New Polish Ambassador Says Pope ‘Will Not Give Up’ on Syria

Piotr Nowina-Konopka discussed the Syrian situation in a meeting yesterday with the Holy Father.

Piotr Nowina-Konopka, the Polish ambassador to the Holy See
Piotr Nowina-Konopka, the Polish ambassador to the Holy See (photo: Estefania Aguirre/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — Poland’s new Vatican ambassador, Piotr Nowina-Konopka, says that Pope Francis will not back down in helping resolve the Syrian conflict peacefully.

“The Pope is very focused on this issue with a sort of passion,” Nowina-Konopka said. “When he speaks about war in Syria, you see immediately that he will not give up.”

“The way he does it proves that he really believes that the Pope, the Church, Christians, Muslims must do something,” he told CNA Sept. 10.

Nowina-Konopka was appointed as the new ambassador of Poland, as well as of the Order of Malta, to the Holy See on July 6.

He met the Pope privately for about 20 minutes on Sept. 9 to present his letters of credentials — a customary move that makes his new post official. The diplomat, who knew the previous two popes, recalled Pope Francis’ warmth and familiarity during their meeting.

“He is extremely direct and shortens the distance immediately,” he said. “I felt I had known him for a long time, and I understood better the stories I heard of him personally phoning people up on a landline.”

The two touched on issues including the World Youth Day expected to take place in Krakow, Poland, in 2016, relations between Poland and the Church and the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Their discussion comes amid the United States’ threatened military strikes against the Syrian government, which the U.S. blames for the deaths of more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children, in an Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attack.

The conflict between the Syrian government and rebel forces has claimed more than 100,000 lives since it began in March 2011. Many fear U.S. intervention would increase the violence and spark a wider conflict.

Nowina-Konopka, who served as director of the European Parliament’s Liaison Office with the U.S. Congress, attended the Pope’s massive four-hour vigil for Syria last Saturday in St. Peter’s Square.

“It was unimaginable to witness hundreds of thousands of people taking part in the several silence breaks, and the community of diplomats was as touched as everyone else,” he said.

The ambassador also took part in the Sept. 5 meeting between the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, and 71 ambassadors to promote peace in Syria.

“It’s not very often that ... [there is] such a large meeting with all of the diplomats,” he observed. “He also offered a set of principles on paper to help solve the conflict in Syria.”

Nowina-Konopka said that “if the two parts in Syria start dialoguing, then this paper prepared by the Catholic Church may serve as a manual.”

The former adviser, interpreter and spokesman for the second president of Poland, Lech Walesa, recalled the Communist Party in Poland and its opposition around 25 years ago.

“The Polish Church created services to allow both sides to sit and talk,” he said. “This situation of the Church as an arbitrator was successful, and the talk [at the Vatican] ... reminded me of this.”

“I believe that everything is possible, especially with our Pope’s determination,” he added.

The 64-year-old explained that a normal term for an ambassador is four years, and he believes he is “witnessing a very special period in the Church’s history.”

“I wouldn’t be shocked if this Pope prepared a series of events, including a new Council,” he said.

“He will have an important meeting with his chief advisers, eight cardinals, in October, and they will seek a renewal in his pastoral ways and in the Church.”

The important thing, he believes, is changing the language with how the Church communicates and speaks to people to make its mission understandable.

“My mission is to ensure the best communication between my government, Poland, and the Holy See,” he reflected. “I look forward to a 'Church Spring'; and after a wonderful pontificate of John Paul II and then of Benedict, we will have a new chapter.”