On Tuesday, 29 March, Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, presided at a Holy Mass in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls, to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Great Britain. Concelebrating with him were Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Seán Baptist Brady, Archbishop emeritus of Armagh, Northern Ireland, Cardinal James Michael Harvey, Archpriest of the Papal Basilica, and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.
During his homily, the Vatican Secretary of State reiterated that, through its diplomatic activity, the Holy See “wants to engage with all people of good will in order to help humanity rediscover its most profound hopes and desires and address them in order to achieve what is desired, and what is hoped for, for its ‘material and spiritual well-being’”. He retraced the beginning of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two States, when Sir Mark Evelyn Heath presented the Letters by which Queen Elizabeth II accredited him as Her first Envoy Extraordinary and Ambassador Plenipotentiary to the Holy See, on 1 April 1982. He pointed out that the event was the result “of a discrete and delicate work to re-establish a full exchange and fruitful collaboration, healing the wounds of the past”.
Indeed, the Cardinal continued, relations between the territories date back to the times of the “Apostle of the English”, Augustine of Canterbury, a Benedictine monk who was sent by Gregory the Great to bring Christ’s Gospel to the English.
The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls, the Cardinal noted, is an example of the “historic closeness of the English monarchy with the See of Peter”. In addition to visiting the tombs of Saints Paul and Peter, in the late Middle Ages, English monarchs had acted as protectors of the Basilica. And, he added, even before the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two States, in her 70 years of service, Queen Elizabeth II had herself travelled to the Holy See, and met with two Pontiffs.
In his homily, Card. Parolin noted that 1982 would be remembered, not only for the establishment of Diplomatic relations between Great Britain and the Holy See, but also as the year that Saint John Paul II made an Apostolic Journey to Great Britain. He was the first Bishop of Rome to do so.
“Let us thank God in this Eucharist for the fruits born of the collaboration between” Great Britain and the Holy See “and pray for those diplomats and churchmen and women who have dedicated their time and efforts to promoting the values we cherish in common over these past 40 years”.
Among the officials and guests who attended the celebration was also British Ambassador to the Holy See, Christopher Trott.