Bridge Diplomacy: A roundtable to mark issue no. 4000 of ‘La Civiltà Cattolica’

Cardinal Pietro Parolin

 Cardinal Pietro Parolin / August 2017, Vol. 1 no. 7 / Published Date:14 August 2017/Last Updated Date:9 February 2021

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The Embassy of Italy to the Holy See hosted a round table to mark the publication of issue number 4000 of La Civiltà Cattolica. The theme for the round table was “The gaze of Magellan – the diplomacy of bridges in a world of walls.” After greetings by the Italian Ambassador, Daniele Mancini, the May 10 event was introduced by Father Antonio Spadaro, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine. Speeches were then given by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. The event was attended by many ambassadors, as well as members of the Church and civil society.

In his opening remarks, Ambassador Mancini noted that “throughout Italian history, from the monarchy to the republic, La Civiltà Cattolica has been a point of reference and encouragement to reflection, focused on reflecting loyalty to the pope with writings of substance and relevance, attentive to exploring cultural, scientific and technological developments.” He then introduced the theme of the round table, highlighting how Pope Francis is implementing “a change of perspective” in international politics, following a line “based on triggering processes and distinctively marked by a culture of dialogue.” This is a “premise to ‘great rapprochements’ – part of a vision of the Church as ‘builder of bridges’ in the political sphere.” Hence this round table “speaks to and stimulates those who are active in foreign politics: politicians, diplomats, academics and journalists.”

This is the speech given by the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin

Mr. Prime Minister,

Most Reverend Eminencies and Excellencies,

Mr. Ambassador of Italy to the Holy See,

Distinguished members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Representatives of the Press,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I was invited to speak alongside Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni by Ambassador Daniele Mancini and Father Antonio Spadaro, and it was with great pleasure that I accepted their invitation. I am delighted to be one of the two voices speaking at today’s event of reflection devoted to the pope’s and the Holy See’s global vision of our world, its issues and its current needs under the suggestive title “The gaze of Magellan.”

This event falls happily within the cycle of celebrations for edition number 4000 of La Civiltà Cattolica – a truly significant achievement, and one that is somewhat rare in the history of cultural magazines. La Civiltà Cattolica – which describes itself as “an intellectual experience illuminated by a Christian faith that is profoundly in touch with the cultural, social and political life of our times”[1] – is a precision instrument for understanding and analyzing the magisterium of the supreme pontiffs from the days of blessed Pius IX to the current time of Pope Francis. It comes from a community of reflection and prayer that has accompanied the journey of the Catholic Church for the past 167 years.

I want to take this opportunity to renew my best wishes to the magazine’s director, Father Antonio Spadaro, and to the entire College of Writers, with the same words used by Pope Francis in the chirograph sent to mark this occasion: may yours be “a magazine of bridges, frontiers and discernment.”

I would also like to extend my thanks today to Professor Lucio Caracciolo of the journal Limes who has agreed to moderate this event.

The gaze of Magellan

In his address to the College of Writers on February 9 in the Consistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis highlighted the particular contribution of La Civiltà Cattolica to the life of the Church in the modern world by drawing on an evocative image of navigation. As historical situations fluctuate, as events and perspectives change, the pope invites us to “remain on the open sea,” navigating and exploring under the broadest of skies where we may encounter storms and unfavorable winds, “and yet the holy journey is always undertaken in the company of Jesus, who says to his own: ‘Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid!’ (Matthew 14:27)”[2]

I think the image of navigation on the open sea painted by the Holy Father can shed light on the vision sustaining the Holy See’s commitment to facing the grave international challenges of our time. For many years we have heard talk of a time of crisis. We witness growing tensions and conflicts; we see a world in which many points of reference have fallen away, in which the system of international balances appears greatly weakened, and with it some essential elements of international law. We are living through a time tragically marked by the blind violence of fundamentalist terrorism that poisons human brotherhood under the blasphemous pretense of invoking the name of God. At the same time, we are witnessing a new and increasing affirmation of nationalisms and populisms that threaten to undermine the peaceful, orderly coexistence of peoples. We are not just living through an era of change but – as the Holy Father has pointed out – we are living through a real change of era.

On this subject, I find Henry Kissinger’s introduction to The Art of Diplomacy, published in 1994, still highly relevant: “The international system of the twenty-first century will be marked by a seeming contradiction: on the one hand, fragmentation; on the other, growing globalization. On the level of the relations among states, the new order will be more like the European state system of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries than the rigid patterns of the Cold War … At the same time, international relations have become truly global for the first time. Communications are instantaneous; the world economy operates on all continents simultaneously. A whole set of issues has surfaced that can only be dealt with on a worldwide basis, such as nuclear proliferation, the environment, the population explosion, and economic interdependence.”[3]

Hence during this change of era we are called upon to recapture somehow the “gaze of Magellan.”

