On Friday, February 5, 2010, St. John Vianney College Seminary hosted the 11th Annual Fides et Ratio Conference. The main speaker for this year’s conference was the United States Ambassador to the Holy See, Dr. Miguel H. Diaz. Ambassador Diaz studied as a Pre-Theology seminarian for the Archdiocese of Miami back in the day. It was nice to see how the Ambassador’s faith has been shaped by this remarkable, holy place. The purpose of Ambassador Diaz’s speech was to highlight the growing relationship between the United States and the Vatican, especially in the areas where the two countries are working together for the common good of all peoples.
To begin his first speech on U.S. soil, the ambassador spoke of his role in the United States government, which is to be a “bridge-builder of issues between the United States and the Vatican.” The ambassador noted two challenges that his office deals with: 1) global tensions that are the result of increasing pluralism, and 2) interests between the United States and the Vatican for the sake of the common good.
Ambassador Diaz mentioned that human identity is still a major issue as a result of the drastic changes in cultural dynamics in countries across the globe, which he attributed to “human migrations.” This struggle to define the human identity has made difference–whether those be based on culture, ethnicity, or gender–a threat to the world family. We have become increasingly fearful of the other before we have thought about becoming friends. However, we cannot allow this to continue because the “actualization of person” happens when we are in communion with others. Therefore, developing relationships with others is “not a choice” because we meet God in the other.
“Love offers no shortcut.” In our modern times, where we have a misunderstanding of human identity, we pick and choose who we want to love. This is where religious communities can make a major difference. Religious communities can, and do, come together–no matter what affiliation–to work for the benefit of all. These religious communities recognize that differences in culture can make a great impact on the world. Difference should not be a force of division in the world! Just the opposite is true; culture has been enriched by human diversity.
The “dignity of all persons is no easy task to accomplish”; it is a constant struggle that the Church and the United States have been trying to overcome for some time now. There are many ways that this can be accomplished. One of them is through the human imagination. “Failure to engage the human imagination” is not an option if we wish to foster commonality between cultures.
There is “serious evil in the world” that tries to inhibit the discovery of such commonalities. If we should be humble enough, we could eliminate the hatred that exists between cultures. There is a “great need today…to engage in conversation.” There is where the United States can make significant contributions, according to Ambassador Diaz.
“In the United States of America, a positive approach in relating faith and civil” contributions can work to advance the dialogue between various cultures and beyond religious affiliation. Faith is a positive agent of change in the world. Religion is not to be simply practiced in the privacy of one’s home. Religion and faith should not be left at home. Religion should be brought into the world. The ambassador went on to quote Benedict the XVI: “There is thus an urgent need to delineate a positive and open secularity which, grounded in the just autonomy of the temporal order and the spiritual order, can foster healthy cooperation and a spirit of shared responsibility.”
Persons of different faiths can and should work side-by-side in order to address the differences that exist between us. We are all “transient pilgrims” in this world. Do we spend our time tearing each other apart, or do we build bridges among the members of our human family? We should not take the easy road. “We must do unto others as we should have them do unto us.” This was the pulse of our Father’s love and still “beats in the hearts of people throughout the world.”
According to Diaz, the mission of the United States government is to engage the Holy See, using what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls “smart power”. Smart power utilizes a wide-range of diplomatic tools that enable us to spread our mission throughout the world. We use this type of diplomacy by focusing on 1) Global Health, 2) Religious Freedom, 3) Human Rights, and 4) Peace and Security.
In terms of promoting global health initiatives, the U.S. government and the Holy See are ready to fight world hunger. However, this goes hand-in-hand with easing the tension of climate change on the planet. During talks about the Copenhagen Accord, several international steps were taken to combat climate change. These include: 1) making a pledge to only raise the global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius, 2) setting goals throughout the world that help reduce countries’ impacts on climate change, and 3) having transparency to let the world know how those goals are being met.
Countries must now work together to advance the Copenhagen Accord. Caring for persons and caring for the environment are interrelated!! “We need to be mindful of inter-generational solidarity so future generations can share” in the same benefits that we share in now. Universal solidarity is a benefit, as well as a responsibility.
In terms of religious freedom, the United States and the Vatican are working together to promote religious freedom throughout the world because it is a “human right and [a] source of stability for all countries.” The United States is seeking to identify and denounce those countries throughout the world that do not honor religious freedom. Ambassador Diaz quoted Secretary of State Clinton:
The freedom of religion “is the first liberty mentioned in our Bill of Rights, and it is a freedom guaranteed to all people in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights…Religious freedom provides a cornerstone for every healthy society. It empowers faith-based service. It fosters tolerance and respect among different communities. And it allows nations that uphold it to become more stable, secure and prosperous.”
In terms of the protection and advancement of human rights, Ambassador Diaz highlighted one specific area in which the Vatican and the United States are working together, human trafficking. The ambassador stated that there are 12.3 million victims of human trafficking around the world; women make up 56 percent of those victims. The U.S. and the Holy See have come together in a special way by assisting in the creation of the “first ever inter-congregational effort” against human trafficking. The International Network of Religious Against Trafficking in Persons was formed in October 2009 and includes 30 women religious from 26 nations.
In regards to peace and security, the United States and the Vatican both hold that religion is being used as a “pretext of violence.” Throughout the world, religion is being used to justify the murder of innocent peoples. Ambassador Diaz reminded us that “no Holy War is a just war.” Religion cannot be used as a pretext of violence because the very foundation of all religions is love.
In concluding the 11th Annual Fides et Ratio conference, Ambassador Diaz remarked that the President of the United States (POTUS) and Benedict XVI have called upon all to embrace actions that “promote the common good for all.” The United States is “committed to bridging human differences.” We must “listen to the other; listen with the ear of the heart.” People across the world have a tremendous and deep love for the United States, but that also brings high expectations for the POTUS. However, the same goes for the Catholic Church. The Church is “one of the most important listening posts in the world” because they have international relations with many of the world’s countries. If we simply work together, despite our cultural or religious differences, we can effectively bring change to the world and advance peace.
At the end of the conference, the ambassador took questions from the audience. When asked what he could tell the seminarians for future reference, Diaz stated: “We need religious leaders who know the world, who know the issues of the world and who can wrestle them.” He went on to say that “we are not called to flee from the world. The Church is in the midst of the world. The people of faith are called to be there, to be in Haiti, to be wherever human dignity is trampled.” And finally, the ambassador told us that “we have to remember the past because we do not want the future to be that past.”
Article Sources: The Florida Catholic
Photo 1 Source: St. John Vianney College Seminary
Photo 2 Source: US Department of State