British Government Delegation Visits Vatican

Commemorates Diplomatic Relations and Pope’s UK Trip

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ROME, FEB. 14, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Representatives of the British government began an official visit to the Holy See on Tuesday to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of full diplomatic relations. The visit is also intended as a follow up to Benedict XVI’s 2010 visit to the United Kingdom.

The delegation is led by Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, who represents the prime minister, and also includes Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster. 

This afternoon Baroness Warsi delivered an address on the place of religion in modern political discourse to staff and students of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which prepares the members of the Holy See’s diplomatic service, and to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. 

«Prime Minister David Cameron and I have long been making the case for a deeper understanding of faith by the British government and it’s a great honour to be taking our message to the Holy See this week,» Baroness wrote in an article published in the Feb. 13-14 edition of the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

The Catholic Church, she said: «has an important role in international affairs, expressed through its network of bishops, priests, diplomats and religious, and is an influential voice in the major ethical, moral and intellectual debates of the day.»

Ethical language

We are conscious, said the president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, Archbishop Beniamino Stella in his welcoming address to the British delegation, «of how hard it is to speak with deep and heartfelt conviction an ethical language which today’s society, steeped in moral relativism, finds hard to accept and even more to live,»

The Holy See is actively engaged in the major international organizations, he explained, and is committed to the promotion of peace, disarmament, and human, political and economic rights.

On beginning her speech Baroness Warsi noted that her country had first established diplomatic relations in 1479 and even though they were subsequently broken it is: «The oldest formal diplomatic relationship in my country’s history … and today, one of the strongest.»

She described the papal visit in 2010 to the UK as «historic, momentous and unforgettable,» and as «a milestone in UK history.»

«People need to feel stronger in their religious identities, more confident in their beliefs,» she said, moving on to the main theme of her address.

«In practice this means individuals not diluting their faith and nations not denying their religious heritage,» the baroness continued.

Marginalized

Too often, she decried, in Europe there is a «suspicion of faith» and as a result faith is often marginalized. This stems from a basic misconception: «That somehow to create equality and space for minority faiths and cultures we need to erase our majority religious heritage.»

One of the groups behind the marginalization of faith, Baroness Warsi said, is «the well-intentioned liberal elite.» They think, she said, that the way to create religious pluralism is by following a policy of faith-neutrality which will create a supposed level playing field.

This field, however, «is all but impassable to anyone of belief,» she said.

She also rejected the argument of the liberal elite that faith and reason are incompatible. They don’t realize, «as the Holy Father has argued for many years, that faith and reason go hand in hand.»

A second group pressuring to marginalize religion are what Baroness Warsi described as «the anti-religionists, the faith deniers. The people who dine out on free-flowing media and sustain a vocabulary of secularist intolerance.»

«For me, one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant,» she said.

While admitting that too often blood has been shed in the name of religion, Baroness Warsi insisted that: «You cannot and should not erase these Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can or should erase the spires from our landscapes.»

Equality

Baroness Warsi also recounted some of her personal experiences, as a Muslim, the child of immigrants from Pakistan, and her campaign for racial equality. While growing up, she explained, the debates were more about race than religion. But in the post-Sept. 11 world, religion has come to the forefront of debates.

She then explained that she has sent her daughter to an Anglican convent school, knowing that she would be free to follow her Muslim faith there, while at the same time being exposed to Christianity.

«So with my daughter’s school, as with my own upbringing, a strong sense of Christianity didn’t threaten our Muslim identity — it actually reinforced it,» Baroness Warsi commented. «It enabled me to make the case for further interfaith debate, discussion and work.»

Faith and positive actions are linked, she said, pointing to education, working for peace, and humanitarian actions.

On the theme of relations between different faiths the baroness said that: «just because they don’t worship together, doesn’t mean that they can’t work together.»

It is a mistake, she insisted, that faiths need to be «dumbed down» in order to find common ground and fruitful dialogue.

Looking to the future she said that «politicians need to give faith a seat at the table in public life,» and to realize that faith can be good for society.

The delegation will be received in audience by the Holy Father on Wednesday.

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