Copyright: ZENIT's Deborah Castellano Lubov

FEATURE: Cardinal Parolin to ZENIT: Belarus, A Visit the Pope Will Consider; Appeal: Let Archbishop of Minsk Back into Country

Secretary of State Also Comments on China Deal, Lebanon, COVID in the Vatican, & More, at Italian Embassy to Holy See’s Event to Recall the 1975 Helsinki Accords, Where He Spoke With Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte

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When the risks of COVID-19 have passed, Pope Francis would take into consideration a trip to Belarus…

We insist that Archbishop of Minsk, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, be allowed back into his country…

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, told this to ZENIT when its Senior Vatican Correspondent asked him about the recent renewed invitation by the country for the Holy Father to visit.

The Italian prelate was speaking at the private event, titled «Forty-five years after the Helsinki Accords; Cardinal Silvestrini and the Vatican Östpolitik,» today, Sept. 14, 2020 at 9:30 am.

Organized by Italian Ambassador to the Holy See, Ambassador Pietro Sebastiani, the event took place outdoors, in the cloister of Palazzo Borromeo, in full compliance with anti-Covid 19 rules and provisions.

Cardinal Parolin and Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte (whose brief interview with ZENIT English will be published tomorrow), gave the two keynote speeches, and were introduced by a reflection of Ambassador Sebastiani. (ZENIT will be translating and bringing our readers these interventions in English throughout week).

The Holy Father was originally invited to Belarus in 2016. This was renewed last week as Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, visited the country as it sees unprecedented turmoil and protests.

When ZENIT asked whether the Vatican has made an appeal regarding the Archbishop of the Eastern European nation’s capital of Minsk who has not been allowed to reenter the country, His Eminence said yes.

«Yes, yes. There was also the mission of Archbishop Gallagher, who was there to see the reality. I do not know what were the results because I have not seen him yet. He has not returned yet. Now that he will come back into the office, the first thing that I will do will be to ask him, exactly, about this.

«But we, in any case, insist,» he underscored, «so that the bishop can return in his diocese, and continue to be the guide of his flock.»

«To us, it seems this is very important.» «Of course, ‘arriving’ like always, is the role of the Church, to be a factor of dialogue, of reconciliation and of peace.»

He also responded to ZENIT when asked how the Vatican sees the renewed invitation of Pope Francis to the country.

«Yes, Belarus always demonstrated great interest in a visit of the Pope.»

«For now, nothing has been made concrete. Then COVID intervened, which blocked everything–I do not know for how long, we do not know–but I think it is one of the visits that the Pope will take into consideration.»

During the interview between Cardinal Parolin, ZENIT English and some Italian journalists present, the Vatican Secretary of State responded to questions regarding the Holy See’s deal with China.

«The agreement has not yet expired,» he noted, saying this is due to happen in October, two years from when it entered into force. «It has not yet concluded,» he pointed out.

When next asked about prospects for renewing the provisional agreement with the Asian superpower, and whether this seems likely, he said: «Yes, I really think so, our intention is that it be prolonged, that we continue to adopt it ad experimentum, as has been done in these two years, in order to further verify its usefulness for the Church in China.»

On whether China is equally interested in renewing the agreement, Cardinal Parolin said: «I think and hope so, even if these first results were not particularly striking, however, it seems that a direction has been marked that is worth continuing, then we will see at the end of this further period what to do. However, the discussion that was made here of collaboration remains open, it must be applied in every historical era, even towards this great country, to collaborate together.»

The Secretary of State was asked whether he spoke about China with Prime Minister Conte.

«No, no,» he responded, noting: «As we have said many times and here too, our interest is to normalize life as much as possible, so that the Church can live a normal life which for the Catholic Church is also to have relations with the Holy See and with the Pope and then that there is unity within the Chinese Church.»

«And all this of course, [we want to see] with a background of peaceful coexistence, searching for peace and overcoming  tensions; but our perspective is on this ecclesiastical theme, then we will see,» he said.

Later on some journalists asked about Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (‘Propaganda Fide’), who, while being asymptomatic, last Friday, Sept. 11, tested positive for COVID-19, and is being quarantined in the Philippines.

«Poor Cardinal Tagle,» Cardinal Parolin commented. «He was fine, you can see that on the way [to Manila], he met the virus,» he said, smiling warmly. «I’m sorry for him.»

Lamenting how the Asian Cardinal had traveled there for his mother’s birthday, he said: «Let’s hope it’s nothing.»

Another question posed asked if there is concern for Pope Francis contracting COVID-19.

«The Pope is continuously monitored,» he said, recognizing that there is a risk that the virus could attack him like it has, so many others. «But I don’t think so..,» he said.

