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The Vatican in the Family of Nations

· ​Intervention by His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State ·

Intervention by His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State
Presentation of the book: The Vatican in the Family of Nations

Villa Richardson, Rome
22 September 2017

Your Eminence,
Your Excellencies,
Ambassadors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to speak to you this evening at the presentation of Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi’s book, The Vatican in the Family of Nations . Firstly, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Louis Bono, Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of the Embassy of the United States of America to the Holy See, for organizing this significant event.

I wish also to thank all of you, who honour this evening by your presence and your interest in the publication of this book crowning Archbishop Tomasi’s service as Permanent Observer (Head of Mission) of the Holy See’s Observer Mission in Geneva from 2002 until 2016.

1. I cannot hide my pleasant surprise at two key aspects to this work: its weightiness – and I’m not referring only to the number of pages and to the prestige of the publisher, Cambridge University Press; and the purpose it fulfils. The book is not merely a collection of essays, but sheds light on what has been achieved by the Holy See’s diplomacy, specifically in the multilateral context, and out of its solicitude for the global human family. This diplomacy is concerned with peace, human rights, development, migratory movement of peoples, education, trade, intellectual property, communication and international cooperation construed in the widest possible terms.

All this directly forms part of the ecclesial dimension specific to Papal diplomacy. Indeed, the Church’s catholicity, that is, her universality, has always been evident in her proclamation to different cultures, societies and institutions of the message of Jesus of Nazareth, while being faithful to his command to proclaim the “Good News” to all peoples. History shows that since her origins, the Church has paid special attention to socially vulnerable and marginalized groups, in order to promote their growth, development and even survival, going out towards the “existential margins”.

The Holy See in its diplomatic work follows the rules and practice of international law, and offers itself as a voice of mediation and of making proposals, and not solely as a point of moral reference. Thus, it works for the elaboration of rules for the peaceful settlement of disputes, for the regulation of international relations and for the protection, through intergovernmental institutions, of the dignity of every person, beyond ethnic, religious or cultural affiliation.

Even though making use of structures and instruments of international sovereignty, the Holy See’s activity remains distinct from that of other States, since it has no commercial, military or political interests to defend or pursue, but serves rather the interests of the person, of every person; in this way it places itself at the service of the common good of the whole human family. The protection of the human person evokes the idea of subsidiarity as a principle that regulates the social order. Indeed, with the human person as the point of departure, the principle of subsidiarity guarantees individual rights and freedoms, including those linked to the community dimension: to freedom of association and to the creation of social groups and all intermediate bodies, up to the level of the State and therefore to the international community and its institutions.

For the Church, however, all this is based on the force of love that inspires too the diplomatic activity of the Holy See. Pope Francis summarizes this skilfully when he writes that: “ [Love] is the only strength that renders [the Church] universal and credible to mankind and the world; this is the heart of her truth, which does not erect walls of division and exclusion, but makes herself a bridge that builds communion and calls the human race to unity; this is her secret power, which nourishes her tenacious hope, invincible despite momentary defeats ”. [1] In this way, we understand why it is often said that the Holy See’s diplomacy is one of “soft power”, namely a diplomacy that depends on the ability to know and understand situations and thus to be persuasive. Papal diplomacy, in short, acts as a voice of conscience, drawing attention to anthropological, ethical and religious aspects of the various questions that affect the lives of peoples, Nations and the international community as a whole.

2. The numerous interventions contained in the volume show more than anything that at the heart of this mission there is a clear idea of the human person, of their inherent dignity, as well as their will and freedom as realized in a variety of fields. This is concerned with the application to international relations of what is expressed in the Church’s social teaching as it confronts the organization of society and other challenges that affect the social nature of the person. I have in mind relations with family, economic activity, culture, politics, justice and human rights, disarmament, the environment.

