Friday, 10 September 2010

What flows 'tween Thames and Tiber

Says Francis Campbell, the UK's brilliant ambassador to the Holy See:

“In the last six years there have been five visits by British prime ministers to the Vatican because there is hard foreign policy work to be done in areas of conflict resolution, disarmament and international development.”
Earlier he was interviewed by CNS:
The first appointment on Pope Benedict's calendar Sept. 16 is a meeting with the queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, followed by a reception with 450 people, he said.

"The queen will introduce the pope to about 120 people representing different walks of life," he said.

Campbell said he expects the event will attract a lot of attention in Great Britain, but he also thinks the pope could make a big impact when he speaks Sept. 17 in London's historic Westminster Hall, a building completed in 1099 and once used for coronation festivities and as a venue for courts of law. In fact, St. Thomas More was condemned to death at Westminster Hall in 1535.

Leaders of British civil society, including artists, politicians, scholars and business officials, will attend the pope's speech in Westminster Hall.

Campbell said the fact that the pope was invited to speak in the same place where Thomas More was condemned -- for not siding with King Henry VIII in his debate with the Roman Catholic Church at a time of extreme church-state tensions -- "symbolizes a rapprochement" between British society and the papacy.

"It also says something about where we are as a country, the extent of religious pluralism and of tolerance and acceptance of people of other faiths and other denominations," said Campbell, the first Catholic to serve at British ambassador to the Vatican since the Reformation.

Campbell said that while many people in Italy, including at the Vatican, describe Great Britain as "very secular," 70 percent of the population identifies itself as Christian and the churches are very active in public debates.

Britain, he said, "is not a society that is apathetic about religion," and that can be seen in the media coverage in the run-up to the pope's visit.

"Some people would say, 'Well, do you prefer indifference or antagonism?' and I think I would prefer antagonism because it means you're relevant," he said.

In late August, Campbell's role in the planning process transformed into service as a consultant on the speeches government officials will make to the pope, on finalizing the guest list for government-hosted events and on organizing a working dinner for Vatican officials, British government representatives and leaders of other Christian churches and religious groups.

People who do not understand why Great Britain continues to have diplomatic relations with the Vatican haven't taken the time to see how many issues of concern to Great Britain are also issues of concern to the Vatican, including international development and showing solidarity with the poor, particularly by providing education and health care, he said.

The working dinner, which the pope will not attend, will cover "themes that are of importance in the state-to-state relationship between the U.K. and the Holy See. Those include climate change, disarmament, ethics in the economy, levels of international development spending, interfaith dialogue (and) ecumenism," he said.