Another journalist asked about the condition of Pope Emeritus Ratzinger’s private secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, hospitalized for a kidney problem, to which, Cardinal Parolin admitted: «I don’t know anything, now as soon as I return to the Vatican, I will ask for information».

Speaking about his two-day visit to Beirut, Lebanon, he expressed the need «not only for economic aid» but «above all, the whole aspect of the reconstruction of Lebanon, especially after that terrible explosion that really caused incredible damage.»

«As I watched, I was shocked by this disaster,» he said. He noted the destruction not only to the structures of the port, but also to private homes, and various Catholic Church structures, such as hospitals, charitable institutions and schools.

While calling for «international cooperation,» he appealed for «help,» help «to bring out new forces that can deal with the common good of this country and overcome the logic of the past, which is the logic of dividing the search for particular interests.»

These aforementioned ‘new forces,’ he explained, to some extent «have also manifested themselves in the various protests that have taken place» and «need space to express themselves institutionally.» Cardinal Parolin encouraged continuing to work this way and toward this objective.

ZENIT has obtained the full remarks of Cardinal Parolin at today’s event and has provided an unofficial working translation of the entire text below:


45th Anniversary of the Helsinki Accords,

Cardinal Silvestrini and the Vatican’s Ostpolitik

Embassy of Italy to the Holy See

September 14, 2020-09-14

Mister President of the Council of Ministers,

Mister Ambassador,

Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Distinguished Speakers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to take part in this Conference, entitled: “45 Years after the Helsinki Accords: Cardinal Silvestrini and the Vatican’s Ostpolitik,” which, a year after the death of Cardinal Achille Silvestrini intends to be a particular tribute to his figure and to his commitment, in the light of another important event in recent European history: the 45th anniversary of the Final Act of Helsinki, which saw the then Monsignor Silvestrini a diligent protagonist.

There are so many words that should be spent above all on the person of Cardinal Silvestrini, also to understand better the weight that his human and Christian sensibility had on the events that preceded and followed the Helsinki Conference of 1975.

As often happens, the best introduction to the eminent role carried out by a protagonist of the events of his time is evidenced by his own words From the analysis of what he has left us, we take up with precision the historical passages that led the Church to place herself on the international scene in a new way[1] in regard to the time of the “great crushing”[2] in the Marxist and Stalinist regime countries. He recalls that the first steps of the Ostpolitik — a term born with the changing of politics to the East of the Federal Germany of Chancellor Willy Brandt  — were the antecedents and were founded on some gestures made possible by the attenuation of the persecutions in the Communist countries: the sending of delegates of the Russian Orthodox Church to assist at the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the Papal Audience to the Ajubei spouses, the first visit of Monsignor Casaroli to Hungary and Czechoslovakia in May of 1963.[3] They were openings initiated by the farsightedness of Saint John XXIII who, according to the words of Agostino Casaroli, “seemed to melt a profound barrier of ice.”[4]

Cardinal Silvestrini was a wise and efficacious interpreter of the motivations and the lines of the Vatican’s Ostpolitik, whose foundations were laid by Saint Paul VI in the Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam of 1967, when he affirmed: “We do not despair that those regimes may one day open with the Church a positive conversation that is not that of the present of our regret, of our obligatory lament.”[5] “This — adds Cardinal Silvestrini — is the key of Paul VI’s Ostpolitik. It was this Spes against Spem that determined his action not to desist from possible attempts even with reduced success and even when in fact they show themselves to be unfruitful.”[6]

In this framework, the Helsinki Conference “represented a unique experience in its value. It was the first time, after the Congress of Vienna of 1815, that the Holy See was taking part as full member in a Congress of States.”[7] And above all, “the presence of the Holy See at Helsinki represented a concrete sign of the concept of peace among nations, first as a moral value than as a political question, and an occasion to claim religious liberty as one of the fundamental liberties of every person and as value and of correlation in relations between peoples.”[8]

To understand better this central aspect of the Holy See’s choices, it is good to recall that many times, be it Agostino Casaroli or Achille Silvestrini, warned of the difficulties and misunderstandings that arose in the Catholic Church (and in other religious communities), in connection with Ostpolitik, because some understood it almost as an illusion, as a not farsighted policy in regard to a political and military giant that understood only the language of force. Cardinal Silvestrini clearly rejected this interpretation and offered as testimony the basic choice in favour of adherence and participation in the Helsinki Conference of Paul VI, for whom “making use of the fact that on the level of principles the Holy See “is competent in a special capacity,” and that therefore it was a good to compel the adversaries  to recognize rights, even if, as in the case of the Soviet Bloc, were then denied in practice, because — they are always Paul VI’s words — when a right is recognized, even if then it is not observed, it has force in itself,[9] — a clearly prophetic thought.

The scenario that reached the beginning of the 60s was, in fact, that of devastation, of persecution, of attempts to annihilate the religious presence and that of the Churches, with measures that seem to spring from a single destructive will. “After the arrests, the sentences, imprisonment or the relegation of the majority of Catholic Bishops in the years after ’45 and, in the first place, of Monsignor Stepinac, of Cardinal Mindsdzenty, of Monsignor Beran, of Monsignor Wyszynski and the break of diplomatic relations with the Holy See in the Communist countries of Eastern and Central Europe, a heavy blanket of ice has fallen.”[10]

On this background, with the experience of the terrible Stalinist glaciation that weighed long on Communism, that “martyrdom of patience” began, which led the Church to grasp even the slightest glimmer of opening, leading Casaroli and Silvestrini to that painful pilgrimage in some countries of Eastern Europe, such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and which flowed in the acceptance of the prospect of a Conference that would be held in Helsinki, in the framework of a neutral country.

From the beginning, the Holy See lavished its commitment in favour of the proposal of a European Conference put forth by the Warsaw Pact States, going “ahead with good will and trust, but without haste.”[11] It is well known that it “was Achille Silvestrini who led at Helsinki and at Geneva with great tenacity, ability, courage and constancy, the complicated attempts with the delegations of the Warsaw Pact States, predominantly Soviet, and brought them to a good end.”[12] In this “slow” but courageous and reasoned procedure, significant gestures were not lacking, and which to today’s eyes were clamorous, among which the adherence, requested by the Soviet Union, of the Holy See to the Non-Proliferation Treaty of Nuclear Arms. In fact, Achille Silvestrini was head of the Holy See delegation to the 1971 UN Conference on the use of atomic energy and to the 1975 Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Atomic Arms. Such a protagonist role led him, therefore, to be present in all the official, informal <and> interlocutory meetings and to the innumerable meetings of the Helsinki Conference.

The success of all the negotiating effort of the participants in the Conference was the underwriting of the final Helsinki Act, with its internal Declaration on the Principles that Guide the Relations between Participant States.

I would like to quote briefly here the 7th principle, whose formulation took almost a year of discussions. It affirms the “respect of the rights of man and of the  fundamental liberties, including freedom of thought, conscience, religion or creed.” In its turn, Paragraph III of this principle foresees that “the participant States recognize and respect the liberty of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in common with others, a religion or a creed acting according to the dictates of his conscience.” And paragraph V affirms again that “the participant States recognize the universal meaning of the rights of man and of the fundamental liberties, whose respect is an essential factor of peace, of justice and of the wellbeing necessary to ensure the development of friendly relations and cooperation among them, as among all States.”

Springing from the Helsinki enunciations was almost a framework that stresses those universal rights that in the meantime were codified in the international Charters accepted by an ever-greater number of States. The underwriting of these principles on the part of the States that has legislation contrary to the recognition of human rights, really represented such a turning point that, from that moment, the path to the implementation of religious liberty and of fundamental rights could be achieved faster and be realized progressively until the fall of Communism in 1989.

The results of the Helsinki Conference are also related to the initiatives carried out at the same time. In particular, I would like to mention the intense activity of information and encouragement that the Holy See promoted, in the preparation and during the unfolding of the Conference, in confrontations with the other Christian confessions, thus developing de facto an ecumenism that already had solid foundations in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and in the pontificate of Saint Paul VI.[13] Through the proposals of Monsignor Silvestrini, the Holy See posed among the Conference’s objectives also that of fostering a great diffusion of the exchange of information between religions and the multiplication of contacts and meetings between men and different Confessions.[14]

From this I derive that, in the ambit of the Conference, the Holy See felt as the “direct mediator and spokesman in Helsinki of the requests in the matter of religious conscience,” and, hence, understood its initiative also as an offer of participation for the Protestant Churches or of different denominations.

Finally, among the consequences connected to the approval of the Final Act of Helsinki, the role must not be neglected carried out by the Churches and the ecclesial communities, together with other cultural and political Movements, in Eastern Europe. Cardinal Silvestrini himself was able to highlight that John Paul II “knew the Helsinki Declaration and used it to ask for religious liberty. The Final Act — Silvestrini continued — bore the signature of the Soviet Union and John Paul II made it an instrument of claim. Moreover, Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia also asked for liberty on the basis of the Helsinki Final Act.”[15]

For Cardinal Silvestrini, John Paul II’s new approach to the Eastern European countries points out his “global challenge: John Paul II (. . . ) threw down the gauntlet to the governments of the East because — he wrote in Redemptor Hominis — they are legitimate only if they respect the liberty and dignity of the person. Thus, the Pope gave impetus to Solidarnosc and inflamed the pride of a nation that, as Cardinal Wyszynski said, having had liberty and sovereignty confiscated, claimed the restitution of its historical and Christian dignity.”[16]