By expressing the necessary synthesis between the dimensions of faith and reason, the interventions here offer the possibility of taking steps towards a consolidated teaching, but one that needs to demonstrate its vitality in the unfolding of history, for it is precisely with reference to social issues, that “this teaching is called to be enriched by taking up new challenges” . [2] Evidence is provided by the attention given to questions that transcend a simple appeal for peace to focus on the prevention of conflicts. In this regard, we can then speak of a “human factor of peace”, by considering firstly the role of the person capable of building peace, but also capable of making peace falter, even rejecting it by turning to weapons and violence. At this point the role that each of us can play is revealed, in line with our responsibilities and duties, in ending wars and more than anything in preventing them, by enabling all possible means, from justice to reconciliation, from the reduction of military spending to disarmament. This latter dimension is returned to repeatedly in the volume; it is a dimension aimed in particular at the disarmament sector in its planned and gradual vision under the United Nations Charter (articles 11 and 47). In this regard, an official announcement has been made indicating the Holy Father’s desire to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons , adopted at the United Nations in July this year, and signed and ratified by the Holy See in New York two days ago.

It is not, therefore, a question of simply re-proposing the idea that the mission of the Holy See’s diplomacy is to favour the unity of the human family, but also to promote the tools capable of achieving such a goal. Hence the role of the Papal diplomatic service is to foster dialogue between Nations, cooperation to inspire the conduct of Governments and peoples for the common good with peaceful coexistence as the ultimate goal. The Holy Father, speaking to the Papal Representatives at their meeting for the Jubilee of Mercy, described their function as that of “ witnesses of communion” engaged in overcoming tensions, misunderstandings and conflicts in every form: “ You are the bearers and artisans of that communion that it is the sap for the life of the Church and for the proclamation of her message. [3]

When conceived and interpreted in this way, diplomatic action becomes the way to follow, take part in and affect international life and its daily developments, while keeping always in mind the universal mission of the Church and the expectations that the world expresses through a desire for peace, justice and the common good. Within the International Organizations, the Gospel message must be presented in ways that can reach people today, establishing a continuous dialogue with the contemporary world with its variety and differences. In its contribution to the international debate, the Holy See is well aware of the context of pluralism and of the diversity of visions, but it knows as well that in each, beyond differences, are present the seeds of a common humanity.

3. A second aspect emerges from this publication that Archbishop Tomasi and a close-knit team of collaborators entrust today to the diplomatic, academic and political world. The statements bear witness to the increasing involvement of the Holy See in multilateral diplomacy, giving substance to the vision of Giovanni Battista Montini, Blessed Paul VI, when as Substitute of the Secretariat of State, he formalized relations between the Holy See and the institutions of the incipient United Nations system, a vision that the same Pope reiterated during his visit to the headquarters of the United Nations in 1965. At that moment the discussion at the Second Vatican Council on the relationship between the Church and the world was highlighting the necessity of a common commitment to unite peoples and not only to make them coexist; this was a commitment that, according to Pope Paul VI, the United Nations Organization could fulfil by creating a system of solidarity that will ensure that lofty civilizing goals receive unanimous and orderly support from the whole family of nations, for the good of each and all. This is the finest aspect of the United Nations Organization, its very genuine human side . [4]

Since that far-off 4 October 1965, Papal visits to the United Nations and the International Organizations have strengthened this dialogue, showing that, although the anthropological premises and perspectives on issues may often differ, the aim for both is attention to the human person, especially those who are last; and is the capacity tobring out, for sake of the common good, the best in each people and in every individual ”. [5]

From the contributions gathered in this volume, those working in diplomacy will find confirmation that there are indeed differences – even substantial ones – between the solutions proposed by the Holy See and those offered by States. There are also divergences in the motivations offered or in the arrangements that are sought, looking maybe for a consensus that facilitates agreement on what is to be omitted or ignored, but only highlights the minimum that is achievable. Thus, faced with the new challenges and even the repeated threats that crowd the international scene, the most realistic picture that emerges is that of an action concerned with becoming newsworthy, whilst overlooking the causes of events and the foundations of the life of international relations. This is true of those principles, formulated with a view to security in dramatic circumstances, which are mocked as ineffective actions and solutions, even being adopted outside the intergovernmental assemblies in order to leave room for unilateral action. Similarly, whilst the prevalence of selfish interests is repeatedly highlighted as one of the causes of poverty, of lack of development, of the upheaval of different ecosystems, of the race to exploit territories and resources, we do not penalise behaviours that cause such situations. This happens despite the existence of clear rules and procedures, or of a public opinion that wants to see the order amongst Nations guaranteed and therefore the peaceful coexistence of the human family, recognising development and security to inseparably linked.

