The Diplomacy of the Holy See at the Service of Peace
Address of His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin,
Secretary of State
Church of St John the Baptist and St John the Apostle,
Vilnius, Lithuania, 9 May 2016
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to meet you, the students of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science of the University of Vilnius and the other representatives of Lithuanian students and the academic community. I wish you well in your studies, in the hope that they will assist you in placing your talents at the service of your country and the common good.
I have been asked to speak to you about the diplomacy of the Holy See in the service of peace. It is a topic on which, given my responsibilities, I have spoken on other occasions. This morning I would like to approach it from a slightly different angle, with some reflections on the connection between the Holy See’s efforts in the pursuit of peace and Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy. I chose this approach not only because this is the Jubilee Year of Mercy, but also because of the particular resonance of the theme of mercy here in Vilnius. Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to pray before the venerable image of Mary the Mother of Mercy at the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn and also before the first image of the Divine Mercy, which was painted here in Vilnius at the behest of St Faustina Kowalska.
Before dealing directly with the theme proposed, I would like to make a few introductory remarks. At the outset, a terminological clarification is in order. The term “Holy See” or “Apostolic See” refers to the See of Peter and thus to the Pope, who is the Successor of Peter in that See. From this we must conclude that the diplomacy of the Holy See is nothing other than the diplomacy of the Pope himself. However, especially in the international community, the term “Holy See” is more often used in a broader sense to refer not only to the Pope but also to the Secretariat of State and the other departments of the Roman Curia, which assist the Pope in the government of the Catholic Church throughout the world (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 361). In international law, the Holy See is considered a sovereign entity. Hence, it is capable of engaging in diplomatic activity: it sends and receives Ambassadors; it can be a Party to international treaties; it is entitled to participate in international conferences on an equal footing with the various State participants; and it can and does engage in activities of mediation at the international level.
While we often speak of “Vatican diplomacy” or “Papal diplomacy”, it should be noted that Vatican City State itself does not directly engage in diplomacy. Vatican City State was established in 1929, by the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy, not to establish the sovereignty of the Holy See, which was already widely recognized, but to manifest and better guarantee it. Although Vatican City State is sovereign in its own right, diplomatic activity is exercised on its behalf by the Holy See, through the Secretariat of State. With very few exceptions, Vatican City State does not take part in the activities of international organizations, whereas the Holy See is present, generally as a member or with observer status. It should also be noted that Ambassadors sent to represent their respective countries are not accredited to Vatican City State but to the Holy See. In this regard, it is interesting to note that in 1927 Lithuania established diplomatic relations with the Holy See, at a time when the Holy See had no territory of its own.
I mentioned earlier that the diplomatic activity of the Holy See is nothing other than that of the Pope himself. In carrying out this activity, the Pope is assisted by the various departments of the Holy See, especially the Secretariat of State, by the Apostolic Nunciatures and Delegations in various countries and by the Holy See’s Permanent or Observer Missions to the various international organizations.
Over the past century, the diplomatic activity of successive Popes in the service of peace has assumed more and more prominence. We could cite numerous examples, such as the efforts of Popes Benedict XV and Pius XII in the midst of the two world wars of the twentieth century to seek peace, alleviate the sufferings of the afflicted and promote a just global order in the aftermath of these conflicts. Popes Benedict XV and John XXIII dedicated important encyclicals to the theme of peace, namely, Pacem Dei Munus, published in 1920, and Pacem in Terris, issued in 1963. The Second Vatican Council, convoked by Pope John XXIII and guided to its conclusion by Pope Paul VI, both of whom had considerable diplomatic experience, engaged in a significant reflection on peace in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes (Nos. 77-90). Ever since the first celebration of the World Day of Peace in 1968, successive Popes have published significant annual messages on this theme. Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis have all addressed the United Nations Organization on peace. Pope John Paul II played a major role in the political transformation of central and eastern Europe. The recent initiatives of Pope Francis to promote reconciliation and mutual understanding between States and between warring groups within States have been widely reported on by the media and this has served to heighten awareness of the urgent need to engage seriously with these problems.
The Holy See, along with the international community as a whole, believes that the international and regional multilateral organizations set up in the aftermath of the Second World War have an essential role to play in the promotion of peace. For this reason, prompted by its interest in the great questions affecting humanity as a whole and wishing to offer its own particular contribution, the Holy See has been involved with these organizations practically from the outset. In these bodies, the Holy See has been active in promoting peace and in seeking to bring about the conditions necessary to ensure genuine lasting peace, such as respect for human rights, including the right to life and the right to freedom of conscience and religion, humanitarian law, environmental protection, disarmament, adequate care for migrants and refugees, integral human development, sufficient food and water resources, adequate healthcare and education.
