Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vatican hosts first cultural summit of African ambassadors

The first cultural summit for African ambassadors to the Holy See is being hailed as a success by its organizers. 

“It went much better than we had expected, with everybody involved very keen to do it again but perhaps over two or three days next time,” Father Theodore Mascarenhas of the Pontifical Council for Culture told CNA on March 26.

The one-day event involved over 40 diplomats from 23 embassies, many of whom flew in from across Europe for the occasion.

The group spent the first half of the morning at the pontifical council’s offices near the Vatican, where they heard a presentation by the council’s president, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, before taking part in a discussion moderated by Fr. Mascarenhas.

Cardinal Ravasi stressed the need for “inter-culturality,” which he described as a “respectful” form of intercultural dialogue that avoids the twin perils of “syncretism and fundamentalism.”

Later in the morning the delegates moved on to the ancient surroundings of Rome’s Temple of Hadrian, where the city’s Chamber of Commerce hosted a debate and discussion on social and economic history.

“The relationship with the ambassadors is crucial as they are the ones who can link in with government, culture and academic institutions in their own countries, with a view towards future collaboration with the Holy See,” explained Fr. Mascarenhas.

He said that today’s meeting was something of “a get to know each other session” and that the next gathering would be aimed at more substantial matters.

The template for the meetings follows two similar summits held last year with Asian ambassadors. At the last meeting, the Asian diplomats discussed the ethics of the global economy.

“I think this meeting is very important,” said Henri Lopes, Congo’s Ambassador to the Holy See, in comments to CNA.

He was particularly struck by a comment by the Secretary to the Pontifical Council, Bishop Barthélemy Adoukonou, who hails from the West African state of Benin. 

“He pointed to something very important; that culture is not just one dimension of the policy of the Holy See but it is fundamental, the substance of all the actions of the Holy See,” Ambassador Lopes recalled.

The African ambassador’s finished their day with a guided tour of Rome’s cultural center, the Parco della Musica.