Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with cardinal Giovanni Lajolo – a Vatican diplomat, retired president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State about nomination of the new state secretary

After four years of his work in Venezuela, archbishop Pietro Parolin returns to Vatican in order to take over the post of the state secretary. Pope Francis announced a decision about appointing his closest cooperator on a hot day of the Roman summer, theoretically speaking, till at the time of holiday of the Roman Curia, although the ‘change of the Guard’ on the post of the state secretary will take place not earlier than on 15 October this year, on the last day of work of the 70-year-old cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the current chef of the State Secretariat. Pope wanted to have an experienced diplomat near him, probably because he had never dealt with international issues, but also a priest who knows the Roman Curia and will be helpful for him in reformation (reforms of the Curia were demanded by cardinals participating in the last conclave). Nomination of archbishop Parolin also means a return to tradition, according to which the Vatican State Secretary is a diplomat (cardinal Bertone, who did not come from diplomacy, broke this tradition).The rule is also confirmed that Italian state secretaries serve to popes who are not the Italians.
I talked with cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the former superior of the archbishop Petro Paroline, about the archbishop. When in the years 2003 – 06 Fr. Lajolo was a secretary of the so-called Second Section of the State Secretariat – the Section for Relations with Countries (this office in the Roman Curia is comparable with the office of the Foreign Minister), Fr. Parolin had a function of a deputy-secretary, that is, a vice-minister. Therefore, I start my interview with cardinal Lajolo, just with the reminiscences from this period. (W.R.).

WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: - Your Eminence and Prelate Priest Priest have been leading the diplomatic corpus of the Holy See for a few years. In one of his interviews the archbishop Parolin said that ‘as the Church we have a possibility to participate in the international life through diplomacy’. So, I would like to start our interview with the question what the role of the Vatican diplomacy is like.

CARDINAL GIOVANNI LAJOLO: - In the beginning I want to explain that diplomatic activity of the Holy See is pastoral activity among God’s people and all people, according to directives of Pope as a pastor of the whole Church. Apostolic nuncios are, first of all, bishops, that is, successors of Apostles, united with other bishops, with relations of collegiality. The specifics of diplomatic activity is based on only the fact that it is necessary to stick to the rules of the international diplomacy in the case of relations with countries. Because a reference point of all nuncios, and also ambassadors accredited at the Holy See, is the State Secretariat. It can be very useful that the state secretary has a good knowledge in diplomatic issues. Although it is not necessary as much as it is not necessary for him to be Italian. John Paul II , Benedict XVI, and now Francis, not being Italians, wanted to distinguish Italy though, where the Holy See is, therefore, they chose priests of Italian origin, as their first cooperator.

– Also Cardinal served to the papal diplomacy. When did Eminence meet prelate priest Parolin, his younger ‘colleague’?

– I met him in November 2003 when I was appointed a secretary of the Section for Relations with Countries in the State Secretariat. At that time, prelate priest Parolin had already been a secretary of this Section for a year. He welcomed me cordially and introduced me into the arcana of the complex work of this office.

– How does Eminence reminiscence his cooperation with prelate priest Parolin?

– From the professional point of view, it can be said that prelate priest Parolin knew all the dossier including their tiniest details. His analysis of issues were thorough, and evaluations were always balanced and meaningful. Working with him was a pleasure, mainly because of his human and priestly features – he is a very subtle man. Therefore, in our environment there was atmosphere of peace and brotherhood, which was favorable for the collegial and fruitful work.

– What kind of dossier has prelate priest Parolin dealt with in his long diplomatic career?

– He dealt with everything! The diplomatic activity of the Holy See comprises – as it can be said – the whole world. At that time there were 175 nuncios (at present there are over 180 of them), who sent their information and suggestions from every part of the world. Certainly, on every continent there were countries of peculiar concern, in whose dossier we were interested the most. As it concerns Europe, I mean the issue of the European Constitution project and the mention about Christian roots of this continent, about which John Paul II cared about; in Africa it was the issue of Darfus in Sudan at that time, with hot humane problems; in Asia we witnessed terrible events in Iraq, we were also trying to improve the situation of the Catholic Church in China: in Latin America there was a political overturn of Chavez in Venezuela. These are only a few issues which come to my mind now, certainly, among many other problems with which I dealt together with Fr. Parolin and clerks (‘minutani’) responsible for monitoring particular countries.

– Cooperating closely with prelate priest Parolin, Eminence had an occasion to meet and find out more about the new state secretary. Can you present us the person of archbishop Parolin?

– I have already said about his professional and human features. I would like to add that thanks to his accredited smile, he gains approval of everybody easily. It favours successes at work. His young age – being at the age of 58, has been one of the youngest state secretaries in the recent years – he is another important factor, which will allow him to bear the burden of his new mission. And this is full-time mission, without a moment’s respite, with newer challenges – as we are taught by our Lord, every day has its own poverty. Archbishop Parolin has a character and strengths in order to fulfill his mission as best as possible, besides pope Francis, and in a fuller spirit harmony with him.

– The cardinals at meetings before the conclave (the so-called congregations) called for reforms of the Curia. Will archbishop Paroli be able to help pope Francis in fulfilling this difficult task?

– Certainly, he will! For he is led by – and it is seen in his all actions – the spirit of ministry, not power or dominance, sensitivity to arguments of others, and, first of all, complete and unconditional faithfulness to Pope – Christ’s Vicar.

– Nomination of archbishop Parolin converges with dramatic events in the Arabic world in time. Pope is afraid of the outbreak of the international conflict of unpredictable consequences in Syria. But there is also an issue of persecution of the Christians in Egypt, Iraq and in many other parts of the world. So, what challenges will the new State Secretary have to face in the first place?

– The first challenge is the problem of Syria. All countries of the Middle East, and not only them, are affected by the threat of the war. It is necessary for people who are responsible for the international policy to realize what is permitted in the light of the international law and what is not. The pope made a speech in a clear and an emphatic way for the sake of peace. Every martial action, which is not justified with the necessity of defense, must be condemned. In order to punish crimes against humankind, new crimes must not be committed. Haven’t the tragedies of history in the last decades taught us anything?
As it concerns persecution of the Christians in various countries, unfortunately, it is not a new phenomenon, but there is a danger that it may take on new sizes. This issue is theoretically very simple, because it is all about the issue of the basic right for religious freedom, but it is also very complex cultural contexts in which authorities of other religions instead of promoting tolerance, favoring the fighting fundamentalism.

– What do you think – did pope Francis, while electing archbishop Pietro Parolina, consider the fact that the diplomat had had a difficult but effective mission in Venezuela of Chavez, hostile to the Church, on the continent from which the current Pope comes?

– It is difficult for me to answer the question which should be asked to the Pope. But the fact is, that the complicated mission in Venezuela, as well as other perfectly fulfilled tasks, prepared archbishop Parolin for difficult challenges in the past, which are waiting for him.


"Niedziela" 39/2013

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl