British Ambassador Reflects on Pope's Address to Diplomatic Corps

Pope spoke as a pastor, concerned for joys and sufferings of humanity, says Ambassador Nigel Baker

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The focus on the family, an openness to dialogue, and the importance of the rule law to ensure peace: these were some of the core themes of Pope Francis’ traditional New Year’s greeting to the diplomatic corps.

In his address, the Pope said that one of the threats to peace is the “denial of human dignity.”

“We cannot be indifferent to those suffering from hunger,” he said, “especially children, when we think of how much food is wasted every day in many parts of the world immersed in what I have often termed ‘the throwaway culture’. Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as ‘unnecessary.’”

UK Ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, was among those present at the audience. In an interview with ZENIT following the audience, he shared his thoughts on what the Holy Father had to say:

ZENIT: What were your impressions of Pope Francis’ address to the diplomatic corps?

BAKER: The thing that really struck me first of all – and it came across in the room very strongly when he said it – [is that he spoke] not as the head of the Church, not as the head of the Holy See, but as a pastor, concerned for the joys and sufferings of humanity. That was a thread that ran right through his speech.

For me there were three big themes. The first was the focus on the human family, both the family itself (the importance of government to support and strengthen the family) but also the broader human family (the human family in relation to the planet, and the human family in relation to other countries). Quoting also Benedict XVI: the language of family is the language of peace. That sense of the human family was the first of the big three themes.

The second was the openness to dialogue and encounter – again, with the emphasis on peace, reconciliation. He talked about the relations between people, the relations between States. Career was quite an interesting area of focus.

The third big theme: the importance of the rule of law. Again, with a focus [on the need to] ensure peace, and to end violence.

The key three messages for me: human family, support the family – specifically in the family of nations – openness to dialogue and encounter, and the rule of law ensuring peace.

[Speaking on] a couple of specific things from the Pope’s speech: In a certain way it’s a tour d’horizon — a universal message – but it’s very positive that he focusses on positive efforts for peace. He talks about the Geneva II conference in Syria. He talks about the dialogue between the permanent five in Iran. He talks about efforts from countries – like Lebanon and Jordon – to welcome refugees into their countries. He talks about the need to do more in terms of environmental work, and protecting the planet.

Although this is a speech that inevitably flags up problems in the world, he also says very clearly: it’s important to have confidence. We can tackle these major issues if we are prepared to work at it. Peace is something that requires hard work. This is something that my government agrees with very much. 

ZENIT: The Holy Father spoke about the throw away culture. How is the UK government heeding the Pope’s warnings in this regard?

BAKER: [This] is obviously not the first time the Pope has spoken about the “throwaway culture,” and I think it’s a message that is listened to very carefully in the UK. The UK is a country that, like other countries in Europe going through a major economic crisis. We’ve had to tighten our belts. We’ve had to rebalance our economy, rebalance the way we look at the relationship between society and the economy. I think the Pope is articulating for Europeans, and for British people, to look at the way we manage our affairs in a different light.

Also – and this is going to the bigger, human family message – [he is telling us] to look in particular at the way we engage with the most vulnerable, the poorest in our society. What he says, for example about trafficking in the speech, [as well as] refugees and migrants, was very important, as far as the UK is concerned. They have interesting legislation about to go through British parliament precisely on the issue of human trafficking.

The Pope’s voice for the most vulnerable and the most marginalized, I think, is a very powerful voice of support for those politicians and government ministers who are working hard to make a difference.

ZENIT: This past year we’ve seen the election of a new Pope. Do you see a development in the diplomatic relations between the UK and the Holy See under the pontificate of Pope Francis?

BAKER: There’s huge interest in the UK in the work of Pope Francis. We’ve seen the dynamism that Pope Francis has generated within the Catholic in the United Kingdom.

I think we’re going to see further focus within the United Kingdom, and a lot of people listening very carefully to what Pope Francis was saying. We’re also, of course, delighted that this week, his speech to the diplomatic corps coincides with the announcement of new members of the College of Cardinals, which includes a new British Cardinal in the Archbishop of Westminster, Archbishop Vincent Nichols. I think this is only going to strengthen the Church, not just the Catholic Church, but the churches as they work on ecumenism, on interfaith dialogue, and on the relationship between England and Wales and Rome.

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Ann Schneible

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