At this point I want to mention a historical episode connected to my native region of Veneto. In 1519, Antonio Pigafetta – geographer, mathematician, astronomer and offspring of one of the major aristocratic families of Vicenza – was in Barcelona with the papal nuncio, Francesco Chiericati. While in Barcelona, Pigafetta was captivated by the attempt to circumnavigate the globe that was being organized by Ferdinand Magellan. With the support of the pope’s representative, he obtained permission from Charles V to take part in the expedition. His presence turned out to be providential: after the death of Magellan on April 27, 1521, at the Battle of Mactan, in the Philippines, Pigafetta was able to complete the incredible attempt along with some sixty survivors, rounding the Cape of Good Hope and arriving in Sanlucar, near Seville, on September 6, 1522.[4]

At the root of Magellan’s extraordinary adventure – and of similar ones throughout history – was a firm attitude of trust in the providence of God on the one hand, and in human ability on the other. Generally, these indomitable explorers aspired to something greater, to write a new page in the story of human adventure. This courageous approach to the unknown was underpinned by a threefold, deeply rooted dynamism of spirit: by a sense of disquiet, by the humility of incompleteness, and by the courage of imagination.

These are the attitudes of internal freedom advocated by Pope Francis in his address to the community of La Civilta Cattolica as the means to conduct research that is truly in the interest of the people and the Church. This freedom of spirit allows us to remain on the open sea – open to scanning the constantly changing horizon without retreating to the safe ports that offer apparent tranquility but actually prevent us from bravely re-embarking on the long voyage of history.

I think a sense of disquiet, the humility of incompleteness, and the courage of imagination are also precious coordinates for understanding the attitude of Pope Francis and the pontifical diplomatic corps toward the urgent challenges of our time. I now want to focus our attention on a few points of reference and elements for evaluation that have emerged during the first four years of this pontificate.

The coordinates of a spiritual itinerary

Looking right back to 2013, we can trace a path through the pope’s international trips that helps to highlight some of his ecclesial, pastoral and social priorities. I invite you to recall the Holy Father’s first journey out of Rome on July 8, 2013, with his brief but intense visit to Lampedusa. During his homily at Holy Mass that day, Pope Francis asked three fundamental questions. The first two were: “Adam, where are you?” and “Cain, where is your brother?” These questions were intended to recall the anthropological perspective, to raise the fundamental question of our role today as humans in the project of Creation, and our responsibility to our neighbor, who is not the other to be feared or pushed away but the brother or sister to be loved and welcomed. The third question, referring to the tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea, was: “Has any one of us wept because of this situation and others like it?”[5] This question introduced a different dimension, shifting the focus onto a modern society that often neglects the fundamental experience of compassion – of suffering alongside each other, embracing the other’s aspirations and bearing the weight of their pain. Without this empathy, we inevitably fall into the “globalization of indifference.”

The pope’s personal approach to current challenges is rooted in this spiritual dimension that urges an inclusion capable of destroying the wall of indifference, opening up new spaces, and taking care of the other with creative responsibility.

Thus we see the connecting thread that guides the choice of destination for the pope’s apostolic trips. These trips reflect the particular sensibilities of Pope Francis, always attentive to situations of material and moral problems that damage humanity today. The pope’s spiritual itineraries are to be understood in this light, as are the social and political implications of his 18 apostolic trips outside of Italy to date, ranging from Brazil to Egypt.

On an ecclesiastical and ecumenical level, these trips have laid out a path of communion for the Church. I invite you to recall the two trips undertaken in 2014: the pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Jerusalem in May, and the one to Turkey in November where the pope met Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul for the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle. A little over a year later, in February 2016, Cuba saw Francis’ historic embrace with Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, followed by ecumenical visits to Armenia in June and Georgia in September. We also saw historic encounters in Lund (Sweden) to mark the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation in October 2016, and in Cairo with Tawadros II and the Coptic-Orthodox Church in April 2017. Finally, there is the pope’s profound desire to travel to South Sudan with the Archbishop of Canterbury to bring a shared and fraternal message of peace.

Alongside these ecumenical itineraries, we remember other significant moments of interreligious dialogue in the Holy Land, Albania, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Central African Republic and Egypt. These were many stops on a single journey toward mutual encounter and friendship. This is a journey that starts from Jerusalem where everything begins in the Christian faith; a path from east to west, like the one traveled after the Gospel’s first announcement; a route that crosses very different historical, cultural and religious territories that find their common denominator in witness to the Gospel.