Regarding these issues, the Holy See’s contribution is obviously not a technical, political or commercial one. Instead, it approaches them from a moral and spiritual point of view, offering perspectives and insights which would otherwise not always be heard or taken into account, in the hope of overcoming inadequate or partial positions so as to promote the genuine good of all. In his programmatic Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis explains this approach: “In her dialogue with the State and with society, the Church does not have solutions for every particular issue. Together with the various sectors of society, she supports those programmes which best respond to the dignity of each person and the common good. In doing this, she proposes in a clear way the fundamental values of human life and convictions which can then find expression in political activity” (No. 241).
Promoting peace is not something extrinsic to the Church’s mission; rather, it is an essential part of her task of continuing Christ’s work of redemption on earth. Indeed, as Pope Francis maintains, “every authentic practice of religion cannot fail to promote peace” (Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 11 January 2016). In her work for peace, while offering her own particular contribution, the Church cooperates with the different international and regional organizations, individual States, non-governmental organizations and agencies, experts and people of good will.
In this year’s Message for the World Day of Peace, entitled Overcome Indifference and Win Peace, Pope Francis states the basic principle that peace is both God’s gift and a human achievement, and adds: “As a gift of God, it is entrusted to all men and women, who are called to attain it.” This brings to mind a text from the Gospel of St John: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (Jn 14:27). It has to be admitted that peace in this world, as the result of human effort, is unfortunately, more often than not, rather fragile, because it does not always take into account all the aspects that contribute to genuine and lasting peace, and is often simply the result of compromise, convenience or force. It offers no guarantee that conflict will not break out again, as history demonstrates all too clearly.
The peace that Jesus gives, on the other hand, is based on a correct relationship between man and God, on the basis of which all other authentic relationships can be constructed. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states: “Peace is founded on the primary relationship that exists between every human being and God himself, a relationship marked by righteousness” (No. 488). Peace is God’s gift; it will last provided it is accepted as such. Hence, while peace is, on the one hand, one of God’s greatest gifts, on the other, it requires an effort on our part to be reconciled with God and with one another. This is what is required of us in order to be genuine peacemakers.
According to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, “Peace is a value and a universal duty founded on a rational and moral order of society that has its roots in God himself … Peace is not merely the absence of war, nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies. Rather it is founded on a correct understanding of the human person and requires the establishment of an order based on justice and charity” (No. 494).
Does mercy have anything to do with promoting peace? Does the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which Pope Francis inaugurated with the opening of the Holy Door in Bangui on 29 November last and in Rome on the following 8 December, have anything to say to the world of politics and diplomacy? The Holy Father gave an affirmative answer to these questions at the beginning of the year in his Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. He maintains that God acts not only in the lives of individuals but also within the historical realities of peoples and nations, setting in motion processes of reconciliation, which naturally require time and patient effort to come to fruition. Those who look upon the face of God see that his power “does not mean force or destruction but love” and that his justice “is not vengeance but mercy”. This, the Pope says, is why he decided to proclaim the Jubilee of Mercy and inaugurate it in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, a country sorely tried by hunger, poverty and conflict in recent years. The Pope’s courageous decision to go to Bangui and encourage local leaders in their efforts to promote peace and reconciliation did in fact set in motion a process which led to promising positive developments in that country over the succeeding months.
In the same Address, Pope Francis went so far as to say: “Mercy was the common thread linking my Apostolic Journeys in the course of the last year”. Citing his visit to Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he praised the efforts being undertaken in that country to build bridges, encourage those things which unite and see differences as opportunities for growth in respect for all. This, he says, is possible, “thanks to a patient and trusting dialogue capable of embracing the values of each culture and accepting the good which comes from the experience of others”.
These words illustrate Pope Francis’s emphasis on the principle of the priority of time over space, of which he speaks in Evangelii Gaudium, and the importance of the processes set in motion by a diplomacy of mercy. A quotation from that document will help us to understand the significance of this principle:
This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time. One of the faults which we occasionally observe in sociopolitical activity is that spaces and power are preferred to time and processes. … Sometimes I wonder if there are people in today’s world who are really concerned about generating processes of people-building, as opposed to obtaining immediate results which yield easy, quick short-term political gains, but do not enhance human fullness. History will perhaps judge the latter with the criterion set forth by Romano Guardini: “The only measure for properly evaluating an age is to ask to what extent it fosters the development and attainment of a full and authentically meaningful human existence, in accordance with the peculiar character and the capacities of that age” (Evangelii Gaudium, Nos. 223-224, quoting Romano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, Würzburg, 1965, pp. 30-31).
