President Bush is urging continued action to combat religious persecution around the world. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House.

Each year during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, President Bush meets privately with Jewish leaders prior to a holiday reception.

This year, with the reception falling on International Human Rights Day, the president put the focus on religious freedom.

"A good way to celebrate this day is to invite people from our country and around the world to share with me their stories - stories of courage, stories of people who simply want to be in a society where people are allowed to worship freely," he said.

The Jewish leaders who met this year with the president told personal stories of persecution in places like Iran, Syria, the former Soviet Union, and Taliban-era Afghanistan.

Most of those attending the session at the White House now live in the United States, and campaign actively for religious freedom abroad.

"We discussed how America must remain engaged in helping people realize the great blessings of religious freedom; and where we find societies in which religious freedom is not allowed to practice, that we must do something about it," he said.

Participants in the meeting also included survivors of the Nazi holocaust of World War II, and representatives of the Jewish communities in Venezuela and Uganda.

Special guests for the day's events at the White House were the parents of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in early 2002.

Judea and Ruth Pearl now head a foundation named after their son that focuses on fostering cross-cultural understanding. In addition to the meeting with the president, they were also invited to lead the candle-lighting ceremony at the White House Hanukkah reception.