Sunday, January 15, 2017

UK ambassador hails call for closer cooperation with Vatican

Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See has welcomed Pope Francis’ words to the diplomatic corps, saying that Monday’s speech offers a practical “prescription” for peacemaking around the globe.

Ambassador Sally Axworthy officially took up her post last September as Britain’s new representative to the Vatican, one of the 182 nations which enjoy full diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

The ambassador notes that the Pope has spoken about global peace and security many times before but in this speech “he takes some of those themes a little further”. 

An example, she says, is his words about ending conflicts through negotiations, adding that she understands his focus on non-violence to mean that the Holy See “advocates resolving conflicts through negotiations, which I think the UK would strongly support”.

While the Pope’s words “can seem quite abstract”, Ambassador Axworthy says she also believes that his speech was highlighting some practical contributions to peacemaking. She mentions his words about the role of religion in tackling terrorism and the need for religious and political leaders to work together.

Call for practical collaboration

She also notes the Pope’s words on Cuba and Colombia where the Holy See played a decisive role in conflict resolution and she welcomes the Pope’s invitation that the Holy See and Secretariat of State are “open for collaboration”, describing it as a bit of a “signpost that maybe they’re thinking more practically about what they can do”.

Co-operation with religious leaders

Asked about the UK government’s willingness to collaborate with religious leaders, she says there is a good relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury and others leaders too. She says they play “a valuable part” in British society, which the government recognizes, adding that it is “very open” to exploring how it can work more with religious leaders, especially in conflict resolution.

Holistic approach to migration

Commenting on the Pope’s words about migration, Ambassador Axworthy says her government “welcomes genuine refugees”, and has taken “some of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria”, as well as a large number of children from  the camps near Calais. 

She says she was struck by similarities between what the Pope said and what her government has been saying on the need for people to have opportunities, jobs and development in their home countries. 

The British government, she notes, has put a lot of money – some four billion pounds last year - into aid in Africa, as well as maintaining its commitment to spend 0.7 percent of GDP on humanitarian aid, emphasizing what she calls “a holistic approach to migration”

Shared European values

Asked about the Pope’s words on European unification as “a unique opportunity for stability, peace and solidarity”, the ambassador notes that he continues by stressing that the values which inspired  the EU project are “values common to the entire continent and transcend the border of the EU itself”. 

The UK government, she stresses, “has said repeatedly we’re not leaving Europe, we’re leaving the EU” so will maintain close ties and shared values with the rest of the continent.

The Pope’s speech, Ambassador Axworthy concludes, “almost gives us as bit of a prescription” for peacebuilding, adding that she sees “some scenes on which we can work with the Holy See” in attempting to resolve conflicts in places where the Vatican has significant influence.

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