The Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, travels to London today (Tuesday 1 March) for an official visit to Britain aimed at highlighting the role of the Holy See on the international stage.
The Liverpool born archbishop, who was appointed as the Vatican’s ‘foreign minister’ in November 2014, will hold talks with officials from Britain’s Foreign Office, Home Office, Department for International Development and Department for Energy and Climate Change. He’ll also meet with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See, with the incoming Commonwealth secretary general, Baroness Scotland, with the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and with local Catholic leaders.
On the eve of his departure, Archbishop Gallagher sat down with Philippa Hitchen from Vatican Radio to talk about his hopes and expectations for the three-day visit.
Archbishop Gallagher said that while the Holy See already has good relations with the UK, he hopes to “put a bit of flesh” on some aspects that the British Government understands in theory, rather than in practice.
He said there is an increasing awareness that the sort of influence the Holy See can have creates “the conditions on the ground and in the minds and hearts of the people” which will allow them to resolve some of the very big issues that the world faces today.
Speaking about his meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, he said he will bring a message of continuing dialogue, and will discuss the ongoing pilgrimage of the Anglican Communion at a time when they are trying to consolidate their unity.
Asked about fears that religious freedom is being undermined in Britain today, Archbishop Gallagher said we must learn to be “very broad in our tolerance of diversity” and to appreciate the riches of religious, cultural and linguistic differences that have contributed to the building of British society. He said it’s important not to remove all symbols of religious difference from the public square, but that we should guard against the “risk of taking ourselves too seriously”.
Speaking of the possibilities of closer cooperation between Britain and the Holy See, the archbishop highlighted the work of the Santa Marta group in combatting human trafficking, an issue which is “very close to the Holy Father’s heart”. He says there is an infinite number of areas for cooperation, but a lack of resources and a lack of manpower can also be determining factors.
Commenting on his participation at a recent conference in London on humanitarian aid to Syria, the Archbishop said the British Government is playing an active role in negotiations and anti-ISIS coalitions, adding that the message of the Church is never to point the finger at particular countries but to urge all people to “play our part in these times of conflict”. The Holy See, he said, is in contact with the representatives of the (UN) Secretary General over the ongoing peace effort in Syria and the Holy Father “is following these issues closely”.
While not wishing to comment directly about the forthcoming referendum on whether or not Britain should remain within the European Union, Archbishop Gallagher said the Holy See “hopes that the people of Britain will work to make life better for Europeans”, so that Europe will provide leadership to the international community. All people must assume their responsibility, he added, in order to ensure many decades of peace, stability and prosperity in Europe.