4th December 2014
Britain and the Holy See stand together in defence of justice
In his homily at our celebration at St Paul’s outside the Walls of the centenary of the restoration of official UK-Holy See diplomatic relations in 1914, The Cardinal Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, praised how the United Kingdom and the Holy See “have worked together for justice and peace” over many years. He also set down a challenge. “We want”, he said, “ to reinforce and extend this cooperation for the good of all”. So does the United Kingdom, and the week of our centenary celebrations has also seen substantial examples of this cooperation in action.
The Minister of State at the Foreign Office, Baroness Anelay, led a delegation to the Holy See that included Baroness Berridge, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom. During their meetings at the Holy See, their focus was on ways in which we can work together to strengthen religious freedom around the world, “a top human rights priority” for UK government. Baroness Anelay spoke at the recent launch in London by Aid to the Church in Need of their latest report on religious freedom and had the opportunity to talk with Holy See officials, representatives of Catholic civil society and senior members of religious congregations about how we might better collaborate in protecting the rights of people around the world to worship, believe and demonstrate their faith freely, with the situation of Christians in the Middle East a particular priority.
Another priority for the visit was to address the issue of human trafficking. Baroness Anelay was able to meet the key players in the initiative led by the Vatican-based Global Freedom Network (GFN) to secure a joint declaration and commitment to work against modern slavery from global religious leaders: Buddhist, Shia and Sunni Muslim, and Hindu, alongside the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Ecumenical Patriarch. She was able to hear about the next steps, and how the work of religious leaders would complement the UK’s Modern Slavery bill currently in its last stages before it becomes law, something that Archbishop Welby said would be a “good model” for other governments in the future. Another participant at the GFN event was the UK’s first ever Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, who is involved in the second international conference of the Santa Marta Group, hosted by the Home Secretary, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, and the Metropolitan Police Service.
Cardinal Parolin told Vatican Radio that “conflict prevention and resolution, in the defence of human rights and in the fight against poverty” should be at the top of our bilateral agenda. There is already a lot of substance to our work together, bilaterally at official level, but also across our broader networks of faith, civil society, NGOs and parliament. But as Baroness Anelay asked all her interlocutors, “how can we do even more?”. That’s the challenge for this embassy to take on.