Stephen Townsend

Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy to the Holy See

Guest blogger for Sally Axworthy

Part of UK in Holy See

13th March 2017 Holy See

The Commonwealth and the Holy See

The Commonwealth and the Holy See represent the two largest soft power networks in the world.  The Holy See has over 1.2 billion faithful globally, and a network of Bishops, NGOs and religious congregations which reach deep into the societies of the countries where they live.  The Commonwealth is made up of 52 countries with a total population around 2.4 billion citizens.  There is overlap: there are about 140 million Catholics throughout the Commonwealth, and many Commonwealth nationals occupy senior positions.  In the last intake of Cardinals the Commonwealth was well represented, with new Cardinals from Bangladesh, Mauritius, Lesotho and Malaysia.  Seven Commonwealth countries have resident Ambassadors to the Holy See.

Both organisations have similar core values: focusing on people, championing human rights and protecting the poorest and most vulnerable.  The 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which was held in Malta, committed the organisation to championing the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals – an objective which also ties in with the priorities of the Holy See.  Both have global networks, reaching out to the world.

Both institutions are deeply concerned with peace-building.  The theme of this year’s Commonwealth Day (13 March) is “A Peace-Building Commonwealth”, which reaffirms the principle set out in the Commonwealth Charter that “international peace and security, sustainable economic growth and development and the rule of law are essential to the progress and prosperity of all.”  The Holy See would agree wholeheartedly with these.

Historically there has been little cooperation or contact between the two institutions. But there is no strong reason why this should continue.  Part of our role here is to try to help bring the two sides closer together.  It may be a gradual process, but the potential gain is large.

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About Stephen Townsend

Sally is currently British Ambassador to the Holy See. She took up her position in Rome in September 2016, after 5 years at the Foreign Office as Head of Somalia…

Sally is currently British Ambassador to the Holy See. She took up her position in Rome in September 2016, after 5 years at the Foreign Office as Head of Somalia Unit (2011-2013), and then as Joint Head of North Africa Department (2013-2016). She spent most of that time on the UK initiative to help Somalia emerge from civil war; and to establish a Government of National Unity in Libya.

Sally joined the FCO in 1986. Her career has taken her to Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and India. From 2001-2006 she worked at a government regional office in south west England on providing services to vulnerable adults.

Sally is married to Michael, an academic specialising in Iran, and they have four children. When in the UK, they live in Cornwall where Sally enjoys walking and running (very slowly) in the rain and the fog.

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