And so how can we look to the future? Can we still express confidence in addition to hope? Turning to this volume, we find reference to the Sustainable Development Goals, formulated by the United Nations in 2015 within the 2030 Agenda. They are presented as the best summary of how to avoid irreparable damage to the planet and its inhabitants, in keeping with the elucidations of the Encyclical Laudato Si’. This means working with the tools and the rules provided by the law and the institutions of the international community, to give substantive answers, first and foremost to prevent conflicts, protect rights, encourage development and enable cooperation.

For its part, the Holy See’s diplomacy offers its voice seeking solutions and agreements capable of avoiding any possible degeneration towards the irrationality of the force of arms. This is the meaning of being true “peace-makers” and not “ war makers or makers of misunderstandings” [6], as Pope Francis has often stated. Historically, this mediating role played by the Holy See has been crucial in different circumstances and it wants to be so even today, through a synergy between the activity of Papal diplomats both on the ground in various countries and in the intergovernmental institutions. The Holy See representatives will never be an intermediary, but rather mediators, namely those who “create communion with their mediation.” [7] This action certainly sounds unusual for the internationalist language, but even in a fragmented manner, torn apart by the idea of global processes, it is communion that channels strategies, goals and actions towards unity, encouraging solidarity rather than mere coexistence.

4. As the Secretary of the United Nations, António Guterres, writes in the conclusions of the book, “ the Holy See’s diplomatic contribution is not limited to the mere observation of current events or to the announcement of solemn principles. It rather intends – and often successfully – to influence the decision-making process, often proposing solutions to the political, economic and social situations of impasse. ” This has been Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi’s significant contribution to the work of the Church over his thirteen years as the Holy See’s Permanent Observer at the United Nations Office in Geneva. With great commitment, he has passionately devoted himself to the various fields of the multi-faceted world of the United Nations, holding the Church’s mission in the world and in human history as source of certainty and ultimate goal. His patient and focused work of negotiation and personal participation in the issues discussed, helped the Holy See to become a protagonist of some major achievements from the 2008 Cluster Munitions Convention, to the issue of the access to medicines within the World Trade Organization (WTO), to reaching the 2013 Marrakesh Treaty, now in force, which has overcome the limits and exceptions to privatization rights in the face of an overriding interest: the access to culture for visually impaired people. Finally, I cannot pass over the commitment within international trade law, where the 2013 and 2015 Bali and Nairobi agreements at the WTO, have illustrated how multilateralism in the trade area can be a sustainable solution.

This book bears witness to the diversified and intelligent way in which Archbishop Tomasi participated in the life of the United Nations. As believers, we obviously cannot doubt that our Father will provide what we need (Mt 6:32), but as women and men who live their earthly pilgrimage every day, we do certainly have the responsibility to engage every day in promoting peace, development and respect for human rights. Simply aiming at these goals is not enough, for the intention to act alone is not sufficient: concrete and coherent action is needed, well-conceived initiatives and, above all, the full awareness that each one of us, whatever our different tasks, duties and functions, must counter the “globalization of indifference” and purely utilitarian selfishness, in order to do something substantively good for others, also through multilateral institutions.

In this way we can avoid stagnation becoming the only strategy left, with the use of arms as the only answer, with development as merely a goal. Thus we can consolidate true fraternity within the human family. Archbishop Tomasi’s opus magnum points out a way to translate our daily commitment into practice.


[1] Pope Francis, “To the future diplomats of the Holy See”, in L’Osservatore Romano, 26 June 2015, p. 8.

[2] Cfr. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 63.

[3] Pope Francis, Meeting with Papal Representatives, 16 September 2016.

[4] Blessed Paul VI, Speech to the United Nations Organization , 4 October 1965.

[5] Pope Francis, Speech to the United Nations Organization , 25 September 2015.

[6] Pope Francis, Morning Homily in the Chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae , 9 June 2014 (“The Christian Identity Card”).

[7] Pope Francis, Address to the Participants in the Papal Representatives' Days, 21 June 2013.

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