Father George Mockel
The Vatican and diplomacy
Wednesday, April 18, was a very full day. It was Papal Audience day which meant that Rome was a bit more chaotic than usual (if you can imagine such a thing). Busloads of pilgrims from Germany — many dressed in native costume — poured out of buses and swarmed up the streets leading to The Vatican to join in the festivities honoring the pope’s birthday earlier in the week and the anniversary of his election, which is April 19 — a Vatican holiday. (Chancery employees don't get any ideas!)
Among the interesting activities April 18 was a reception and meeting with the American ambassador to the Holy See, Miguel Diaz and his charming wife, Marian. The reception was held at the ambassador’s residence — Villa Richardson. I knew before meeting the ambassador that the United States had established full diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1984. What I did not realize is that there has been a semi-official relationship since 1788 when Pope Pius VI conferred with Benjamin Franklin concerning the appointment of bishops in the United States.
Various American administrations since have had “on again and off again” contacts with the Holy See ever since.
Under international law the Holy See enters into treaties with other countries and sends and receives diplomatic representatives. The Holy See currently has diplomatic relations with 178 countries.
The embassy representatives meet regularly with officials of the Holy See. We Catholics often forget, or take for granted the vast network of more than 400,000 priests, 750,000 nuns and millions of lay volunteers around the world that provide vital information to The Vatican. This makes the Vatican a well-known “listening post,” as well as provides opportunities for informal contacts with countries with which the United States does not have formal diplomatic relations.
The ambassador pointed out that the current situation in Syria and also Egypt are prime examples where the two entities are able to exchange vital information that can be helpful in avoiding conflicts or diminishing their human toll.
The embassy also collaborates with the Holy See on shared priorities such as interfaith dialogue and action, the environment, global health and economic development. Additionally the two partner on global humanitarian aid, development and education.
Did you know that the Catholic Church is the largest nongovernment provider of health care to victims of AIDS? Globally the church runs more than 3 million schools, 1,300 universities, 5,000 hospitals, 9,000 orphanages and 15,000 homes for the elderly and ill. And Catholic relief organizations such as Caritas International and Catholic Relief Services are among the first responders to international disasters.
It is very important to emphasize (especially in the context of the issues swirling around the federal Health and Human Services Administration mandates and health care) that we as a church do these things because they flow directly from our faith and THE mandate given us by Jesus Christ.