Eye to Eye With the U.S.?; A Ready Audience in D.C.

Ambassador Nicholson Hails Pope’s Speech to Diplomatic Corps

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By Delia Gallagher

ROME, JAN. 15, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See believes there is lots of common ground between the Bush administration’s views and John Paul II’s.

“The Pope’s message was on all fours with the position of the United States on all the subjects that he covered,” said Ambassador James Nicholson at a meeting with journalists following John Paul II’s annual address to the diplomatic corps.

The Holy Father’s talk on Monday focused on the continuing conflicts in the Holy Land and Iraq, as well as the violence in Africa.

Speaking to the 174 government representatives, John Paul II returned to the subject of the role of the United Nations, a theme he addressed in his Jan. 1 message for the World Day of Peace.

“More than ever,” he said, “it is urgent to return to a more effective collective security which gives the United Nations the place and the role which it is due. More than ever, it is necessary to learn the lessons from the far and recent past.”

“In any case, one thing is certain,” the Pope said. “War does not resolve conflicts among people!”

In his remarks to the Holy Father on behalf of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, Ambassador Giovanni Galassi of the Republic of San Marino and dean of the corps said: “I wish to express to you our regret that despite all efforts, your most dear wish could not be fulfilled, the wish which you expressed to us last January, when you invited us to say no to death, no to egoism, no to war.”

Ambassador Nicholson admits that on the issue of Iraq, the Holy See and the United States arrived at different conclusions.

“President Bush was totally conversant in the doctrine of the just war of the Church,” said the ambassador. “We discussed it chapter and verse in the meeting with Cardinal Laghi.” Cardinal Pio Laghi had traveled to Washington, D.C., for talks with Bush before the outbreak of the war last year.

Nicholson continued: “He [Bush] also knew that the doctrine says that the ultimate decision be made by the appropriate civil authorities. In our country, that was him. He knew that it rested on his conscience and took that very seriously. He thought about it, prayed about and made the decision he did, which the Pope did not agree with.”

“They are two good moral men seeing the situation differently,” he said of Bush and the Pope.

“But the Pope never said it would be immoral for us to go into Iraq and he never said that war is immoral,” said the Ambassador.

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“When the Pope Speaks …”

During that same meeting with Vatican journalists, Ambassador James Nicholson offered a behind-the-scenes insight into the workings of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. This year marks the 20th anniversary of full diplomatic relations between the United States and the Vatican.

“When the Pope speaks, people listen,” said Nicholson, “throughout the world and certainly in our government.”

The Pope’s address to the diplomatic corps, for example, was on U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s desk, complete with the embassy’s commentary, before the end of the day, according to Nicholson.

“I think it would be fair to say that before the day is over, the secretary of state would be aware of what the Pope had to say today,” the ambassador said.

A colleague of mine mentioned an anecdote from former U.S. Ambassador Ray Flynn’s memoirs. It took Flynn a week to get President Bill Clinton on the phone when the Pope asked to speak to him about an upcoming Cairo conference. How long would it take Ambassador Nicholson to facilitate a similar phone call?

“I think it would happen very soon,” Nicholson said. “The president has a great deal of respect for the Pope both for what he represents as a model and as a man and a religious leader, but also for his wiseness in the affairs of the world.”

The embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Brent Hardt, mentioned that it took them only a week to organize the meeting between Cardinal Laghi and Bush in Washington last year.

Nicholson offered another anecdote. “I remember a call from the Vatican’s Foreign Minister who had just gotten a call from the Pope. The president was on his way to Russia, and they wanted to ask if the president might bring up a certain matter in his bilateral meetings in Moscow, related to religious freedom.”

“I made a call that night to certain people who were in the air on a certain aircraft, and it happened,” said the ambassador.

The ambassador also called Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano just before Christmas, following Cardinal Renato Martino’s remark that the United States was treating the captured Saddam Hussein “like a cow.”

He said he spoke with Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Vatican secretary for relations with states. “I spoke to Monsignor Lajolo and Cardinal Sodano who told me that the cardinal [Martino] was speaking for himself only,” said Nicholson.

The embassy will open this year of celebrations for the 20th anniversary of full diplomatic relations with a Reconciliation Concert of the three faiths of Abraham at the Vatican this Saturday, in the presence of the Holy Father.

The concert, conducted by maestro Gilbert Levine and co-sponsored by the pontifical councils for the Promotion of Christian Unity and for Interreligious Dialogue, includes choirs from Ankara, Turkey; London; Krakow, Poland; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In addition, Ambassador Nicholson is reissuing a new edition of his book published with 30 Giorni magazine, “The United States and the Holy See, The Long Road,” which will contain new introductions by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Vatican’s former secretary for relations with states, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.

An Italian translation of Powell’s introduction will be printed in this month’s edition of 30 Giorni.

The U.S. Embassy will be sponsoring a series of conferences throughout the year on topics such as trafficking in people, genetically modified foods and religious liberty.

Finally, the embassy will sponsor a conference later this year on new international legal approaches to terrorism.

“Picking up on a challenge which the Pope has put out there, in his World Day of Peace message,” said Nicholson, “and one that we’ve been pondering here, as has our government, on what new legal instruments are needed to deal with this new phenomenon of stateless terrorism.”

“It has been a long time since Augustine and Aquinas really dealt with this stuff,” said the ambassador. “And the world has really changed, weapons have changed, means of wreaking destruction have changed in their lethalness and their speed and we have to still keep going to those old moral tests.”

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Readers may contact Delia Gallagher at delia@zenit.org.

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