In his annual “survey of the world” to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See last Monday, Pope Francis unequivocally reaffirmed that people can “never kill in God’s name,” adding that the world is “dealing with a homicidal madness which misuses God’s name in order to disseminate death, in a play for domination and power.” Addressing representatives of 182 nations with diplomatic ties to the Holy See, Francis said “fundamentalist terrorism is the fruit of a profound spiritual poverty, and often is linked to significant social poverty,” and can “only be fully defeated with the joint contribution of religious and political leaders.”

In his lengthy discourse, devoted this year to peace and security, the Holy Father also covered all of the world’s trouble spots and recalled the many persecuted Christians around the world. He stressed that peace depends on justice, adding that “peace is a gift, a challenge and a commitment,” which can “only come about on the basis of a vision of human beings capable of promoting an integral development respectful of their transcendent dignity.”

Sitting to his left in the Vatican’s Sala Regia was Archbishop Paul Gallagher, secretary for relations with states — the Holy See’s “foreign minister.” In this Jan. 12 email interview with the Register, Archbishop Gallagher reflected on the highlights of the speech, how the Pope thinks radicalization can be eliminated, and how his “clarity” in foreign affairs has helped the Holy See abroad. The English archbishop also spoke about concerns held by some that the Pope’s approach to foreign relations, especially with Russia and China, can be overly pragmatic at the expense of respecting the interests of Catholics on the ground.

 

The Holy Father covers much ground in his address, but what are the most significant areas of concern to him in the world today?

I think that the Holy Father’s main concern is the need for peace. We live in a world which apparently is mostly in peace, but people are often scared and live in fear, concerned about their future. Furthermore, there are many “senseless conflicts” that altogether make what the Pope calls “a world war fought piecemeal.” Syria indeed is the most dramatic. But there are many other areas of conflict that are of great concern for the Holy Father.

One of the consequences of these conflicts is the great number of refugees that escape from war and seek protection in safer countries. The Pope encouraged public authorities not to forget that migrants are persons. Thus, they need to use wisdom and foresight, in order not to exclude those who are seeking assistance, especially those truly in need of protection, and without prejudice to the common good of their own citizens.

Another area of concern is, of course, fundamentalist-inspired terrorism, which the Holy Father defined as a “homicidal madness which misuses God’s name in order to disseminate death, in a play for domination and power.” At the origin of all these dramatic situations there is what Pope Francis called a “reductive vision” of the human person that paves the way to the spread of injustice, social inequality and corruption.

 

How is the Holy See helping to resolve conflicts and end fundamentalist terrorism in parts of the world?

In one word, I would say “dialogue.” Pope Francis made that very clear in his speech, as he stressed the importance of dialogue at all levels: diplomatic, interreligious and intercultural. I think that the Holy Father, through many of his courageous gestures, has clearly shown us that dialogue is not only necessary and productive, but, first and foremost, it is possible! In this perspective, Pope Francis underlined the positive role of religion in society and the contribution of religiously inspired works to the pursuit of the common good through education and social assistance, especially in areas of great poverty and in theaters of conflict. Education is essential in the prevention of radicalization.

 

In his message, the Pope speaks of a number of agreements signed or ratified. How much are the Holy See’s relations with other states showing concrete signs of improvement, especially with those states that have yet to make formal diplomatic ties with the Holy See?

The number of countries which have established diplomatic relations with the Holy See, or have signed agreements with it, continues to increase, as do the numbers of ambassadors resident in Rome. It is an encouraging sign of the attention that the Holy See is given by many countries around the world. Besides the formally established diplomatic relations, there is a “non-resident representative” to Vietnam, and there are constant, often informal, contacts with various other countries, with whom we discuss several topics, mainly related to the presence of the Catholic Church in their territories. It is a continuous and mostly positive dialogue, which is very useful to increase mutual knowledge, understanding and trust.

 

What is the Pope’s great strength when it comes to foreign policy, both in your view and from reactions you hear from around the world?

First of all, I think in the clarity of his judgment, when he speaks about the world’s problems, and this clarity comes from his faith in the Lord. The Holy Father calls everything by its name. He is not worried about the political fallout. He cares about people and their suffering. Then there is his personal testimony. For example, in the past few years, he did not simply speak about granting hospitality to refugees. He encouraged Catholics all around the world to do so, and when he visited Lesbos, he took back with him to the Vatican some refugees. People clearly perceive that the Pope’s word and gestures are true and sincere. That is his greatest strength.

 

Some have criticized this pontificate for engaging in “ostpolitik” — being too pragmatic at the expense of those who feel they are victims of authoritarian or aggressive regimes (e.g. Ukrainian and Chinese Catholics). How true is this?

I don’t think that’s true at all. It is not a matter of pragmatism vis-à-vis defending an ideal. As I said before, the Holy Father seeks dialogue at all levels, but that does not mean that for the sake of dialogue itself he is willing to give up the truth, the good of the people, or of the Church. In diplomacy, dialogue is all about finding a way forward in order that people who suffer may not suffer anymore. But that is possible if there is no prejudice between the interlocutors and if we do not forget that dialogue takes time and patience, while most of the time we are impatient and we would like to see results immediately.

 

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.