Gallagher: The culture of encounter and dialogue must overcome the culture of conflict

Pol Ričard Galager
Source: Print Screen/YouTube MSP Srbije

At the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis reiterated that interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for world peace and that, therefore, it is a duty for all Christians, as well as for members of other religious communities, Paul Richard Gallagher recalls, Secretary of the Holy See for Relations with States and International organizations, answering the question of whether dialogue is a strong enough tool to defeat the talk of guns.

In an exclusive conversation with this high-ranking official of the Vatican, we note that Pope Francis said in an interview for "Politika" three years ago that "conflicts are not resolved by forgetting, ignorance or erasing everything and starting from scratch, but through dialogue". That "no one matures or reaches their fullness by closing in on themselves and their beliefs" and that "it is important to remember that healthy openness never compromises identity," as Pope Francis said at the time.

Speaking about the power of dialogue, Archbishop Gallagher also says:

"I would like to mention the 'Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together', which was signed in 2019 by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. Similar texts have already been signed in the past. Among those that stand out is the final declaration of the four seminars of the Catholic-Islamic Forum, held in 2008, 2011, 2014, and 2017. On this occasion, unlike the previous ones, the declaration was not signed by the delegations, but by the Pope and the Muslim leader himself. That is why those words are of great depth, and not only because of the way they are formulated. The purpose of that document is to become a ‘guide for new generations towards a culture of mutual respect based on the understanding of great God's grace, which makes all human beings brothers'".

What is the power of the Holy See today, which maintains diplomatic relations with 176 countries, in establishing a balance in significantly shaken diplomatic relations?

I would like to briefly clarify what is meant by the term "Holy See", which should not be confused with the small territory called "Vatican City State", nor should it be simply identified with the Catholic Church, which is the community of believers in Jesus Christ, with its bishops who are in union with the bishop of Rome. Strictly speaking, the Holy See, or the Apostolic See, refers to the chair of St. Peter, therefore, to the Pope, as his successor. In its broadest canonical meaning, the Holy See refers to the Pope and the Roman Curia, as the central governing body of the Catholic Church. In terms of international relations, for centuries the Holy See has been considered a sovereign legal entity, independent of any other government or state. Therefore, the Holy See is the oldest institution operating on the international stage. It has been present and operating for many centuries, long before modern states were established, and is still universally recognized as a member of the international community. The Holy See has always been considered a sovereign and independent international actor, but one that is free from material interests (political, economic, military) and is therefore respected as an independent entity capable of participating in the mediation of disputes between conflicting parties, even between conflicting states. Today, however, as we know, international relations, especially at the multilateral level, seek not only to guarantee general security and balance but to make greater progress in mutual peacekeeping and in the management of regional and global affairs and resources, as well as in promoting universal human rights and other social and economic rights. In this context, the Holy See always acquires new and deeper importance. In fact, due to its ecclesiastical nature and thanks to its moral authority, which is universally recognized, its diplomatic participation is regularly sought to facilitate coexistence between and within nations, in close cooperation with the local hierarchy.

Today we are witnessing the war situation in Ukraine. On one side we have thirty NATO member countries along with Ukraine, and on the other side, we have the Russian Federation. Before us, therefore, is a fragment of the Third World War. Is it possible to contribute, and how, to the prevention of further war conflicts in Ukraine, but also at the world level? What is the power of the media in that mission?

When we talk about the war in Ukraine, it is true that Ukraine is supported by other NATO member states, because in that conflict it is clear that Ukraine is the victim, while the Russian Federation, which also has those who support it and its allies, the aggressor. When we talk about the contribution of journalists to the prevention of future conflicts, Pope Francis once pointed out that "journalism does not come about by choosing a profession, but it is like joining a mission, something like a doctor, who studies and works so that the evil in the world can be cured" ( Speech at the awarding of the title of Knight and Dame of the Order of the Grand Cross of Pope Pius IX to Mr. Philip Pullella and Mrs. Valentina Alazraki, November 13, 2021). The war in Ukraine and other conflicts in the world are, therefore, evil that needs to be cured. What "medicines" can journalists use, including those from your newspaper? Certainly, fake news, provocative rhetoric, and manipulation of the truth, which are all poisons, are not among them. Unfortunately, these phenomena are present in the world of journalism today more than they were in the past. Instead of curing the disease, dispelling the shadows of a closed and divided world, and building a better civilization, they make the situation even more difficult. Above all, those who participate in social communication are expected to have a sense of responsibility to convey true, correct, and free information. Furthermore, as Pope Francis said on the occasion of the 57th World Day of Social Communication, today's journalists should speak from the heart, "to foster a culture of peace in places where there is war, to open paths that enable dialogue and reconciliation in places where hatred and enmity" (Message of the Holy Father Francis for the 57th World Day of Social Communication, January 24, 2023). Therefore, in the dramatic context of the global conflict, it is urgently necessary to establish non-aggressive communication. It is essential to overcome the bad habits of quickly discrediting the opponent, and labeling the opponent with derogatory terms. We need a communication capable of dialogue, which is actively involved in the promotion of complete disarmament and dedicated to dismantling the war mentality.