As conclusion of this brief review, it seems evident how the Helsinki Conference was, from its preambles to its long-term consequences, one of those moments of history in which — to use an expression dear to Pope Francis — the protagonists were more concerned with starting processes than with occupying spaces.[17] Its efficacy, direct or indirect, continued at the political and juridical level for all the successive years.[18] It constituted historically, between the 60s and 70s, a central factor from the passage of a timid, almost timorous relaxation in international relations to a courageous commitment to peace and the consolidation of universal human rights in all European States. Thus, it showed in fact that dialogue, when it is sincere and animated by good will, really constitutes the most powerful weapon to build a peace that is not mere absence of conflicts, but first of all affirmation of the transcendent dignity of every human being.

We are grateful to Cardinal Silvestrini for the contribution that he offered to this Conference. Thank you.

[1] For the historical horizon of the Vatican’s policy of the time, cf. A. Riccardi, Intransigenza e modernita. La Chiesa Cattolica verso il terzo millennio, Rome-Bari, 1996. On Casaroli and the recalling of John XXIII cf. G. Barberini, La presenza della Santa Sede nella politica internazionale. Introduzione ai lavori del seminario, Naples, 1992, p. 10.

[2]Cf. A. Silvestrini, Ka Santa Sede nell ostpolitik e nella C.S.C.E., in AA. VV., La politica internazionale della Santa Sede 1965-1990, Naples, 1992, p. 38.

[3] Cf. A. Silvestrini, La Santa Sede nella ostpolitik e nella C.S.C.E.., cit., p. 30 ff.

[4] For the reconstruction of the turning point that was determined in the Vatican in the 60s of the last century with John XXIII, and then with Paul VI, cf. for all A. Melloni, La politica internazionale  della Santa Sede negli anni sessanta, in AA. VV., Il filo sottile. L’ospolitik vaticana di Agostino Casaroli, edited by A. Melloni, Bologna, 2006, p. 3 ff.

[5] Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam, August 6, 1964, n. 109.

[6] A. Silvestrini, La Santa Sede nella ospolitik nella C.S. C. E., cit., p. 38-40.

[7] A. Silvestrini, Prefazione, in G. Barberini, Pagine di storia contemporanea: la Santa Sede alla Conferenza di Helsinki, Siena, 2010, p. V-VI.

[8] Ibidem. On the argument see: C.F. Casula, Ospolitik e Conferenza sulla sicurezza e la cooperazione in Europa. L’azione della Santa Sede, in AA. VV., La storia, il dialogo, il rispetto della persona. Scritti in onore del Cardinale Achille Silvestrini, Rome, Edizione Studium, 2006, p. 111 ff.

[9] A. Silvestrini, Prefazione, op. cit., p. IX-X.

[10] A. Silvestrini, Introduzioni, in A. Casaroli, Il martirio della pazienza, Turin, 2000.

[11] A. Silvestrini, Introduzione, op. cit., p. XIV.

[12] H. Liedermann, La via per un’Europa unita passa per l’atto finale della CSCE of Helsinki, in AA. VV., La storia, il dialogo, il rispetto della persona, cit., p. 105 ff.

[13] G. Barberini highlights that “it is necessary to take note that, after Vatican Council II, created progressively, especially in some countries, was a circuit of ideas that it was impossible to control or limit. The Iron Curtain could do little about this circulation of ideas and also of persons. From the distance of so many years, it can be said that the conciliar documents, especially some, constituted for the Church of the East, more than what happened in some countries of Western Europe, almost a reawakening, a support, a religious rebirth capable of softening the rigidity of the political system but also of highlighting again more the existing limitations to religious liberty; in many cases the political dissent would be combined with religious convictions” (L’avvio dell’ostpolitik vaticana, in AA. VV. Il filo sottile, cit., p. 55).

[14] On the argument see G. Barberini, La Santa Sede e la Conferenza di Helsinki per la sicurezza e la cooperazione in Europa, cit., p. 13-143.

[15] A. Silvestrini, Intervista. Le cose possibili e oneste, in 30 Giorni,7/8. 2005.

[16] Cf. Intervista of A. Silvestrini in C. F. Casula, Ostpolitik e conferenza sulla Sicurezza e Cooperazione in Europa, cit., p. 131.

[17] Cf. Francis, Discorso alla Curia Romana per gli auguri di Natale, December 21, 2019.

[18] Cf. on the relation between John Paul II and the new international projection cf. the important contribution of U. Colombo Sacco, Giovanni Paolo II e la nuova proiezione internazionale della Santa Sede 1978-1996, Milan, 1997.

[ZENIT Working Translation by Virginia Forrester]





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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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