CNS photo

British official sees Vatican as ally against global challenges

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • February 15, 2012

VATICAN CITY - Strengthening its ties to the Vatican will help the United Kingdom in its efforts to confront the global challenges of poverty, arms proliferation, climate change, regional conflicts and threats to religious freedom, said a high-ranking British government official.

"The Holy See and its views can be very influential and can be very supportive of what we in Britain are trying to do," said Lord David Howell, minister of state in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

"These are international problems we really have to work together on" with new allies who represent large networks across the world, he told Catholic News Service Feb. 15.

Blocs of large superpowers are no longer the movers and shakers, but rather "those who've got the 'soft power' and influence around the world -- these are the important people, and here we are standing in the midst of that," he said during an interview at the Vatican press office.

The minister was part of a seven-member delegation of government ministers visiting the Vatican Feb. 14-15. They were joined by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and met Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials to discuss a range of policy issues.

Archbishop Nichols told CNS that the official visit was a follow-up to the pope's visit in 2010, which had really "opened up eyes on both sides" that "there is a significant shared agenda," and fruitful cooperation was more than possible.

"There's a real recognition of the reach of the Holy See" and how influential its voice and presence are on the world stage, the archbishop said.

Lord Howell said the United Kingdom sees maintaining and strengthen ties with the Holy See as part of a nascent strategy of forging alliances with global networks of organizations and nongovernmental bodies rather than with just state blocs.

People are increasingly connected by Internet, social media and mobile phones, and these technologies "are giving new power to peoples all over the world," he said. "Add 2 billion people of the (British) Commonwealth and 1.1 billion Catholics and that's half the world, and we can do something together."

The delegation met with top officials of the Vatican's Secretariat of State, as well as the heads of the pontifical councils of Interreligious Dialogue, Culture, and Justice and Peace.

A joint statement released by the Vatican Feb. 15 said the Vatican and the United Kingdom "agreed on the urgent need for action to strengthen the universal commitment to religious freedom as a fundamental human right."

"The Holy See emphasized the need to ensure that institutions connected with the Catholic Church can act in accordance with their own principles and convictions," the written statement said.

The Vatican "stressed the necessity of safeguarding the family based on marriage, religious freedom and conscience," it added.

Vatican officials and the British ministers discussed plans to work together to fight religious intolerance and discrimination; reaffirmed the need to promote sustainable development that protects human dignity; recognized the shared commitment to tackle poverty, climate change and arms proliferation; recognized that changes in North Africa and the Middle East necessitate real reforms that respond to people's legitimate demands; and expressed hopes for a resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

The British delegation also said it welcomed the pope's "support for the ongoing process of reconciliation in Northern Ireland" and agreed that "the use of violence for political ends is deplorable and must be set aside in favor of constructive dialogue."

The importance of religious freedom and tolerance was seen in comments made by another delegate and senior British government minister, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

The baroness, who is a Muslim, said Europe must "become more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity."

In a Feb. 14 address to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, she said response to militant secularization in Europe "has to be simple: holding firm in our faiths, holding back intolerance, reaffirming the religious foundations on which our societies are built and reasserting the fact that, for centuries, Christianity in Europe has been inspiring, motivating, strengthening and improving our societies."

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