UK Ambassador on Holy See-UK relations: Our positions are getting closer

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The UK Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy, presented her credentials to Pope Francis on September 19. After a couple of weeks in office, she discusses the challenges of working in an embassy that is unlike any other in the world.

UK Ambassador to the Holy See
'I think I'm right in saying this is the only ambassadorial appointment to a religion, rather than a state or an international organization. Obviously the Holy See's first duty or first line of interest is to the Catholic Church, and their foreign policy serves the interest of the Church, the concerns of the Church. I have to work out how we, as an embassy, interact with them, it's not like another embassy. I think there isn't a sort of domestic aspect other than in the internal affairs of the Church.�

For foreign embassies, having a good working relationship with the Holy See is crucial, since oftentimes a significant part of the population of the countries they represent is Catholic. That is the case of the United Kingdom,  with more than 4 million Catholics, who listen to the Holy Father and follow his teachings. 

That is why one of Axworthy's challenges will be to try to reconcile the UK's position after Brexit, which called for stricter immigration laws, to that of Pope Francis, possibly the most pro open-door policy leader in the world.

UK Ambassador to the Holy See
'I think Pope Francis understands that immigration has an impact on the receiving countries, and he's talked recently more about integrating immigrants, which is very important, because an influx of a lot of immigrants can have an impact on local politics, and I think that Pope Francis is talking more about that now. So I think, maybe, our positions are getting a little bit closer.�

Pope Francis is working hard to boost ecumenism with other Christian denominations, including the Anglican Church. Sally Axworthy thinks that agreements between the different churches open up a whole other dimension of international cooperation. 

UK Ambassador to the Holy See
'For me, this is one of the most interesting aspects of the job. The way that Pope Francis has devoted a lot of time and effort to reaching out to other religions, not only Christian religions, but other religions as well. We have a dialogue with governments, but the Church has a dialogue with other religions, which I think gives it a different perspective on the world, and also of the things of mutual interest, on the conflicts of the world. If you start looking at how you can cooperate with local churches, I think that offers lots of possibilities for doing positive things.�

Sally Axworthy also stated that she looks forward to working with Pope Francis on other matters that concern both the United Kingdom and the Vatican, namely in prevention of modern slavery and ending sexual violence in conflict.


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