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from issue no. 06/07 - 2006


Beijing is not the only absence

China is not the only country not to have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. There are in fact another seventeen States that, for different reasons, are in the same situation. From Afghanistan to Vietnam

by Gianni Cardinale

The presence in China from 25 June to 1 July of two Vatican figures - Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli and Monsignor Gianfranco Rota Graziosi – re-awoke in the media the question of the lack of diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Holy See. In reality, however, the populous Asian country is not the only one not to have an embassy to the Pope. Despite the fact that during the pontificate of John Paul II the countries that have diplomatic relations with the Apostolic See more than doubled, there are another 17 countries that, for different reasons, have not wanted or have no interest in opening these particular diplomatic links.
In 1978 the number of States with which the Holy See had full diplomatic relations numbered 84. On 18 November 2002, when the latest establishing of diplomatic relations – with Qatar – was announced, the number rose to 174, to which should be added the Russian Federation and the OLP, with whom there are diplomatic relations of a special kind (in Moscow and in Rome there are only “representatives”: the partial nature of the relations seems to be the result of pressure from the Orthodox upper hierarchies). The Holy See then has relations with the European Union and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and maintains permanent observers at the main international government organizations such as, for example, the UN (in the headquarters in New York and Geneva), the FAO, UNESCO, the OSCE, the WTO and, also, the League of Arab Nations and the Organization of African Unity. Among the 174 countries with which the Holy See has diplomatic relations there is also China-Taiwan where, since 1979 however, the resident is no longer a nuncio but only a simple interim “chargé d’affaires”. And this while the wait to finally transfer the nunciature to Beijing goes on.
Apart from newly created Montenegro, the Holy See still has no diplomatic relations with eighteen States, mainly in Asia, but also in Africa and Oceania, mostly ruled by Islamic majorities or communist or dictatorial regimes. In ten of these countries there is no Vatican envoy present: Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Bhutan, the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, the United Arab Emirates, the Maldives, Oman, Tuvalu and Vietnam. While only apostolic delegates (pontifical representatives to the local Catholic communities but not to the governments) are at work in another eight countries: four in Africa (Botswana, the Comores, Mauritania and Somalia) and four in Asia (Brunei, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar).
So, as well as with China, the Holy See has only partial diplomatic relations with another 17 countries. Some of them, however, did not fail to send their own delegations to the official ceremonies that marked the end of Wojtyla’s pontificate and the beginningof Ratzinger’s. The inaugural mass of Benedict XVI’s pontificate was in fact attended by representatives of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Oman and Vietnam. The solemn funeral of John Paul II also saw the presence of representatives from Brunei and Somalia. Whereas another nine countries as well as China (despite the fact that there were confidential negotiations between the Chinese embassy to Italy and high representatives of the Vatican Secretariat of State) did not show: Bhutan, Botswana, the Comores, North Korea, Laos, the Maldives, Mauritania, Myanmar and Tuvalu. It then needs to be said that there are countries – suchas Afghanistan and Somalia (before the actual crisis)– that had already confidentially shown interest in having diplomatic relations with the Holy See; then there is Vietnam that has publicly manifested the wish; while pontifical diplomacy is already at work to achieve the same result with the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Such Islamic states as Saudi Arabia, where Catholic worship is still officially forbidden, or the Maldives, where the entry of priests who could help the many Catholic tourists present in the archipelago is forbidden, still seem impenetrable to any discussion. Currently, then, there are around sixty countries that have a resident ambassador in Rome. The others are generally represented by diplomats resident in other European capitals. It is known, in fact, that the Holy See does not accept ambassadors who are also accredited to Italy.
It may be useful at this point to offer a brief overview of the Holy See’s diplomatic corps. With the appointment of Leopoldo Girelli as pontifical representative in Indonesia, made known on 13 April last, there are 102 apostolic nuncios posted, some of whom “cover” more than one country. Half of them (51) are Italians, a percentage lower than in the past (in 1961 48 nuncios out of 58 were Italians, 83%; in 1978 there were 55 out of 75, 73%); though the nuncios to countries ecclesiastically and/or politically important such as France, the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, the Philippines, Israel-Jerusalem and Palestine, Russia and Italy itself, are Italian. The other nuncios come mainly from the rest of Europe (30, of whom 7 are Spanish, 6 French, 5 Polish, 3 Swiss), but also from Asia (14, of whom 6 from India and 3 from the Philippines), from North America (6, all from the United States), from Africa (1, from Uganda). All the nuncios belong to the secular clergy, except for 3: the Scalabrinian Silvano Tomasi (UN Geneva), the American Verbite Michael A. Blume (Benin) and the English White Father Michael L. Fitzgerald (Egypt). Nine out of ten come from the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the diplomatic school of the Holy See: apart from the 3 religious, another 7 nuncios are also exceptional: the Lebanese Mounged El-Hachem (Kuwait) and Edmond Fahrat (Austria), the Spaniard Felix del Blanco Prieto (Malta), the Venetian Claudio Gugerotti (Georgia), the Pole Jozef Kowalczyk (Poland), Angelo Mottola from Campania (Iran), the Croatian Martin Vidovic (Belarus).
A curiosity: among the 51 Italian nuncios the regions most represented are Lombardy and the Veneto (8 from each region), then follows Puglia (6), Campania and Piedmont (5 each) and Le Marche and Sicily (4 each). With the resignation of the Colombian archbishop Gabriel Montalvo as nuncio to the United States, accepted on 17 December of last year, there is no “ambassador” from Latin America in the Pope’s service.

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