ROME, JUNE 19, 2005 (Zenit.org).- New Zealand’s new ambassador to the Holy See, Geoff Ward, presented his credentials to Benedict XVI last week.
In this interview with ZENIT, the ambassador shares points of a message he received from the Pope, and his own thoughts on the relationship between New Zealand, the Church and the major players of international politics.
Q: One of the interesting points the Holy Father discussed with regard to New Zealand was the challenge “of forging a pattern of life, both individually and as a community, in relation to God’s plan for all humanity.” This is particularly poignant as New Zealand has recently undergone many challenges of this kind — such as the legalization of civil unions and prostitution. How did you feel about this challenge?
Ward: I think that he is really addressing one of the major challenges that many of the Western democratic societies face in both holding onto core values of family and morality, while at the same time, in what is a more secular world, recognizing the changing patterns of society and the individual positions within it.
And he addressed that in his personal message to me, of course emphasizing the position of the Catholic Church in upholding the values of family in the face of secularism, or what he called exaggerated individualism.
I think this is a known and understood position, and that one needs to look too at the message Benedict XVI gave about how societies are working together — the Church and civil society — and how important it is for them to work together in upholding dignities and freedoms for people and their rights.
Q: You mention a couple of examples with schools and local activities — could you comment on how the Church is active in the civil society of New Zealand?
Ward: Yes, he mentioned both education and the Church’s endeavors in New Zealand to help with people whom he describes as “being on the margins of society.” Those are very important contributions to the strength of a civil society that the Church is making and has made. It does work with government agencies in doing that.
But, there are other areas where we already work together, and, I think, we could work more closely together.
In many of our efforts overseas, through our aid and educations projects in other countries abroad, we could work more closely together in strengthening good governance and encouraging political leadership of people with firm, good values — people who won’t be misled or led astray by corruption and nepotism to the disadvantage of the whole society or their personal gain.
I think that’s a real challenge in many parts of the world, but one which governments like mine, and the Church, all work for together.
Q: New Zealand was actually one of the countries recognized for being very much in line with the Vatican’s approach on peacekeeping. It is known that it has worked very hard in maintaining peace in many areas of the globe.
Ward: Yes, both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI distinctly acknowledged New Zealand’s contribution. Benedict XVI spoke of New Zealand’s readiness to promote peace and justice as a recognized and laudable trait of New Zealanders. I must say that makes you feel proud to get that kind of recognition.
Q: Speaking of New Zealand itself, the Pope also touched upon the indigenous culture of the country. This is a point that New Zealand has exemplified.
Ward: Governments in New Zealand have a strong commitment to the protection of the rights of the Maori people of New Zealand, the indigenous people. Our country, unlike many others, was not conquered by force.
The Treaty of Waitangi, when signed between the Europeans and the Maori in 1840, was a novel agreement seen at the time as transference of protection to the British Crown in exchange for the protection of the rights of the Maori people to their resources and lands, forests and fisheries.
And although the treaty was not honored for many years, from about 25-30 years ago, New Zealand governments have made a very strong commitment to righting the injustices, or recognizing the rights of the Maori people.
Q: This is quite an example compared to other societies.
Ward: Yes, we always have some problems, but we’ve tried hard. That’s not to say, however, that there’s no ongoing need to continue to work and address these issues.
Additionally, New Zealand has taken in many more migrants from different cultural backgrounds.
Half of our migrants are from Asia — as well as having large communities form the pacific islands — so we’re a very Polynesian society. We have strong Asian influences in our society of all parts of Asia, and our culture and cuisine is all adapting around it. It’s a very vibrant kind of a place to live.
Q: Does the Church have a distinct presence among these immigrant groups?
Ward: The presence of missionaries in New Zealand predated that of the Treaty of Waitangi, and the Church has played a very important role, not only in New Zealand, but in all the Pacific islands. The rhythm of life in many of the island communities in the South Pacific is the rhythm of the Church, and the practice of religion.
Q: New Zealand is a small nation both in land mass and population, but it has a distinct impact on the world community, and shares some points of work with the Holy See. What are these?
Ward: I think we should speak first of the role that New Zealand has made in international efforts for disarmament, and for a better non-nuclear world that is a continuing strand of our international policy and diplomacy.
We will continue to work hard for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.
Another issue is the environment. Our diplomatic efforts for a long time have focused on trying to protect and ensure that there are international measures to address the environmental challenges which all of our countries face today.
From the Antarctic Treaty, to the protection of resources in Antarctica, to those major issues of climate change and global warming, we demonstrate the commitment we have to environmental peacekeeping and to international efforts to collectively address these problems.