I often have to remind people that I am accredited not to the Vatican City State, but to the Holy See, the governance of the global Catholic Church. As such, this embassy has reach into an extraordinary worldwide network of civil society organisations, religious congregations, diplomats, universities and other components that make up the Catholic universe. This gives us real opportunities when we want to take action on an issue of cross-border significance.
Next week, from 10-13 June, the United Kingdom will host the largest ever conference on sexual violence in conflict, chaired by the Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie. 1,200 people will come together with a common aim: to end the scandal of sexual violence in conflict, and turn the undoubted political will that exists (150 countries have signed the UN Declaration sponsored by the UK) into hard, practical action. It is a complex issue, and will need governments, international organisations, civil society, military experts, lawyers, human rights defenders, teachers, medical and psychological practitioners to work together to improve support for survivors, end impunity for perpetrators, and stop the systematic use of this brutal crime under cover of conflict.
Religious networks have a huge role to play. Women religious in Africa, for example, are often first responders, on the scene to help the survivors and rebuild trust within the community. Organisations like the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and the Caritas Internationalis Federation (CI) are on the ground with a long term presence in countries from Sri Lanka to Colombia to witness, support, rehabilitate and regenerate. It was therefore an honour for me to join representatives of the Catholic world like Sister Elena Balatti of the Comboni Missionaries or Sister Victoria Chiharhula of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa at Vatican Radio this week to debate the issue, to listen to their stories from South Sudan and Congo, and hear their recommendations for the London Summit. JRS and CI were also there, and representatives of the Holy See Secretariat of State observed the debate.
Watch the webcast and make up your own mind. One session at the London Summit will address specifically the responsibilities of faith networks. It’s #TimeToAct against this brutal crime that affects hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. The Summit will be an important milestone. But it can only succeed if we all work together, the global Catholic network included.
Nigel Baker has been Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See since 2011. He has previously served as a British senior diplomat in Havana, Cuba, and as the UK’s ambassador to Bolivia. His regular blog can be read here.