And here we see another characteristic element of Pope Francis’ vision: reality is always superior to the idea. We must meet in the sphere of reality, of real life before we can meet in the encounter of different ideas and mindsets. In other words, only by embracing the other as and where we find them can we undertake together the journey of brotherhood toward truth and reconciliation.

The geopolitics of a journey from the peripheries to the center

If the ecclesiastical journey of the current pontiff is a pilgrimage from east to west, his geopolitical journey traces a route from the peripheries to the center. Here, too, the pope is implementing a sort of new Copernican Revolution, inspired by the Gospel. We all know of his attentiveness to the geographic and existential peripheries of our time. He starts from a simple acknowledgement: poverty, the vulnerability of the human person today, and the fragility of a de-structured, de-centered society are all damaging human dignity.

At the core of this evangelical perspective is the belief that people and their lived experiences are more important than ideological, political and economic systems. In other words, the agenda of the international community cannot be dictated by the thirst for power, by the worship of money, or by the priorities of organized elites, but it must be based on the real needs and expectations of people and populations. It is paradoxical that in the era of absolute globalization – where communication is seamless and immediate and we are all interconnected – we should experience such piercing loneliness and abandonment.

This is why Pope Francis seeks to represent the perspective of the “thrown away,” the abandoned, the wounded, those who are at the margins, and to be the voice and echo of their suffering. This is why – from Lampedusa to Lesbos, from Cuba to the Mexico-U.S. border, from the peripheries of cities in Europe and in developing countries – the pope calls on us to focus international attention on the question of the human person with rights and responsibilities. Only by truly comprehending these dynamics can we provide fresh nourishment for our society and its institutions on a national and international level. Only from this pragmatic perspective can we really commit to reforming and revitalizing international organizations and local institutions. Pope Francis is the first to set an example by seeking the authentic reform of ecclesiastical institutions so that they may function in greater service of the Gospel and the people of God.

I think the Jesuit spirit of the Holy Father is evident in this dynamic, prophetic approach that is focused above all on the essential nature of the Gospel’s announcement and on translating this into a lived experience. In this mindset, the Church is called upon to be always “outward- facing,” reaching toward spaces of encounter with people of our time. Therefore, the Holy See is particularly concerned with accompanying the journey of those who aspire to peace, seek reconciliation, and positively wish to build a better future for their country by healing the wounds of the past that still burn in the living flesh of the people. This is why Pope Francis called the Church a “field hospital,” highlighting the therapeutic aspect of its mission and of its geopolitical outlook.

On a diplomatic level, we are all aware that the current, complex international situation requires a new impetus toward multilateral mediation, since the scale of crises and conflicts has increasingly become regional or transnational, involving neighboring countries and requiring shared responses from states and international organizations.

In the sphere of international relations, I think there are three global challenges of which the pope has taken particular ownership: commitment to peace, nuclear disarmament, and protecting the environment. These priorities in turn lead to a series of other commitments on the global stage: promoting a culture of encounter, supporting the phenomenon of migration, sharing the earth’s resources, and valuing dignity in work, particularly for the new generations.

Each of these horizons merits its own detailed analysis, which I do not have time for today. I will content myself with noting that Pope Francis – as he scans the horizon with the “gaze of Magellan” – seeks to open up new channels of communication and encounter, building ideal bridges between one continent and another, between different cultures and religions, between systems of thought and legislation that are often very far apart.

Dialogue and encounter: the heart of Francis’ journey

This is the course of action followed by Pope Francis on his journey to Rome from the far end of the world, a journey that would take him from the Vatican along roads around the globe. At the heart of this journey is the word ‘dialogue’ – the main avenue to an inclusive approach, genuinely leading to an encounter with the other as brother or sister, first and foremost. Dialogue enables us to avoid the “reification”of the other, returning our focus to the dignity of the human person. This also requires an appreciation of the human capacity for relating to others: the Holy Father does not think of people as “detached from all social and anthropological contexts, as if the person were a monad, increasingly unconcerned with other surrounding monads,”[6] but as possessing the capacity to experience solidarity, “to sympathize with others and with the whole. When one suffers, all suffer (see 1 Cor 12:26).”[7]

This is a core element in the pope’s encounters with European leaders, both in Strasbourg and when they were in Italy for the Charlemagne Prize and the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Dialogue enables us to be truly inclusive and productive; through dialogue we open up to the world and to the future. Leaders have a responsibility to promote and sustain dialogue, to “determine what is essential”[8] as a means of “discerning the paths of hope.”[9]

Pope Francis’ remarks to Europe’s political leaders are illuminating: “The founding fathers remind us that Europe is not a conglomeration of rules to obey, or a manual of protocols and procedures to follow. It is a way of life, a way of understanding the human person based on our transcendent and inalienable dignity, as something more than simply a sum of rights to defend or claims to advance. At the origin of the idea of Europe, we find ‘the nature and the responsibility of the human person, with a ferment of evangelical fraternity … with a desire for truth and justice, honed by a thousand-year-old experience’ (A. De Gasperi, La nostra patria Europa).”[10]

However, the pope is not a demagogue launching slogans but a shepherd who encounters the people. This encounter occurs across time and space, as we are reminded by the four historical figures who appear in his address to the United States Congress on September 24, 2015 – Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. All along the journey of Francis are the stories and suffering of real people, to whom he extends his message of faith and hope and his gestures of charity.

