Benedict to Vatican Ambassadors: Truth Must Guide International Diplomacy

VATICAN CITY — In his first “state of the world” address, Pope Benedict XVI underlined the importance of truth as the principal basis for all international relations.

Addressing the 174 ambassadors accredited to the Holy See on Jan. 9, the Pope echoed the theme of his message for the World Day of Peace eight days earlier — “In truth, peace” — and reminded the diplomats that a profound respect for truth should guide diplomatic work.

“Commitment to truth is the soul of justice,” the Holy Father said in the Sala Regia (royal hall) of the apostolic palace. “Those who are committed to truth cannot fail to reject the law of might, which is based on a lie and has so frequently marked human history, nationally and internationally, with tragedy.”

Set against this, Benedict continued, “there is truth and truthfulness, which lead to encounter with the other, to recognition and understanding.”

The speech was essentially divided into three parts, in which the Pope explained how truth involves establishing justice, the recognition of human rights and freedoms, and the readiness to seek and grant pardon.

The Holy Father singled out specific problem areas such as the Holy Land, Lebanon, Iraq and the Great Lakes region of Africa, as well as the more general issues of religious freedom and treatment of migrants. He also spoke about the threat to peace caused by terrorism, extreme poverty and human trafficking.

Truth, and the rejection of it, were pivotal to the address. In cautioning Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Benedict said “the state of Israel has to be able to exist peacefully in conformity with the norms of international law.”

Ahmadinejad had drawn international condemnation in recent months for publicly dismissing the Holocaust as a “myth” and calling for Israel to be “wiped off” the global map.

The Pope also indirectly criticized China by calling for “the removal of everything that impedes access to information, through the press and through modern information technology.” The search for truth, the Holy Father stressed, can only be possible in freedom.

Benedict said the world was right to be concerned about a “clash of civilizations,” made “more acute by organized terrorism” and underlined the importance and urgency of “cultural exchanges” in building peace.

Ambassadors’ Response

Francis Rooney, the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, said the Pope’s message “echoes what President Bush says,” and that he was “heartened” by Benedict’s emphasis on truth and freedom. Donald Smith, Canada’s ambassador to the Holy See, welcomed this as the first speech by Benedict directed solely at diplomats, calling it a “masterpiece of clarity.”

Francis Campbell, Britain’s newly accredited ambassador to the Holy See and the first British Catholic since the Reformation to hold that post, called it “a very powerful critique” in which the Holy Father is “showing renewed support” for the international system and multilateralism.

All three ambassadors noted a number of issues on which the policies of their two countries converge with the Holy See. Rooney highlighted Benedict’s reference to human trafficking, something the U.S. embassy has been campaigning against for more than three years and a scourge that Benedict labeled in his speech “a disgrace in our time.”

The most important part of the Pope’s message for Rooney, however, was his emphatic condemnation of terrorism.

“The Pope made an important move in reaching out to the Muslim world and pulling back from the idea of a ‘clash of civilizations’,” said the diplomat. “He clearly and rightly pointed out that terrorism disguised as religious motivation is the worst form — it is a lie, not truth.”

Campbell said the Pope’s call for a secure Israel and viable Palestine was synonymous with the U.K. government’s position. So, too, was the Holy Father’s call for greater international humanitarian aid and development, and Campbell welcomed Benedict’s emphasis on human rights, which the ambassador said showed that despite diversity “there is a commonality” around which nations can unite.

Smith found the Pope’s words on peace “inspiring,” citing particularly his observation that peace is “not being just the absence of war, but a positive where we’re promoting all of these other principles as well that then accelerates and increases the strength of the peace.”

Campbell highlighted the Holy Father’s reference to ongoing problems in the Great Lakes region of Africa, where Canada and the Holy See have been collaborating on peacemaking efforts.

Some commentators argued that the Pope’s emphasis on truth and peace might also be read as a critique of the controversial justifications that triggered the U.S. and British decision to invade Iraq.

U.K. Ambassador Campbell, however, saw it differently: “I see his speech as visionary and uplifting, not retrospective,” he said. “It’s not finger-wagging, he’s not singling out any country, but providing a reminder of the philosophical underpinnings of the international system.”

Edward Pentin

writes from Rome.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.