Faith and peace meet in papal diplomacy, archbishop says

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Vatican diplomacy
Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister, speaks with people attending a conference on Vatican diplomacy during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome April 18, 2024. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

ROME (CNS) — The pope’s diplomats are men of faith located all over the world to uphold the pope’s positions on international matters, to edify the universal church and to serve the Gospel, said Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister.

Vatican diplomacy is a vocation with a spiritual mandate, he said April 18 in the opening speech at an international conference on “Vatican Diplomacy and the Shaping of the West during the Pontificate of Pius XII,” held at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.

Throughout Western history, “in which spirituality acts as a leaven, the evangelization activity of the church’s diplomatic work played an important role,” he said.

The role of Vatican diplomacy

Whether it was a temporary envoy, an apostolic legate or a papal nuncio, that is, a permanent diplomatic representative of the Holy See to a nation or an international organization, he said they all were driven by “the constant prerogative of the Roman Pontiff to express the right of both active and passive legation in order to obey the words of Jesus Christ: ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature'” (Mk. 16:15).

Nonetheless, Archbishop Gallagher said, “papal diplomacy, which like any other diplomacy makes use of secular means in order to achieve a political aim abroad, cannot be limited to the propagation of the faith and its success should not be measured in terms of the propagation of the faith.”

In fact, he said, the Vatican’s diplomatic efforts also “must pay the normal costs of all diplomatic negotiations” but without neglecting theological truths which are necessary to ensure the peaceful coexistence of the Catholic Church in relation to the state.

Continuity in tradition

That continued to be the foundation from which the Vatican operated during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII — a time when the epicenter of “the West” shifted from European powers like Great Britain and France, to the United States, he said.

As eastern Europe came under Soviet control, the Vatican remained “faithful to its tradition of not initiating a break” in relations and sought to keep its representatives in those nations, he said. “It was the decision of others to expel or distance diplomatic representatives from the Soviet bloc like in Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, etc.”

Advancing the efforts of the Holy Father

No matter the nationality or background of a papal diplomat, the archbishop said, he is there to represent the international position of the pope, that is, the vicar of Christ, “who came to serve and not to be served.”

That is why a nuncio seeks to know the people in the country where he is sent — “their psychology, nature, history, institutions and all areas of life; he must win the sympathy of those entrusted to his care,” he said.

A nuncio must also be open to all current and pressing problems and their historical roots, he said, so he can anticipate their future developments to prepare Catholic leaders and the faithful for what lies ahead.

Quoting Pope Francis’ 2013 speech to diplomats from other countries accredited to the Holy See, the archbishop said, “There is no true peace without truth!”

In the work of diplomacy, he said, quoting the pope, “the role of religion is fundamental. It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God.”

Carol Glatz

Carol Glatz writes for Catholic News Service.