The Pope is therefore suggesting an approach to politics and diplomacy, which is both practical and merciful. Rather than working for short-term, immediate results, politics and diplomacy need to set in train a process of people-building and culture-building, aimed at genuine human fulfilment. They should use words inspired by mercy and never admit defeat.
To attain peace Pope Francis emphasises that we must combat resignation, self-interest, apathy and indifference, by cultivating a culture of solidarity, mercy and compassion. In his Message for the 2016 World Day of Peace, His Holiness warns of the danger of indifference, which, he says, “in our day … has ceased to be a purely personal matter and has taken on broader dimensions, producing a certain ‘globalization of indifference’” (No. 3). Indifference to God, he believes, leads to indifference to one’s neighbour and to the environment. It produces “self-absorption and a lack of commitment” and “thus contributes to the absence of peace with God, with our neighbour and with the environment” (No. 3). “Indifference and lack of commitment constitute a grave dereliction of the duty whereby each of us must work in accordance with our abilities and our role in society for the promotion of the common good, and in particular for peace, which is one of mankind’s most precious goods” (No. 4; cf. Evangelii Gaudium, Nos. 217-237).
In contrast to human indifference, God opposes his mercy. To illustrate this, the Pope frequently refers to the parable of the Good Samaritan, by which Jesus “taught his listeners, and his disciples in particular, to stop and to help alleviate the sufferings of this world and the pain of our brothers and sisters” (Message for the 2016 World Day of Peace, No. 5). Mercy, as the Pope argues, “is the heart of God” and “must also be the heart of the members of the one great family of his children” (ibid.). Hence, everywhere and in all circumstances the Church must be a mediator of mercy. This implies that we are called “to make compassion, love, mercy and solidarity a true way of life, a rule of conduct in our relationships with one another” (ibid.).
Mercy and solidarity are closely associated. Solidarity is not a vague sentiment of compassion or distress at the misfortunes of others but is, as Pope John Paul II teaches, “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, No. 38). Similarly, mercy cannot content itself with mere sentiment, it too must manifest itself in concrete acts, including the traditional corporal and spiritual works of mercy, in order to respond to the needs of our neighbour and promote the common good.
Building a culture of mercy and solidarity is a necessary prerequisite for peace, which calls for commitment on the part of those responsible for education and formation, especially families, teachers and communicators. While Pope Francis is well aware of the threat posed by a globalization of indifference, he also acknowledges and welcomes the many positive initiatives “which testify to the compassion, mercy and solidarity of which we are capable” (Message for the 2016 World Day of Peace, No. 7). These, he says, represent good practices on the way to a more human society.
The Pope is also hopeful that the Jubilee of Mercy will produce concrete results not only for individuals but also in the social and political realm. This will come about provided there is a concerted effort to overcome indifference and show concern for the most vulnerable members of society, such as prisoners, migrants, the unemployed and the infirm.
The same logic should also shape international relations. As Pope Francis says: “Looking beyond their own borders, national leaders are also called to renew their relations with other peoples and to enable their real participation and inclusion in the life of the international community, in order to ensure fraternity within the family of nations as well” (Message for the 2016 World Day of Peace, No. 8). On this basis, he makes a threefold appeal to the leaders of nations: to refrain from drawing other peoples into conflicts or wars, to forgive or manage in a sustainable way the international debt of the poor nations, and to adopt policies of cooperation, avoiding the imposition of unacceptable conditions dictated by ideological pressures.
To conclude, an approach based on mercy, such as the one adopted by Pope Francis and actively promoted by the Holy See, has much to offer to international diplomacy in its pursuit of peace. The avoidance of facile judgments in the complexity of disputes and the cultivation of a certain flexibility in building bridges allow a mentality to form which can lead to positive results. The Pope’s own journeys to places where people are suffering and where the wounds are most painful, during which he skilfully employs the eloquence of words and gestures, are themselves a powerful message of mercy and an important contribution to peace. In the end, mercy can reach the heart of everyone, not just believers, and today politics and diplomacy need to be infused with the conviction that mercy is capable of overcoming all situations of human misery.
I thank you for your attention.
 On this question, see especially Antonio Spadaro, “La diplomazia di Francesco. La misericordia come processo politico”, La Civiltà Cattolica, I (2016), n. 3975, pp. 209-226.