Christopher John Trott, the United Kingdom‘s Ambassador to the Holy See was present on Monday morning for the Pope‘s annual State of the World Address, something he described as "a true privilege" that reinforces his determination to make a difference.
Speaking to Vatican Radio he expressed particular appreciation for Pope Francis‘ discourse that, he said, not only highlighted some of the most dramatic current issues the world is dealing with, it also shone the light on “neglected” or “forgotten” conflicts and crises and truly demonstrated “the breadth of the vision, not just of Pope Francis himself, but of the Holy See.”
The ambassador explained the concrete value of the occasion for the diplomatic corps, as the papal address sets the stage for crucial diplomatic action.
But first, Ambassador Trott expressed the desire to share his thoughts about the late Pope Benedict XVI and his invaluable contribution to diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and the Holy See.
Tribute to Pope Benedict XVI
“I wanted to start, if I may, by just expressing my condolences to all your listeners on the death of Pope Benedict. I think for the United Kingdom, in particular, Pope Benedict was very special, because he was the first Pope who paid a state visit to the United Kingdom. And that visit was extraordinary.”
Ambassador Chris Trott said that it was thanks, above all, to how the Pope engaged in that visit and how he approached it that made it so special and that ultimately resulted in the excellent relationship that exists today between the United Kingdom and the Holy See.
“I think for us as diplomats,” he added, “Pope Benedict's Papacy was quite significant because he started the process of engagement on a whole range of international issues through diplomacy that Pope Francis has been able to build on.”
Breadth of vision
Turning back to the just-concluded annual audience in the Hall of Benedictions during which the Pope greets the Diplomatic Corps and lays out his vision of "the state of the world", the ambassador said it was truly comprehensive.
“Today was a demonstration of the breadth of the vision, not just of Pope Francis himself, but of the Holy See.”
And that, he added, is why he is here in Rome, as an ambassador accredited to the Holy See: “Because the Holy See has an interest in Burma, has an interest in South Sudan, has an interest in Haiti, has, of course, an interest in Ukraine, and Pope Francis talked about all of that in his speech today.”
The long and complex discourse in which the Pope spelt out the responsibilities of diplomats, highlighted conflicts and injustice across the globe, indicated areas of collaboration and concluded with the request to foster truth, justice, solidarity and freedom.
As the representative of the United Kingdom here in the Vatican, many parts of that speech resonated, the ambassador said, in particular his mention of conflicts in Africa and their far-reaching consequences.
“There's a risk that we appear to have forgotten - in the context of Ukraine, which is hugely important, and which we're all working hard to support - to have forgotten other people suffering around the world, and Pope Francis's speech was very clearly a demonstration that we haven't forgotten,” he said.
“I was quite moved that he talked about Yemen, for example. I haven't heard anything on the news about Yemen for months and months and months.”
But, Ambassador Trott continued, Pope Francis is praying for the people of Yemen and their suffering, and that, “I hope, is a solace to all those who are in these kinds of conflict situations, and a reinforcement of the fact that we haven't forgotten them.”
Diplomacy: an exercise of humility
At the beginning of the speech the Holy Father noted that “diplomacy is ab exercise of humility.” The ambassador agreed, pointing out that as a diplomat one is a witness, often to history “and that is a huge privilege.”
“You never want to make history yourself. This is not about me or who I am. It's about how we as an international community, can properly work together.”
The Pope brought up so many issues like the atomic threat the world is incredibly living today, the role of women, and the need to make changes to the multilateral system, which then, the ambassador noted, led to a “conversation about Iran, […] about the sanctity of life and his reference to the use of the death penalty. I think it's very important.”
Engaging with the Holy See
Asked how the diplomats will get to work on some of the issues mentioned during the speech, Chris Trott explained that it is important for each of them to “look at what his priorities are because, of course, that's where we want to engage the Holy See.”
““One of the things that I learnt right at the beginning of my time here is the importance of finding synergy between what we're trying to do on the global stage and what the Holy See is trying to do.”
This, he explained, is crucial for how to go forward with work on the environment, and on education, (which was a major theme of the speech today).
“If we can find ways to work together on education, we are more likely to get closer to the achievement of universal education, particularly for girls. We have a responsibility to do that, to our fellow humans,” he said.
So, he explained, there are many things he can take away from this speech: think about it and go back to his colleagues in the Vatican with proposals and ideas to foster constructive collaboration for the common good.
As an embassy, he added, it is part of how we build on our relationship with the Holy See “because the priorities of a particular country are never clearer than when the Head of State sits there for 20 minutes and sets them out. And then you get given a copy of black and white.”
“You can't get a clearer indication of what the priorities are in the diplomatic field, and we need to work in partnership with that.”
Ambassador Trott concluded reflecting on “what a privilege it is to be able to sit in that audience and to listen to Pope Francis, in his wisdom, talking about the state of the world.”
“It's not always a cheerful sort of picture, but that just reinforces our determination to do something.”