2015-01-13 10:35:00

British ambassador reacts to Pope's speech to diplomats

(Vatican Radio) Speaking to diplomats in the Vatican, Pope Francis has called on the international community to take concrete steps to bring about peace and to protect all those who are victims of war and persecution. In his annual address to the diplomatic corps, the Pope said the conflicts and divisions in our world today derive from “a culture of rejection” which leads to the breakdown of society.

Among those listening to the Pope’s address on Monday was Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker. Philippa Hitchen asked him for his reactions to the wide-ranging speech:


Ambassador Baker says the speech focused on conflict, its causes and effects, and the thesis that conflict is not inherent in humanity, but rather the consequence of a ‘throwaway culture’ that humanity has developed….he says the Pope linked the various conflicts worldwide to the concept of ‘a piecemeal world war’ and encapsulated these conflicts in a powerful allusion to World War Two, showing the full potential of man’s destructive power. Having set out this dramatic panorama, Ambassador Baker says the Pope then insisted on the potential for solutions and the need for a common commitment to peace…..

Asked about the recent Paris attacks and the way the Pope’s words may be received by Europe’s political leaders, the ambassador says “it’s easy to point a finger and think we know the causes of a particular act” but the Pope reminds us we all have potential for conflict in our own societies and that through the culture of rejection – of other faiths and cultures – we all potentially sow conflict or allow conflict to develop……

Asked whether he believes the British government is willing to listen to such broader, longer term reflections on the causes of conflict and fundamentalist ideologies, Ambassador Baker says “inevitably politicians face electoral cycles and the need to be seen to be responding” but he says there is also a sense that “we’re in this for the long term” and that we have to adjust our policies and inform our publics accordingly. These problems, he stresses, aren’t going to be resolved by ‘sticking plaster solutions’….

Reflecting on the Pope’s words about the plight of refugees and the need to welcome people displaced by poverty and violence, the ambassador says Pope Francis has “a very clear-eyed view of the difficulties of the balance”, between protecting the rights of citizens and ensuring the acceptance of immigrants in our Europe societies. He notes the Pope talked about the importance of helping provide immigrants’ countries of origin with aid to promote development and settle internal conflicts which are the principle cause of the immigration phenomenon…..but he also repeated powerful phrases like “we mustn’t turn the Mediterranean into a cemetery”…..

Commenting on the Pope’s call for a resumption of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, the British ambassador notes Pope Francis himself has said “he’s not expecting instant solutions” but we’ve got to do what we can to end violence and reach solutions to help Palestinians and Israelis live together within internationally recognised borders, implementing the two state solution….that remains the goal, he says, and we can’t stop trying to achieve it….

Ambassador Baker also says it was very significant that Pope Francis decided to dedicate a paragraph to the issue of ending violence in conflict, an issue which the British government has been focusing on over the past year. “We see rape and violence against women being used systematically in parts of Africa, in the Middle East, with ‘Daesh’ for example, he says, and “what the efforts of the British government have always set out to do is create structures to tackle the impunity of these crimes so that perpetrators know they will eventually have to face justice….

Asked what message of hope he takes away from the Pope’s speech at this time of fear and uncertainty, Ambassador Baker notes that Pope Francis spells out clearly the need for dialogue, to keep the doors open and to continue building bridges…. Fear, he says, makes us “put our head under the bedclothes” to try and keep the outside world at bay, but as responsible citizens we’ve got to tackle these issues and the centre of the Pope’s message is that this must be done through dialogue and talking, however difficult that may be…. as long as we keep doing that, he concludes, there’s always going to be hope.

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