human right, and the economic benefits that flow to countries that have this religious freedom,” he said.

“Investors prefer countries that have broad religious freedom. Commercial actors see places with religious freedom as places more open and with less risk. We think that religious freedom and human rights and economic success are deeply connected, deeply tied, and we think it benefits American foreign policy to reinforce this,” said Pompeo.