‘Prophet’ on the world stage

Pope’s U.N. ‘ambassador’ visits Benedictine
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by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

ATCHISON – The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was reputed to have scoffed at the Holy Father, asking, “How many divisions does the pope have?”

He had none then, of course, and he has none now.

But, with Soviet communism moldering on the ash heap of history, the pope still has a voice. And at the United Nations, that voice is Archbishop Celestino Migliore.

Archbishop Migliore is the apostolic nuncio, or permanent observer of the Holy See, to the United Nations. And on Feb. 18, he traveled to Benedictine College in Atchison to address that very topic: “The Role of the Catholic Church in the United Nations.”

The archbishop has rarely strayed from the East Coast during his six years as the Holy See’s top diplomat at the U.N., but he made a special trip to Benedictine College, thanks to the enterprise of Andrew Morris.

Morris, now a graduate student pursing a master’s of business administration degree at Benedictine, got the idea to invite the U.N. nuncio in 2007.

Morris was an undergraduate majoring in international business when he and another student, both members of the Student International Business Council, attended a seminar at the Vatican’s New York mission.

“It was while I was out there meeting with different people within the mission itself that I realized this was a great opportunity for Benedictine College and SIBC to use these contacts,” said Morris.

Morris decided he would invite Archbishop Migliore to Kansas.

“I didn’t ask him at that time,” said Morris. “He celebrated Mass, and we had a social hour. I met him and talked to him, but we weren’t at that point discussing the logistics of him coming to the campus.”

When he returned to Benedictine, Morris pitched his idea to Benedictine president Stephen Minnis. The college then worked with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann to issue a formal invitation.

Although Archbishop Migliore’s tour of the college was a chilly one, his reception was anything but. He started his visit with Minnis and members of his cabinet, followed by lunch in the cafeteria, where students treated him to a rousing rendition of the Raven fight song.

After lunch, two students showed him around the campus, and afterward, the nuncio held a private question-and-answer session with the Benedictine faculty and consultants of the archdiocesan parish ministry offices.

After celebrating Mass in the abbey church, the archbishop had dinner with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann; Bishop Michael Jackels of the Diocese of Wichita; Bishop Paul Coakley of the Diocese of Salina; members of the Kansas Catholic Conference; Abbot Barnabas Senecal, OSB, of the abbey; Sister Anne Shepherd, OSB, of Mount St. Scholastica; and others. The bishops had just come from Topeka, where they had visited members of the Kansas Legislature.

After dinner, Archbishop Naumann was honored by the college with the Benedictine Heritage Award. Then, the assembled clerics blessed a stone for a new grotto on campus; it was cut from the same quarry used for the abbey foundation.

Archbishop Migliore then presented his address on role of the church at the U.N. to more than 400 people in the O’Malley-McAllister Auditorium in the Student Union.

The Holy See is not a full member of the United Nations, the nuncio explained, but has permanent observer status. As such, it has no vote and cannot nominate candidates for certain U.N. offices.

The U.N. nuncio can go to all meetings, however, take the floor of the General Assembly at any time, circulate position papers, and negotiate conventions and treaties.

Not having a vote means the Holy See can fulfill its role as “prophet” on the world stage.

“Max Weber, the great sociologist in the last century, used to say societies are based on two key institutions: kings and prophets,” said Archbishop Migliore.

“Kings are the political and civil authorities that have to make decisions, however difficult they are,” he continued. “The prophets are those who have to [remind] the people, including the king, of those values without which society would fall apart.”

In the U.N., the “kings” are the countries, who are voting members. The permanent observers are the “prophets.”

As a “prophet,” the Holy See does not use the language of religion, but rather “right reason illuminated by revelation, the word of God” and human experience. Even so, some nations challenge “reason” as just a Western cultural construct.

“We are in a world culturally fragmented,” said the nuncio. “We cannot even have a common basis for what is reason.”

The archbishop said there were three reasons why the Holy See maintains a U.N. mission: to provide church input to the international community on current issues; to help build consensus; and to “give a voice to those who have no voice.”

The church’s input, explained the nuncio, reflects its social teaching, translated from its religious doctrine.

Principles from foundational U.N. documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are really Gospel-based, he said, and the product of Catholic social thought. These include “the inherent dignity of the human person,” and the understanding that “the family is the natural unit of human society.”

And despite the Vatican’s lack of temporal power, said the nuncio, he can sometimes accomplish things that others cannot. In fact, the other ambassadors, who are sometimes forced by their governments to vote for things that they do not agree with, want the Holy See to continue being “prophetic.”

Archbishop Migliore recalled one case, in particular, in which he saw a worthy initiative scuttled by selfish politics.

“It was quite shameful, but it was more than a consolation that many delegates felt ashamed of the games played on the skin of the most vulnerable,” said the archbishop.

“They said, ‘You will lose, but keep speaking,’” he said.

“[They said] ‘Keep telling us things, because we need someone who speaks the voice of reason and common sense.’”

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