FORUM: ‘Britain and the Holy See: The Year Ahead’

British Ambassador to Holy See, Sally Axworthy Reflects: ‘January is traditionally a time for New Year’s resolutions and for planning ahead, so it seems a good moment to look at what the year may have in store for the UK and the Holy See’

View of the Vatican basilica from a roof near saint Peter square in Rome

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS - Alberto Luccaroni

Below is a reflection of British Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy. This reflection, entitled ‘Britain and the Holy See: The Year Ahead,’ is from Ambassador Axworthy’s blog available on the British Embassy to the Holy See Website:

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January is traditionally a time for New Year’s resolutions and for planning ahead, so it seems a good moment to look at what the year may have in store for the UK and the Holy See.

 My starting point is Pope Francis’s address to the diplomatic corps, in which he set out how he sees the foreign policy challenges that we face. Pope Francis’s focus this year was on peace and security, the danger of war, but also what we might do together to reduce that danger.

 The Pope spoke of his conviction that every religion should promote peace. Acknowledging that religion can be used as a pretext for violence, he said terrorism could only be defeated jointly by religious and political leaders.  This is important for us as we address terrorism, and conflicts in which religion plays a role. A year ago, religious leaders in Marrakech said it was unconscionable to use religion to attack the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries.  This year, we will work with the Holy See’s experts on religions from Christianity to Islam to understand how religion is misused in the service of violence, and to try to identify solutions.

Secondly, the Pope spoke  about the need to treat people as individuals with dignity.  We will continue our dialogue with the Holy See on migration – the FCO Migration Envoy will visit Rome in February. We will also work with the Holy See on some of the moral issues that the Pope spoke about. Pope Francis again condemned ‘that deplorable trade – that horrible form of modern slavery – which is human trafficking’. In October, Prime Minister Theresa May said in a speech at a service to honour anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce that she wanted Britain to be at the forefront of efforts to stamp out modern day slavery and human trafficking. Cardinal Nichols has led the way with the Santa Marta Group, which brings together bishops and police chiefs committed to tackling this crime. Next month we will welcome the Head of the Home Office’s Modern Slavery Unit to Rome to talk about how we deepen cooperation with Holy See networks.

The Pope also spoke about the priority of protecting children from abuse. We were delighted to welcome Home Office Minister Baroness Shields to Rome this month, as she prepares a major conference with the Gregorian University on Child Dignity in the Digital World later this year. This is another area where UK leadership of the #WeProtect Global Alliance campaign against online child sexual exploitation, and the persuasive power of the Holy See, could have a transformative effect.  

Pope Francis spoke thirdly about the need to resolve conflicts. He expanded on this thinking in an article for El Pais, saying that in diplomacy the Vatican were mediators not intermediaries.  We have seen this active approach to diplomacy in the work the Holy See has done in Cuba and Colombia, and is now doing in Venezuela. In parts of Africa the Holy See has unique influence which it can use to end conflict. The UK has long experience of working to end conflicts – from Libya and Syria to Somalia and South Sudan.  Together with the Holy See and other partners in the international community we will promote the cause of peace.

 Finally, the Pope spoke about Europe, referring to the values common to the entire continent.  This year Brexit will feature very much in all our lives in the UK, with Article 50 being triggered in March, and negotiations beginning.  As both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have said, we are leaving the EU but not leaving Europe, and we will continue to make common cause with our European partners to promote those values about which the Pope spoke.

The Pope said that peace requires passionate effort. We agree.  It will be a busy year ahead.

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On the NET:

Link to the original piece on Ambassador Axworthy’s Blog: https://blogs.fco.gov.uk/sallyaxworthy/2017/01/25/britain-and-the-holy-see-the-year-ahead/

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