"The diplomacy of the Holy See is not linked to a state but to a reality of international law that has no political, economic, military interests. It places itself at the service of the bishop of Rome, who is the pastor of the universal Church." These were the opening words of an interview with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, published in the latest issue of Limes magazine entitled “The Great War”, edited by Lucio Caracciolo and Gugliemo Gallone.
The interview touched on topics ranging from the Holy See's diplomacy which is universal because the "papal representatives come from local Churches around the world" and with a "clear ecclesial function," to geopolitics, "indispensable to exercise the diplomatic profession as effectively as possible." It also explored the international role of Pope Francis – a symbol along with his predecessors – of "a less Eurocentric Church" to "a multilateral look at international problems," as well as the long diplomatic activity of Cardinal Parolin, for which he thanks God for giving him the grace to accompany the diplomatic mission with priestly witness. Another issue is the universal character of the Church within a complex and fragmented world, characterized by that "Third World War fought piecemeal" of which the Pope, for years, has continued to speak.
In all these, the compass to follow is the Gospel – the “proclamation of peace, promise and gift of peace," Cardinal Parolin explains, adding that "all [the Gospels] pages are full of it.” The Cardinal notes that “the angels invoke it at the moment of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. He Himself wishes it to His own as soon as He is resurrected. The Church follows the example of her Lord: she believes in peace, works for peace, fights for peace, witnesses to peace and seeks to build it. In this sense she is pacifist."
Concerning the use of weapons, Cardinal Parolin points out that “the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides for self-defense. Peoples have the right to defend themselves if attacked. But this armed self-defense must be exercised within certain conditions that the same catechism enumerates: that all other means of putting an end to the aggression have proved impracticable or ineffective; that there are well-founded reasons for success; that the use of arms does not cause greater evils and disorders than those to be eliminated."
The use of weapons
In the face of the disproportionate and reckless use of weapons in many parts of the world, Cardinal Parolin points out that “war begins in the heart of man” and “every insult pushes peace away and makes any negotiation more difficult.” The Pope often repeats this in his appeals. Yet, notes the secretary of state, "the pope's voice is often vox clamantis in deserto ("a voice crying out in the desert"). It is a prophetic voice of far-sighted prophecy. It is like a sown seed that needs fertile soil to bear fruit. If the main actors in the conflict do not take its words into consideration, unfortunately, nothing happens, nothing is achieved, no end to the fighting."
"Even today," Cardinal Parolin continues, "in the tragic Ukrainian affair, there does not seem to emerge at the moment any readiness to engage in real peace negotiations and to accept the offer of super partes mediation. As is evident, it is not enough for one of the parties to propose or hypothesize it unilaterally, but it is imperative that both express their willingness in this regard. Once again, vox clamantis in deserto. But the Pope's words nevertheless remain a testimony of the highest value, affecting many consciences, making people more aware that peace, and war, begin in our hearts and that we are all called to make our contribution to promote the former and avoid the latter."
Prompted by further questions in reference to Ukraine, Cardinal Parolin acknowledges “the possibility of a negative leap toward the pieces joining in a real world conflict. I think we are not yet able to foresee or calculate the consequences of what is happening. Thousands of deaths, cities destroyed, millions displaced, the natural environment devastated, the risk of famine due to lack of grain in so many parts of the world, the energy crisis... How is it possible that we do not recognize that the only possible response, the only viable way forward, the only viable prospect is to stop the weapons and promote a just and lasting peace?"
Papal visits to conflict-ridden countries
On the possibility of a trip by Pope Francis to conflict-ridden countries in Eastern Europe, the Secretary of State points out that the pontiff's greatest desire, "and therefore his priority," is that "through his travels concrete benefit can be achieved. With this in mind, the Pope said he wanted to travel to Kyiv to bring comfort and hope to the people affected by the war. Likewise, he announced his readiness to travel to Moscow, in the presence of conditions that are truly helpful to peace."
Cardinal Parolin went on to note that the dialogue between Rome and Moscow is a "difficult dialogue, which proceeds in small steps and also experiences ups and downs," but "it has not been interrupted." The meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill was suspended because "it would not have been understood and the weight of the ongoing war would have affected it too much."
A key part of the interview is devoted to the secret agreement between the Holy See and China. "The dialogue between the Holy See and the People's Republic of China," says the Secretary of State, "begun at the behest of St. John Paul II and continued during the pontificates of Benedict XVI and Francis, led in 2018 to the signing of the provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops in China. It was precisely the characteristic of provisionality that advised the parties not to make it public, waiting to verify its functioning on the ground and decide on it.
Moreover, the Cardinal adds, “as for the evaluation of the outcomes of the agreement, it seems to me that I can say that steps forward have been taken, but that not all obstacles and difficulties have been overcome and therefore there still remains a way to go for its good application and also, through sincere dialogue, for its refinement."
If Caracciolo and Gallone point out how in the contemporary world "the powers seem no longer to be able to understand each other," "ancient rules and diplomatic habits are violated," and "polemical tones go as far as bloody insults between heads of state," Cardinal Parolin’s hope is that all diplomacies take on a universal outlook, committing themselves to protecting dignity and fundamental rights, defending the weakest and the least of the earth, and working in favor of life. Learning to "breathe to the rhythm of universality."