The Balkans and the region that surrounds it were a place where different cultures and interests clashed, which often produced fierce conflicts, especially the Great War, but also the conflict caused by the breakup of Yugoslavia. Many have tried to drag this region into war conflicts again through the damaged relations between people of different faiths in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and now the Kosovo issue is creating tensions. European integration is the common goal of the countries of the Western Balkans. Is this the path that will extinguish the smoldering potential conflicts? How much can the Holy See contribute to the establishment and development of peace and love among peoples and the strengthening of relations between Christianity and other religions?

Regarding the Western Balkans, one can sometimes hear the expression "European powder keg", or, as Winston Churchill said, that "the Balkans produces more history than it can consume". This effectively illustrates how important this part of Europe was, and still is. The history of the Balkan countries has shown how it is possible to build a society where differences are not a burden, but an advantage. On the other hand, unfortunately, this region has also witnessed how little it takes to destroy a society of that type, which we all witnessed in the 1990s. The Holy Father visited the Balkan countries several times, expressing his closeness to the people there. Also, as Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations, I visited almost all Balkan capitals, in order to show that this region is among the priorities of the Holy See and to express the support of the Holy See on their way to European integration. I am convinced that, when talking about peace and dialogue in the Balkans, one cannot fail to mention the opportunity offered by the European path. I would like to repeat that the Holy See looks favorably on the European aspirations of the Balkan peoples, strongly supports them, and hopes that they will soon be effectively and fully realized, but also to ease the feeling of abandonment that worries the citizens, who, again, look with hope to the European Union for the sake of future growth and progress. From a religious perspective, on the other hand, the promotion of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue remains fundamental. That dimension has a special importance for the peaceful future of the Balkans, where for centuries Latin, Byzantine, and Islamic cultures met and sometimes clashed. As Pope Francis stated during his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2015, the dialogue was an essential condition for peace, therefore it was the duty of every believer and their religious leaders, who were the primary guardians of peace (see Pope Francis, Ecumenical and Interreligious Meeting, Franciscan International Student Center, June 6, 2015). It is necessary to mention the special role of the Pope's travels, whose schedule almost always includes ecumenical and interreligious meetings. Finally, there are various meetings and conferences in which the Holy See participates, which aim to promote dialogue and peace. Regarding this region, for example, last June in Koper (Slovenia), His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin participated in the Forum for Peace and Dialogue in the Balkans, together with various representatives of other confessions. The world, and also the Balkans, must invest more in the culture of encounter in order to overcome the culture of conflict, and this is a topic dear to Pope Francis. One of the important elements of the culture of encounter, along with hospitality and commitment, is dialogue, which should be sought through "mutual approach, listening, observation, mutual knowledge and understanding of the other and through finding a common point of view" (n. 198), as Pope Francis explained in encyclical "Fratelli tutti".

The Vatican and Serbia have centuries of diplomatic cooperation. The Vatican did not recognize the independence of Kosovo; The Holy See from the very beginning of the Kosovo issue tried to encourage the involved parties and help them to reach a just solution that would benefit everyone through an open, honest, and constructive dialogue. How do you assess the diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Serbia and can they be improved?

Looking back at the hundred-year tradition of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Serbia, I would like to clarify that the Holy See maintained diplomatic relations with different countries that emerged one after the other with Belgrade as the capital. In November 1919, the Holy See recognized the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, and on March 2, 1920, sent the first apostolic nuncio, H.E. Archbishop Francesco Cherubini. In the same year, the Apostolic Nunciature was opened in Belgrade. That is why it is more accurate to say that it is the centenary of the presence of the Apostolic Nunciature rather than the centenary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Serbia. In recent years, diplomatic relations between Serbia and the Holy See have been constantly strengthening, partly thanks to a large number of visits by high-ranking officials, such as the visits of the supreme representatives of the Vatican State in 2005, 2009, 2015, and 2019. Then, the visit of State Secretary Cardinal Pietro Parolin to Serbia in 2018. In 2014, my predecessor visited Serbia to sign the Agreement on Cooperation in Higher Education. In 2018, His Excellency Mr. Ivica Dacic, Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited the Vatican. In the same year, bilateral talks were held between the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia and the Undersecretary of the Section for Relations with the States of the Holy See, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs in November 2021, in Belgrade. I am very grateful for the excellent welcome and for the conversation I had with His Holiness Patriarch Porfirije, Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, in the Kovilj Monastery, to whom I conveyed the greetings of the Holy Father Francis.

Considering all these positive developments, no one should doubt that relations between the Holy See and Serbia have improved significantly.

When can we expect the visit of Pope Francis to Serbia?

As for the issue of the Pope's possible trip to Belgrade, as is known, the official invitation to the Holy Father to visit Serbia was received in the previous period and he expressed his desire to visit. However, it seems that there are still those in Serbia who think that the time for such a visit has not come yet. I would also like to add the observation that about five percent of the citizens of Serbia are Catholics and I think that they, together with their bishops, would also like to receive the Holy Father in "their homes".