It was only a few years ago that I discovered the existence of a UK Ambassador to the Holy See. I hadn’t fully understood that the Vatican City was an independent state or that over 170 countries have ambassadors here. I think, like many of the group I am with, we had little understanding of why we have an ambassador here or what such a person might actually do.
Last night the current incumbent of the office, Francis Campbell, explained what the job involves and how the Vatican works. He had invited us to the rooftop of his Palazzo almost next door to Berlusconi’s little pad, the Quirinale. We were generously entertained and spent some time just staring at what the former Austrian Ambassador (who also happened to be there with his wife) said was the best view in the whole of Rome. Eventually we went downstairs and discussed just how the diplomats engage with the Vatican and other ambassadors.
The benefit of an overview is that you cut out the unnecessary detail and go to the heart of the matter. Francis explained that the Holy See can be seen in two ways: as China or San Marino. The total population of Roman Catholics in the world accounts for around 20% of the world’s population (I think). So, this is a tiny city state with a huge reach and massive influence. yet it is still a tiny state covering only 1 square kilometre.
It is, therefore, vital that governments such as ours engage fully with such a state for the sake of the interests of the world. We discussed the Millennium Development Goals, climate change and other matters of political, economic and cultural importance. What became clear is the interdependence of the different states in working together to maximise influence in order to mobilise the strong in the interests of the weak (and everybody else).
Look out over Rome and you see thousands of years of history. Times come and go – so do the characters, the scandals, the triumphs and the transient powers. So, it is incumbent on contemporary powers to do their bit with integrity, change the world where we can, but always keep it in perspective. One day groups may be looking out over our city and wondering at why we chose what we chose and did what we did.