Christ The Diplomat

Pope Benedict XVI will begin the New Year defending the cause for world peace.

The Holy Father will observe Jan. 1, Solemnity of the Mother of God, as World Day of Prayer for Peace. Like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict wants every nation to take the challenge of peace seriously. He told the Vatican diplomatic corps at the beginning of his pontificate that the Holy See would continue to act in “defense of the cause of peace.”

In defending peace, the Holy Father said, “the Church never ceases to proclaim and defend fundamental human rights.”

These rights include, the Pope points out, “the right of every human person to life, food, housing, work, health care, the protection of the family and of development.” In addition, the Pope urges nations to make every effort to “overcome the temptations toward clashes between cultures, ethic groups, and different worlds.”

Most agree that the world needs peace. The question is how to achieve it. The Holy See summarizes the solution to this challenge in one word: diplomacy. Nations must learn the art of diplomacy to live together in peace. The Holy See stands out first among the nations as a model of diplomacy.

There is a good reason for this.

Consider the fact that the Holy See has the oldest diplomatic service in the world. Its history can be traced back to the very first centuries of the Catholic Church when popes sent their legates to represent them in important councils or other matters. The task of a papal legate, according to canon law, is “to strive for the promotion of matters which concern peace, progress and cooperative efforts of peoples.”

Vatican diplomacy in practice works extremely well. For instance, on Dec. 23, 1978, Argentina and Chile stood on the verge of war over a border dispute. The Holy See eased the serious tensions between the two countries by mediating a treaty that ensured peace. The vast experience, the meaningful purpose and the successful track record of the Vatican’s diplomatic service makes it a preeminent authority on international diplomacy.

Some may wonder how the Church became an expert in something as secular as international diplomacy. The Church’s understanding of diplomacy can explain this.

The Church defines diplomacy as the art of dialogue. This dialogue has a transcendent and spiritual character. In fact, sacred Scripture depicts the interrelationship between God and man as a dialogue. God intervenes in history in the person of Jesus Christ and speaks to us.

We can identify certain characteristics in Christ’s dialogue with us.

For one, he takes the initiative to talk to us first. He goes out of his way to encounter us and offers us his friendship. What does God owe us that he should come to us? Nothing. His willingness to initiate a relationship with us implies humility. Christ’s dialogue with us begins and ends with charity.

This means the purpose of his dialogue centers around seeking our good. Christ always wants the best for us. By speaking to us, he tries to help us to choose what is good. Christ does not charge us for his counsel or professional advice. It’s free. His dialogue excludes no one, has no limits or ulterior motives.

Consequently, a Christ-like dialogue comes from a generous and noble heart. Christ does not bully, harass or physically force anyone to accept his message or friendship. His dialogue respects the freedom of the listener. Christ knew how to wait and allow his listener to mature in the truth. Christ showed himself willing to dialogue with everyone without distinction of race, class or gender.

This willingness to dialogue with anyone shows the universal character of Christ’s message.

By studying and imitating the example of Jesus Christ, the Church has become an expert in dialogue and, consequently, an expert in diplomacy.

In light of faith and reason, the Catholic Church offers the international community the following recommendations to perfect the art of diplomacy:

" Above all, clarity. Dialogue between peoples and nations demands clarity. Language should never be used to cover up hidden agenda’s or ideologies. This fundamental condition of diplomatic dialogue requires that language be understandable, acceptable and well chosen.

" Humility. Dialogue between peoples and nations cannot be proud, bitter or offensive. The power of dialogue rests on truth and the willingness to communicate it with charity. Dialogue doesn’t command or impose. It uses peaceful means to achieve its purpose.

" Trust. Authentic dialogue builds on trust and sincerity. Trust presumes a willingness of interlocutors to do what they promise for the mutual good of both. Dialogue and duplicity cannot coexist.

" Prudence. A prudential dialogue attempts to discover the sensitivities of the hearer. This allows the interlocutor to adapt himself to the needs of a concrete situation in the most reasonable way without being offensive to his hearer.

Pope Benedict begins the New Year standing up for peace. But he need not stand alone. Issues of war and peace affect us all. Let’s stand with the Pope by working for peace.

Legionary Father Andrew McNair

is a theology professor at

Mater Ecclesiae College

in Greenville, Rhode Island.