Much has been said about the so-called “Francis effect” – Pope Francis’ openness, simplicity, and candour that is winning hearts and minds across the world.
But beyond the publicity, where it is having clear and tangible results is in the field of global diplomacy, according to diplomats contacted by Newsmax.
A year to the day since Pope Francis’ election, and governments have taken notice of the pontiff’s popularity with consequent effects on policy.
Francis:Pope’s Hidden Life Revealed.
“I think the right word to use must be ‘impact,” said Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, when asked about Francis’ most significant achievement. “The Holy See has always been an international player [and] Pope Francis has already, in his first year, shown this in action.”
Diplomats in Rome have freely admitted they have been busier than in previous years, reporting back to their governments Pope Francis’ concerns on a wide range of international issues. And world leaders are paying attention, keenly aware that the Holy Father’s popularity among their electorates cannot be ignored.
“You cannot have impact if no one is listening,” said Baker, “but the queues of international leaders wishing to meet the Pope show that world leaders are taking note.”
Another senior Rome diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that over the past year “we’ve seen an airing of Catholic social doctrine that we’ve never seen in our lifetime. The world is starting to think in those terms. That’s a part of the Francis effect.”
Arguably, the Pope’s most effective international intervention so far was when he called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria last September. Observers say the prayer vigil, held simultaneously in dioceses around the world, played a major role in leading to an almost immediate end to the threat of U.S.-led military action following a chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb.
Many feared a strike would have escalated the conflict. Francis’ letter to the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg was enough to make Russian President Vladimir Putin stop the proceedings and have it read out to the assembled world leaders. A high level diplomatic source recalled to Newsmax how Italy’s foreign minister told her colleagues behind closed doors on Syria that her government couldn’t “take a stand that’s in opposition to what the Pope wants.”
The rapid easing of tensions that followed was seen, especially by leading church figures in the Middle East, as a miracle. “It had an impact on thinking in chancelleries around the world, and was particularly well-received in the Muslim world,” said Baker.
A Vatican diplomat told Newsmax the Syria intervention was “very, very important and moving” although critics argue that more should have been done since then as the conflict continues and 40,000 more people have lost their lives from the time of the vigil.
Diplomats say that Pope Francis’ attention to other issues, such as the poor and the plight of refugees, has raised global consciousness about poverty and the scourge of human trafficking.
Meanwhile, his firm warnings about idolizing money, a capitalism devoid of ethics and his support for improvements to global food security, were taken to the heart of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. Major international institutions and banks are “all coming to respond to what he’s saying about the economy, finance and banking,” said a senior diplomat in Rome.
Part of the reason, according to Vatican officials, is that when the Pope receives world leaders, they see that he follows the situation closely and that issues such as poverty, refugees, and the economy are important to him. Because of this, say officials, these criteria are gradually entering the international political arena; these gestures and his closeness to the people are having an important impact on politics and diplomacy.
It is a sentiment backed up by senior diplomats in Rome. “He’s showing world governments that things can be done about the oppressed and the persecuted, and that there are ways towards peace and cooperation in the world,” said one. “He has reaffirmed the role of the diplomatic missions to the Holy See, seeing them as part of the world mission of the church.”
Although Benedict XVI’s pontificate was highly successful in terms of foreign affairs, for some observers, such as Massimo Franco, author of “Once Upon a Time, There was a Vatican,” Vatican diplomacy had been languishing since the end of the Cold War and gradually losing its focus. Many criticized poor levels of communication between the Holy See and embassies accredited to the Holy See, but that’s changing.
Under Francis, Franco noted, “a change, a new dynamic approach” is underway, and that was most visible during the Syria crisis. He feels it will “take time to rebuild the Vatican presence on the world stage” but, like others, he believes Pope Francis is helping to achieve it, with the assistance of his secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, a seasoned Holy See diplomat who “seems the right person to do the job.”
For another senior Rome diplomat, that rehabilitation is well underway. “The traditional mission of the Holy See, to bring about peace and concord between peoples, has been reaffirmed by the Pope,” he said.
Francis:Pope’s Hidden Life Revealed.
Looking ahead, diplomats in Rome see further progress, especially when Francis visits the Holy Land and South Korea later this year. To these areas of conflict and tension, many will be hoping the impact of the “Francis effect” will lead to long desired diplomatic breakthroughs.
The September miracle over Syria and other dividends in diplomacy from the “Francis effect” may be just the start.
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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