The world is "filled with people in need," including the unborn, trafficking victims, those "suffering the agonies of addiction and abuse, people with disabilities and still others facing famine and disease, said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey.

"In some areas, slow progress is being made," he said in an address during the State Department's recent second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington. "New treatments are developed. Laws are passed, like the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which I authored to protect victims and aggressively prosecute those who profit from human trafficking."

But at the same time, "there has been little progress in ending religious persecution," Smith said. "In fact, in some places like China, it's getting worse."

"The world of faith is under siege," he said. "We are at a tipping point -- threats are multiplying by the day making this ministerial, and comprehensive follow-up especially necessary and urgent."

Smith said people and governments around the governments cannot stand silent while so many groups right now are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

He listed the situation of several, including: Rohingya Muslims being brutally "cleansed" from Myanmar; Nigerian Christians facing "horrifying violence"; Iraqi Christians and Yazidis facing genocide at the hands of the Islamic State; and over a million Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims being interned by the Chinese government.

He also said the "anti-Semitism spreading like a cancer around the globe" cannot be allowed "to fester."

"The terrible, largely unacknowledged reality is this: We are witnessing in the early 21st century an international mega-crisis in religious freedom," Smith said. "Religious persecution is festering and exploding around the world."

The crisis is creating "tens of millions of victims and undermines liberty, prosperity and peace," he added. "More than ever before, strong international leadership and diplomacy on a sustainable basis are needed to address religious freedom violations globally."

He praised the work of Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sam Brownback, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, for organizing the ministerial but also working year-round "to better protect all people of all faiths to more freely exercise their fundamental human right to believe in God, the transcendent and the eternal."

He praised the State Department for "vigorously using the tools" embedded in laws such as the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which Smith wrote, to identify violations of religious freedom in nations around the world, call out the perpetrators and hold governments to account.

Smith noted that he has dedicated his life in the U.S. Congress -- the past 39 years -- "to fighting for religious freedom and giving a voice to the voiceless."

He works on the issue -- and many others -- in his capacity as senior member of House Foreign Affairs Committee, ranking member of House Global Human Rights Subcommittee and co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

As co-chair of the Lantos commission, he held a hearing June 27 on violations of the right to freedom of religion of minority Christian populations around the world.

What opened his own eyes to religious persecution, he said, was a book he read 40 years ago: "Tortured for Christ" by Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand.

"More than any other, this book introduced me to the horrors faced by Christians living under communism," Smith said. "Pastor Wurmbrand's account of the 14 years he spent in communist prisons -- the torture, the solitary confinement, the mental cruelty and starvation -- was both gripping yet, paradoxically, hopeful."

"His story detailed horrible suffering," he added, "but it was also a story of endurance, courage and an indomitable spirit."