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Pope welcomes Britains new ambassador to Holy See

posted on 24 December 2005
The first Roman Catholic to be appointed British ambassador since the Reformation presented his credentials to Pope Benedict XVI last Friday (23 December), stressing the importance of inter-religious dialogue.

In a speech welcoming Campbell to the Holy See, Pope Benedict spoke of the importance of links between Great Britain and the Holy See, praised the Northern Irish peace process, and spoke of the importance of ecumenism and interfaith understanding. (Texts follow).

Francis Campbell, 35, has previously served as an adviser to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and is Britain's youngest ambassador.

When Campbells appointment was announced in November, the Archbishop of Westminster described it as imaginative and said it had put to an end the notion that the post was reserved to non-Catholics.

Texts follow:
1. Ambassador to Pope
2. Pope to Ambassador
3. Cardinal (15 November) welcoming appointment

1. Address delivered by Francis Campbell, the new ambassador of Great Britain to the Holy See, to Pope Benedict XVI.
Your Holiness

It is my heartfelt privilege to present to you my credentials and the warm greetings of Her Majesty The Queen, Her Government and the people of the United Kingdom.

Over the past 100 years, the United Kingdom has enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the Holy See. With changing global realities, our emphasis and objectives are different to what they were even five years ago. Three themes, among others, are at the heart of the deepening relationship between the UK and the Holy See - and they will be the central points of my Ambassadorship they are: inter-religious dialogue, Europe and international development.

Holy Father, the United Kingdom warmly welcomed your words when you called for engagement in authentic and sincere dialogue, built on respect for the dignity of every human person. T
he United Kingdom is a strong supporter of furthering dialogue among peoples, in particular furthering engagement within the Christian family and with other faiths. Last month at the opening of the Synod of the Church of England, Her Majesty The Queen said at a time when the Christian family is rightly increasing its efforts to promote greater dialogue and understanding with those of other faiths, it remains important that the goal of full visible unity among the Churches should continue to be at the heart of the Synod's concerns.

Holy Father, the UK commends your commitment to put your ministry at the service of reconciliation and harmony between persons and peoplesand to promote contacts and understanding between faiths. We live in an era rich with examples of inter-religious dialogue. The late Popes pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 2000 for example, when Jews, Muslims and Christians met in a spirit of fraternity. And 2006 will mark the fortieth anniversary of the first meeting since the Reformation between the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

We look forward to celebrating it together. Such examples give great hope and send a clear sign to the world that faiths will not allow their doctrinal differences to stand in the way of greater co-operation.

My Government welcomes your commitment to continue to have an open and sincere dialogue and to search for the good of human beings and society. The task before us is immense and difficult, but like you, we believe that it can be achieved. Holy Father, be assured of the continuing support of the Government of the United Kingdom in your efforts to create greater understanding in our world.

Religion, in particular Christianity, has always been important to the national identity and historical self-consciousness of the United Kingdom. Within the UK, in our historical and even recent past, we have known strife and discord between and within faiths. On the whole however, inter-faith and inter-religious relations within the UK remain strong.

But our history leaves us more aware than most of the central importance of respectful relationships and meaningful dialogue between faith groups, both for the furthering of understanding and co-operation between faiths and also the benefit of wider society and community. Inter-religious dialogue will never be a remote academic exercise for the UK. As a local issue, it will be felt in communities in every part of our multi-faith country.

Throughout the UK, local Churches and faith groups come together to work on issues of local community development and to serve the common good by finding solutions to many common societal problems. We know from experience that it is only through meaningful dialogue overtime that old suspicions can be transcended.

As the Foreign Secretary said last month we should pay more attention to the variety and diversity within our cultures and spend less time looking for easy differences between them. We are, in truth, more similar than many imagine. Our societies are underpinned by a moral framework that is common to all the major faiths and which is a sound basis on which we can work together.

The Government of the United Kingdom recognises the positive contribution made by faith communities at the international, national and local level; and is grateful for the leading role played by the Catholic Church in the UK in furthering dialogue and co-operation between people of faith and those of none.

It was the late Pope John Paul II who reminded us that the Church breathed with two lungs: East and West. That metaphor could equally have applied to his views on Europe - reminding us of the need to reunite Europe. Few of us realized twenty years ago that one day we would be close to reaching such a unity. Now the European Union consists of 25 member states, with further expansion likely in the coming years. But what sort of Europe are we creating? The United Kingdom does not believe that it is one that will result in a culture of nihilism without traditions or identities. Rather it is, and will continue to be, a community of values - a pluralistic community. The United Kingdom valued the interest and contribution of the Holy See during the debate on the Constitution of Europe which reminded us of the profound historical and philosophical dimensions of this debate. And the United Kingdom, like the Holy See, believes that the voice of faith communities needs to be heard in and by civil society, and that their contribution to public life be recognized.

But one key challenge facing the EU is deciding on the EUs frontiers. The UK has long supported the enlargement of the EU. We do so in the belief that membership of the EU is the best vehicle for achieving human security, human rights and avoiding a repetition of the horrors of the 20th century. By extending the EUs frontiers, the UK believes that we are not just aiding States to be more stable, democratic, tolerant and respectful of human rights, but also individuals to raise their horizons and achieve their potentials.

For the UK, expansion is not just about physical political boundaries, but an extension of the frontiers of common values. Some have argued that the cultures are too diverse, even contradictory. There is a debate to be had and the results of the French and Dutch referenda show that clearly, but when building the new Europe we always knew that the challenges would be great. But such a process of assimilation is not alien to us in Europe. Yes, our culture has emerged from a Graeco-Roman womb and is still umbilically linked to its source culturally, politically and in its systems of thought. But that culture was also cradled by a Judeo-Christian religious faith that came from outside the borders of Europe. It came with St Paul of Tarsus from the ancient Near East, penetrated European society and thought and created the Christendom of the Middle Ages. Despite growing secularization, the foundations of Christianity in Europe remain strong. The Uni
Relations between the UK and the Holy See were restored in 1914 after a break of 350 years. An apostolic delegate nowadays a papal nuncio was appointed in 1938 to represent the Holy See to Great Britain. Full diplomatic relations were restored in 1982 prior to Pope John Paul IIs visit to the UK. Ever since a Foreign Office memo in 1917 which said Britains Vatican representative should not be filled with an unreasoning awe of the Pope, the British representative has been a Protestant, with a Catholic as deputy. This continued after 1982, when the post was raised to ambassadorial status. The Foreign Office made clear recently, however, that there was no bar to a Catholic taking the post. The Holy See is the seat of government of the Catholic Church. Although the state in which it resides, Vatican City, is the worlds smallest, the Holy See is the hub of a global network of a billion people which leading nations regard as vital to world diplomacy.
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Austen Ivereigh
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posted on 24 December 2005

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