“It’s an extraordinary privilege to be sitting in that room when the Holy Father does 'a review of the world',” said Ambassador Christopher John Trott as he revealed how impressed he was by the sheer breadth of Pope Francis’ vision and by his very tangible concern for the state of the world.
It’s the first time for this British Ambassador to live such an experience as he only began his mandate in the Vatican in September after a long career in the diplomatic service, a career that has taken him to Sudan, South Sudan, Burma, Japan, Afghanistan, the South Pacific, and both West and Southern Africa.
Notwithstanding over thirty years in the job, he spoke of genuine pleasure and emotion in hearing "in the Pope’s voice," his deep concern for “the things that matter to him, both personally and to the Vatican as a State and as the Catholic Church.”
Focus on moral obligation to get vaccinated
One issue Ambassador Trott focused on at length was the power of the Pope’s appeal “to ensure that everyone has access to vaccines, and then on top of that, that everyone takes their vaccine.”
In his discourse, Pope Francis described vaccination as a "moral obligation" for the common good, and he called for a comprehensive commitment on the part of the international community so that the entire world population can have equal access to essential medical care and vaccines.
“I think there was a very deliberate choice of words to remind people that you're protecting not just yourself when you have a covid vaccine, but you're actually protecting the people around you and you're making a contribution to the society's health by having the vaccine,” the Ambassador said, commenting on how the Pope’s message today is a very clear invitation and “a reflection of where we are in the Omicron wave.”
The British diplomat noted that the Holy Father tackled the issue at “an individual level, at a societal level, at a regional level, and at a global level.” It was a reminder, he said, that we all have various levels of responsibility: “from the individual needing to be vaccinated, all the way through to governments in the North, including my own, and ensuring that people in the global South have access to vaccines in order to be able to stop the spread of the current wave.”
Our common home
Ambassador Trott said he was not surprised to hear the Pope’s appeal to do more to stop climate change and to move things forward after the COP26 meeting in Glasgow.
He noted that the Pope makes his appeals even more powerful by referring to people and places that we can all relate to, like the suffering of the people in the Philippines recently struck by a devastating hurricane, and by referring explicitly to the loss of islands in the Pacific Ocean.
Ambassador Trott said that particular reference to “nations in the Pacific, made vulnerable by the negative effects of climate change, which endanger the lives of their inhabitants, most of whom are dependent on agriculture, fishing and natural resources,” was particularly meaningful to him as, during his tenure in the South Pacific, he visited the Solomon islands – where some lands have already disappeared below sea level - and he witnessed, first-hand, the sorrow and disorientation of people whose home is no more: “All that is left is a number of house posts sticking up from where the island had been.”
Dialogue and multilateralism
Ambassador Trott expressed appreciation for the Pope’s focus on “the importance of dialogue and on the importance of the multilateral Fora that we have in existence,” and on his invitation “to not squander the opportunities that these different Fora offer us."
“He reminded us that solving problems through dialogue is so much more effective, in the long run, than a standoff on a frontier (and he talked about a frontier that I think was Belarus/Poland) and the fact that migrants are being used as pawns in a battle. He talked about tension, and I think he was referring for example to the tension between Russia and Ukraine; and he talked about the importance of not resorting to further conflict, but sitting down and resolving your differences through discussion,” the Ambassador said.
He also talked about two countries that mean a lot to Chris Trott: Sudan and South Sudan and the ongoing conflicts that we are seeing there.
“I think that was particularly relevant given what's happened over the last fortnight in Sudan, but we can't afford to forget that there are conflicts, like in South Sudan, that might be on the back burner, but are at risk of blowing up again in our faces unless we redouble our efforts as an international community to try and resolve them,” he said.
The other situation mentioned by Pope Francis that the Ambassador resonated profoundly with, is the situation in Myanmar: “my first job in the Foreign Office was in Burma, Myanmar, 30 years ago," he recalled noting that "the conflict between the army and the Burmese people existed then and it exists now: there must be a better way forward for the people of that country.”
“You really felt he feels for the victims in these situations,” he said, “and his appeal is for us not to forget that ordinary people are victims.”
Reflecting on the global reach of the Pope’s remarks and on his call to act together, the Ambassador highlighted the fact that although many of the issues mentioned appear to affect primarily single countries and their people, “they need regional solutions and the region needs the support of the international community of the globe to try and encourage, cajole, the finding of a viable solution that doesn't involve one side winning and one side losing, because that never is a durable answer.”
The role of diplomacy
Ambassador Trott concluded with a reflection on the role of diplomatic dialogue “in the context of our daily work, which is a sort of a private dialogue between States,” but he explained, is also about public dialogue: “It's about me talking to you today; it's about what I say on Twitter; it's about what my government puts out in terms of statements on the situation, for example, on the border of Ukraine and Russia right now, and the tension that's being encouraged there,” which means “we have a duty or responsibility to try and help build this common understanding and then to sit down and try and resolve problems together.”
“It’s a huge privilege to be able to represent Her Majesty in the context of this engagement with the Holy See and to recognise the power of the Holy See, the global voice and the global impact of Pope Francis and the things that he says and the things that he does,” the Ambassador said, revealing that the discourse on Monday was a reminder of why he wanted to do this job in the first place: “It’s because I want to engage on global issues with the Holy Father, with the team around him, with the Secretary of State, with Archbishop Gallagher’s team in the Foreign Ministry equivalent, to see if we can find common solutions to what are common problems.”
It’s about committing to work for a whole range of things from the pandemic to peace in South Sudan, to progress in tackling climate change, and issues pertinent to migration, and in the words of the Pope, of seeing the eyes of people that speak of the effort of their journey, their fear of an uncertain future, their sorrow for the loved ones they left behind and their nostalgia for the homeland they were forced to depart: “all these things deserve to be treated with a great sense of urgency.”