Pope Francis greets Sean McWeeney, QC, at the Vatican at his reception for the world’s diplomatic corps on Monday.
SEAN McWeeney QC, the Bahamas non-resident Ambassador to the Holy See, attended the Pope’s annual keynote address to the diplomatic corps in Rome this week, at which the primary focus was the issue of migration.
At the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, Pope Francis received in audience and exchanged greetings with the assembled ambassadors, including Mr McWeeney, who was first received in audience by the Pope in December 2014.
The Pope’s “state of the world” address to the diplomatic corps is considered one of his most important as it is given at the beginning of the year and sets the diplomatic tone for the rest of the year.
In a lengthy and deeply considered address, Pope Francis told the assembled ambassadors that he was aware of the immense challenges imposed by large-scale illegal migration, including concerns over changes in the social and cultural structures of receiving states. However, in the midst of such challenges, he stressed that “there should be no loss of the values and principles of humanity, mutual subsidiarity and solidarity, however much they may prove, in some moments of history, a burden difficult to bear”.
Pope Francis insisted that Europe has the means to welcome refugees without compromising its security or culture, saying the continent bears the “moral responsibility” to care for others who have fled their homes to seek a better life. He lamented the distinction made between refugees fleeing conflict and persecution and migrants escaping poverty, saying both deserve international protection.
Human history has been marked by great waves of migration, he told the ambassadors from the 180 nations that have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Humanity today must not let security fears replace the principles of respecting the dignity of others, he said.
“Europe has the means to defend the centrality of the human person and to find the right balance between its twofold moral responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens and to ensure assistance and acceptance to migrants,” Pope Francis said.
He called for a frank and respectful dialogue to begin among countries of migrants’ origin, transit and reception “so that with greater boldness and creativity, new and sustainable solutions can be sought”.
The Pope has made migration the top priority of his pontificate: his first trip outside Rome as pope was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, where he celebrated mass in honour of the thousands of people who have died crossing the Mediterranean and denounced the “globalisation of indifference” that the world had shown to people fleeing their homes for better lives abroad.
On subsequent trips, he has visited refugee camps, while closer to home he has opened the Vatican’s doors to two refugee families and called on parishes around the world to do the same.
The Pope devoted nearly his entire speech on Monday to the issue, showing the importance it has in the Holy See’s foreign policy under the first Latin American pope, who ministered to Paraguayan migrants in the slums of Buenos Aires before his election.
He acknowledged fears about security in the wake of extremist attacks in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. But he said those fears should not result in Europe losing its values of solidarity and humanity.
“Human history is made up of countless migrations, sometimes out of an awareness of the right to choose freely, and often dictated by external circumstances,” he said. Citing Biblical accounts, Pope Francis said today’s migrants are “possessed of the same determination which Moses had to reach a land flowing with milk and honey”.
Mr McWeeney was accompanied to the Vatican by his wife, Cyprianna, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs official, Joy Newbold.