Friday, 14 March 2008

Glendon: Pope's Visit Stateside Highly Anticipated

By Carrie Gress

ROME, MARCH 13, 2008 - As anticipation increases on both sides of the Atlantic, people can expect to be given much food for thought when Benedict XVI visits the United States, says U.S. Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon.

In this interview with ZENIT, Ambassador Glendon, the newly appointed U.S. envoy to the Holy See, discusses the post she began in February, and her thoughts on the Holy Father's upcoming April 15-20 visit to Washington, D.C. and New York.

Q: After representing the Vatican for so many years, what is it like being on other the side, so to speak, representing the United States to the Holy See?

Ambassador Glendon: Most of the work I have done over the years as a lay volunteer for the Holy See has been academic rather than representational -- it has involved using my background in law and social science to prepare studies and papers for the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the Pontifical Council for the Laity. So the big change for me will be the transition from academic life to public life.

By coincidence, at the very moment when I received the call asking me if I would become the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, I was in the midst of writing a book, "The Forum and the Tower," about personages in history, such as Plato, Edmund Burke and Max Weber, who were torn between philosophy and politics.

It is my hope that my long experience in working with officials of the Holy See will serve me well as I take on the responsibility of building on what is already a strong relationship between the United States and the Holy See.

Q: Having been a here a few weeks, but also expecting a short tenure as ambassador, what are the main priorities you would like to focus your work on over the next year?

Ambassador Glendon: The approaching 25th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See in January of next year coincides with the 60th anniversaries of two documents that embody the common commitment of the United States and Holy See to the protection of human dignity: the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" and the "Genocide Convention."

The embassy staff, a terrifically talented and energetic group, and I are already hard at work preparing a series of four one-day forums that will commemorate these anniversaries.

The first will be in May at Regina Apostolorum university and will be entitled "Latin America and the International Human Rights Project: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow." We have tentative commitments from an exciting array of speakers including the President of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Professor Paolo Carozza, and the son of the brilliant young Cuban diplomat Guy Perez Cisneros, who was the principal leader of the Latin American and Caribbean delegations to the U.N. Founding conference in 1945.

The others will be in the fall and winter closer to the actual anniversaries of the "Universal Declaration on Human Rights" and the "Genocide Convention," Dec. 10 and 11, respectively. The first will be entitled "For Everyone, Everywhere" and will be devoted to the dilemmas of universality of human rights in the world characterized by cultural and religious diversity. The next will commemorate the "Genocide Convention," and it is likely that in that conference we will invite people to reflect on the notion of lives deemed "unworthy to live" a pernicious notion that keeps resurfacing in new forms.

The fourth conference probably will be in January 2009, near the 25th anniversary of the actual formalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See, and will serve as a celebration of that relationship, which began informally 230 years ago, and from its beginning has had the aim of championing and protecting human dignity and freedom

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges of your new position?

Ambassador Glendon: Certainly one of the major challenges for all U.S. ambassadors these days is to provide the best possible information about American values and policies so as to counter misunderstandings and negative stereotypes about our country and its people.

For me in particular, another challenge is the regular rotation of foreign service officers from one post to another. There will be some shifts in personnel here at the embassy in the next few months. This is quite different from the long-term time frames that one encounters in the academic world and in the Vatican.

Q: ZENIT has spoken with previous ambassadors about the links between U.S. policies and the values of the Holy See. What do you see as some of the major areas of overlap? Are there areas in particular that you would like to see greater unity?

Ambassador Glendon: There is already great unity in our shared commitments to protect human dignity, to promote human rights, especially religious freedom, to strengthen the global moral consensus against terrorism, and against the misuse of religion as a pretext for terrorist violence, to promote dialogue among diverse faiths and cultures, to combat trafficking in persons, and to search for creative ways to improve the lives of those suffering from poverty, hunger and disease.

As to the second question, after only two weeks it is a bit early to say, but it is heartening to see how, over the past 25 years, the range of common concerns has continually expanded. It is my hope to build on the strong relationship established by my distinguished predecessors.

Q: What are your thoughts on Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to the United States and what do think some of the main themes of his trip will be?

Ambassador Glendon: Anticipation is running high on both sides of the Atlantic. The Pope said during my credentials ceremony that he was looking forward to his trip to the United States, and from his address on that occasion one can see that he is very interested in the way that faith and reason have been intertwined in our democratic experiment.

We also know from his writing is that he is very intrigued by certain contrasts between America and Europe, and certain distinctive features of American culture. He seems intrigued by our version of the church-state relationship and how that seems to be compatible with great religious vitality.

As for the themes he may address, that is the question all of us are asking. Everyone is waiting and intensely speculating. I think all one can say is that whatever themes he chooses to emphasize, there will be much food for thought from this brilliant scholar who has stepped so smoothly into the role of a spiritual leader whose moral voice resonates throughout the world.

I would not be surprised if -- like Tocqueville in his reflections on "Democracy in America" -- the Pope's speeches in the United States contained much material that is also addressed to Europe.

Q: Many Americans, like the rest of the world, had such a devotion to Pope John Paul II. What do you think the reception of Benedict XVI will be?

Ambassador Glendon: One can speculate based on the way that Pope Benedict has been received by audiences that are getting to know him for the first time here in Italy and in other countries.

From the moment he delivered the homily at Pope John Paul II's funeral -- and I was there that day -- people the world over were moved and astonished by his pastoral eloquence. They saw a man most had known, mainly through his writings, as a very scholarly person. But on that day and since then, we have come to know him as a "humble shepherd," as he has called himself, and a wise teacher who can speak clearly and profoundly yet in ways that are accessible to everyone.