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BY Edward Pentin
Pope Francis today met members of the U.K.’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See and gave them his special greetings.
The Group - the first of its kind among world parliaments - has been at the Vatican to further strengthen relations between the United Kingdom and the Holy See.
Hosted by Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, the group of parliamentarians from both Houses have been paying visits to various dicasteries. As well as receiving personal good wishes from the Holy Father Wednesday, they met senior officials in the Secretariat of State and representatives of Caritas Internationalis. Yesterday, the MPs and Peers called in on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, among others.
The 'APPG' visits the Vatican annually and this year’s delegation, led by Edward Leigh MP, was the largest ever. Formed in 2006 initially to counter moves by the British government at that time to close the country's embassy to the Holy See, its main aim is to strengthen and develop contacts between the United Kingdom and the Vatican.
And since those precarious times seven years ago, bilateral relations have borne fruit, most visibly in Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain in 2010 and a visit to the Vatican by a delegation of government ministers in February 2012. Last year, a senior Vatican official said the group is a model for Holy See relations with other parliaments. The Canadian parliament has created a similar body, and other legislatures have been considering doing the same.
Its strength is its all-party composition, according to Ambassador Baker. Members follow the work of the U.K.'s embassy to the Holy See, act as an unofficial pressure group in parliament, and “provide a window for the Holy See” on what’s happening in the U.K. parliament.
Speaking to some members of the group yesterday, they greatly value the deeper and highly informed perspective of the Holy See on domestic and foreign policy. And because many, if not all of them, have fought hard to uphold the Church’s teaching in the public square (most notably in trying, though not succeeding, in preventing recent same-sex ‘marriage’ legislation), they also value the support offered by the APPG and the pastoral assistance given by the group’s resident chaplain.
With the arrival of a new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See this week, continuing clashes between the Church and Obama administration, and deeply entrenched partisan politics dominating Washington, now might be a propitious time for congress to also consider creating such an all-party group of its own.