VATICAN CITY — In a Vatican building that opened for business in 1513, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See celebrated the 30th anniversary of formal U.S.-Vatican diplomatic relations with a photo exhibit and reception.
While some embassies — including the Italian, French and Spanish — have centuries of experience with the Vatican diplomatic corps, the U.S. ambassador and the Vatican’s foreign minister both spoke of the solidity of their three-decade-old ties and, particularly, of the relationship’s potential in furthering the cause of global justice and peace.
And both mentioned the importance of the upcoming meeting of President Barack Obama and Pope Francis at the Vatican March 27.
Speaking in one of the many frescoed halls of the Palazzo della Cancelleria, a Vatican building housing the Apostolic Penitentiary and other Vatican tribunals, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican foreign minister, pointed out how high-level contacts between the Vatican and the U.S. government are much older than 30 years.
“In 1788, George Washington informed Pope Pius VI — through Benjamin Franklin — that in the newly born republic there was no need for authorization from the state for the appointment of bishops in that the revolution had brought freedom to the colonies, first and foremost, that of religious freedom,” the archbishop said.
“The relationship between the Holy See and the United States has grown slowly, but steadily stronger over time,” he said. Formal ties are important “if indeed the United States represents one of the principal actors on the international scene, and the church and the Holy See share in the ‘joys and the hopes, the sorrows and the anxieties of humanity.’”
Archbishop Mamberti quoted from an 1848 U.S. Senate debate about allocating funds for President James Polk’s official envoy to Pope Pius IX.
One senator had said, “the eyes of Christendom are on its sovereign, much is expected of him,” the archbishop said. And while some Christians — and probably Pope Francis himself — would be uncomfortable with the description of the pope as the “sovereign of Christendom,” Archbishop Mamberti said no one can deny how the eyes of the world are on Pope Francis as he “continues to encourage the church and the international community to not be mere onlookers concerning the great challenges that inflict humanity, but to engage in tackling them.”
The problems faced by world today “are so many and so serious,” Archbishop Mamberti said, and responding to them requires “an ever closer dialogue between the Holy See and the United States.”
Ken Hackett, told an audience of Vatican officials, other ambassadors, journalists, priests and religious that he was pleased to be the 10th U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, and “I look forward to strengthening our relationship and expanding our partnership to help solve critical global problems.”
Then-President Ronald Reagan and John Paul II agreed to establish formal diplomatic relations on Jan. 10, 1984.
The photo exhibit includes pictures of the meetings Popes Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI had with the U.S. presidents of their day: Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
But panels also show an 85-year-old Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist, meeting Pope John Paul II in St. Louis in 1999 and blues guitarist B.B. King showing his guitar — named Lucille — to the pope at the Vatican in 1997.