According to the Holy Father, we need a globalization based on solidarity and cooperation, capable of inverting our current course and starting afresh from the inalienable dignity of the human person. Thus the pope addresses members of the Global Foundation on January 13, 2017: “It is necessary above all for each of us, personally, to overcome our indifference to the needs of the poor. We need to learn compassion for those suffering from persecution, loneliness, forced displacement or separation from their families. We need to learn to suffer with those who see their loved ones die due to a lack of access to healthcare, or who endure hunger, cold or heat. This compassion (suffering with) will enable those with responsibilities in the worlds of finance and politics to use their intelligence and their resources not merely to control and monitor the effects of globalization, but also to help leaders at different political levels – regional, national and international – to correct its orientation whenever necessary. For politics and the economy ought to include the exercise of the virtue of prudence.”[11]

For a diplomacy of mercy

Via the unique route I have attempted to illustrate, Pope Francis invites us to defeat indifference by calling upon us to raise our eyes and reflect on the way of God, on his way of relating concretely to humanity as we see it for ourselves in the Bible. It is clear in the Genesis story of Adam’s sin and Cain’s murder of Abel: it is the mystery of broken brotherhood (Genesis 9:4-10).

We return at this point to the two questions from which we started: “Adam, where are you?” and “Cain, where is your brother?” In the story of Exodus that tells us how the people of Israel were freed from slavery, God says to Moses: “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:7-8).” And Pope Francis adds: “We should note the verbs that describe God’s intervention: he sees, hears, knows, comes down and delivers. God does not remain indifferent.”[12]

There is a profound and visceral attitude of mercy in God’s style. He observes, he knows the suffering of humans, and he takes personal responsibility for it. This brings us to the Christian mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus saw this suffering, but he did not stop there. As the pope says, “He touched people’s lives, he spoke to them, helped them and showed kindness to those in need. Not only this, but he felt strong emotions and he wept. And he worked to put an end to suffering, sorrow, misery and death.”[13]

I return therefore to the “gaze of Magellan” – or better yet, to the first steps of this pontificate. I ask myself: what is the pope demanding of our world, of the international community, and of all people of goodwill?

When he addressed members of the diplomatic corps for the first time, a few days after his election, Pope Francis chose to outline the forthcoming journey of the Church and of the Holy See’s diplomacy under the guide of the new Bishop of Rome. Three expressions are key to the current pontificate: fighting against both material and spiritual poverty; creating peace; building bridges. These are also compass points to guide our personal, social and global journey. A difficult journey if we remain trapped in the prison of our own indifference; an unmanageable journey if we believe that peace is simply a utopia; a journey that becomes possible if we accept the challenge of having faith in God and humankind, and commit to rebuilding authentic brotherhood and taking care of creation.

Certainly, the pope makes a pressing and challenging appeal, today more than ever. He asks us to be very courageous and leave behind the easy certainties we have acquired, committing to an authentic conversion of the heart, of our priorities, and of our lifestyle. Only by encountering the other can we encounter the flesh of Christ: a flesh that is often suffering, abandoned, wounded, rejected, but always capable of showing us the true face of God, who never tires of welcoming us or showing us mercy. At the spiritual center of Francis’ pontificate is the open door of mercy that the Church crossed in the year of the jubilee, seeking a future of peace for all of humankind.

[1] “Quattromila quaderni de La Civiltà Cattolica”, in Civ. Catt. 2017 I, p. 313. Available at

[2] Pope Francis, Address to the Community of La Civiltà Cattolica, Vatican, February 9, 2017.

[3] H.A. Kissinger, Diplomacy, New York, 1994.

[4] See M. Transylvanus, A. Pigafetta, Il Viaggio fatto da gli Spagniuoli a torno a’l mondo, Venice, 1536.


[6] Pope Francis, Address to the European Parliament, Strasbourg, November 25, 2014.

[7] Pope Francis, Address to the Heads of State and Government of the European Union, Vatican, March 24, 2017.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Pope Francis, Address to the Round Table of the Global Foundation, Vatican, January 14, 2017.

[12] Pope Francis, Message for the XLIX World Day of Peace, January 1, 2017.

[13] Ibid.