Vatican envoys risk their lives to end 'World War III,' archbishop says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan

By Robert Duncan

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Even in the midst of bombings, Vatican
ambassadors stay put, risking their lives while working to end what Pope
Francis has termed a “piecemeal” World War III, said the Vatican
minister of foreign affairs.

“Let’s not be kidding ourselves about what the stakes are
here: If we are going to bring peace, if we are going to reconcile nations, if
we are going to secure countries and communities, particularly minorities,
particularly people who are persecuted, we are going to have to make an
unprecedented effort,” Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher told Catholic News Service
Feb. 25.

Archbishop Gallagher, whose formal title is secretary for
relations with states, oversees Vatican diplomatic efforts to “know what is
going on in the world, understand it and interpret it” in order to advise the
pope and others in the Roman Curia, the church’s central administration.

Speaking specifically of the crisis in Syria and Iraq, where
so-called Islamic State militants have captured large swaths of territory and
driven out tens of thousands of Christians and members of other minority
groups, Archbishop Gallagher said he is hopeful for a resolution of the

“We hope that the negotiations that have begun will bear
fruit, that there will be in these coming days a cessation of hostilities (and)
the creation of humanitarian corridors,” to get aid to suffering people, he

The United States, Russia and other countries hosted peace
talks in Munich that led to the announcement Feb. 12 of a cessation
of hostilities between government and rebel troops in Syria; military action
against the Islamic State militants was expected to continue.

Archbishop Gallagher said the Vatican and its diplomats are
working with people on the ground to foster interreligious dialogue in the
region as part of the peacemaking effort.

“We are not in dialogue with Daesh,” as Islamic
State is sometimes called, Archbishop Gallagher said. “When I say
interreligious dialogue, I mean bringing the various Christians and other religious
traditions” together to harness their moral resources to face the
suffering that comes from “the death and destruction of their

“Unfortunately, it’s true that (with) the extremists,
particularly extremists who are prepared to embrace violence and terrorism, one
is completely at a loss to say what one can do with such people,” he said.

Nevertheless, the archbishop stressed that “there will be an
end to this conflict in Syria. It will take a lot of goodwill, a lot of
sacrifice on the part many of the actors, but we have to bring it about. It
must happen.”

Pope Francis has earned a reputation for taking risks with
his own safety, for example, when in November he traveled to the Central
African Republic, an active war zone. The pope’s bold example has motivated
church diplomats in perilous situations abroad to go and do likewise, the
archbishop said.

“From the top, that example is being given,” Archbishop
Gallagher said. Knowing the pope willingly puts his life in danger “inspires
the rest of us to go the extra mile with him as well,” he said.

A case in point is Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Vatican
nuncio in war-torn Syria, Archbishop Gallagher said.

Archbishop Zenari, “throughout the whole of this conflict,
has remained at his post and has made a very significant contribution” to the
peacemaking effort that is underway, he said.

“If you have convictions and if you have, above all, faith,
you are prepared to take risks,” the archbishop said.

Contrasting the Vatican foreign service with NGOs and
humanitarian missions, Archbishop Gallagher said that Vatican diplomats stay with
their assigned communities throughout the most tragic circumstances.

“Consistently, diplomats of the Holy See, we remain. We are
in for the long haul. We don’t give up easily,” he said.

While Vatican diplomats are free to leave if they are in
danger, the archbishop said, among them “we see a great deal of dedication and
commitment and self-sacrifice.”

Archbishop Gallagher is careful to point out that ending the
turmoil in the Middle East and other parts of the globe requires the
participation not only of diplomats, but also of ordinary people.

“It’s something in which we’ve all got to be engaged,” he

“Whether it’s a question of awareness,” the archbishop said,
or “for the Christian and religious people, whether we get on our knees and we
beg God for peace, and encourage our politicians to negotiate,” everyone must
make an “extraordinary effort” to bring about world peace.

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