The UK’s ambassador to the Holy See is leaving after five years which have seen a gradual maturing in the relationship between Britain and the Vatican
As a diplomat whose five-year posting to the Vatican came within the pontificate of Pope Francis, Sally Axworthy has chosen a fitting way to return home. Instead of boarding a plane, the United Kingdom’s outgoing Ambassador to the Holy See is walking the Via di Francesco, a new pilgrimage route that follows the footsteps of St Francis, the Pope’s namesake. She’ll be accompanied by one of her daughters and two dogs, a pair of boisterous lurchers who always added an element of fun to a visit to the ambassador’s residence. After walking the road of St Francis, she’ll take the train home the rest of the way.
The choice of journey home shows that the years accredited to the Pope Francis-led Vatican have been something of an eye-opener for the 56-year-old diplomat. Before she arrived in Rome, Axworthy told me that she’d been immersed in media reports about the Vatican which had inevitably focused on the clerical sexual abuse and financial scandals. How, I asked, had her impressions of the Holy See changed?