Archives > The Top Ten People of 2006: #3 & #4
Every January Inside the Vatican names top ten "People of the Year." This Newsflash features 2006's number 3 and 4. We will be updating you each day with two new profiles from our "Top 10" for 2006.
Top Ten People of 2006: #3 & #4
PIETRO PAROLIN #3
BY DR. ROBERT MOYNIHAN
The Vatican’s diplomatic service, it is sometimes said, is the most experienced and capable in the world. This may be an exaggeration, but many ambassadors in Rome do judge the quality of their Vatican counterparts highly. Who are these diplomats?
We all know the key names. After the Pope, there is the secretary of state, now Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and the "foreign minister," now Archbishop Dominique Mamberti. But there are other effective workers hidden from public view. Monsignor Pietro Parolin is one of them.
Photo: In Vatican City on May 28, 2004, the Holy See ratified an accord with Slovenia, represented by Prime Minister Anton Rop. From left to right, Monsignor Parolin, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, then the Vatican’s "foreign minister," and the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano (Photo Grzegorz Galaka)
When the Pope met with Muslim leaders on September 25, Parolin was there. When the Pope met with Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert December 13, Parolin was there. When there were tensions in Vatican relations with Vietnam and North Korea, Parolin traveled to those countries on delicate diplomatic missions. In short, whether in Rome or abroad, Parolin has in recent years been one of the Church’s most tireless and effective diplomats. And, almost always, out of the headlines. And that is why we honor him publicly here, as one of our "Top Ten" people of 2006.
Parolin was born in 1955 in Schiavon, in Vicenza province, in the north of Italy. After his ordination, he took up graduate studies in canon law and diplomacy. He entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service in 1986 at the age of 31, and has served the Holy See as a diplomat for 20 years, in the nunciatures of Nigeria and Mexico, and in Rome as country director for Spain, Andorra, Italy, San Marino and concordat issues at the Vatican’s foreign ministry. He speaks Italian, English, French, and Spanish. In 2002, Parolin was appointed the Holy See’s undersecretary for relations with states, the #3 position in the Vatican’s diplomatic service (see photograph above.)
If one watches the news closely, one can catch glimpses of Parolin at work. In 2005, at a symposium on "21st Century Slavery - The Human Rights Dimension to Trafficking in Human Beings" following up on a May 15-16, 2002 Rome conference on the topic co-sponsored by the US embassy to the Holy See and Rome’s Gregorian University, Parolin gave an eloquent address entitled "A Call to Action: Joining the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons." He said: "We are pleased to have today’s opportunity to again tackle the problem of trafficking in persons... The fundamental reference in this sphere is the dignity of the individual, a dignity that comes directly from God, the creator of all, man being created in His image, something that no one can take away. This dignity is trodden upon and denied when the person is subjected to humiliation, abduction, deceit, fraud, coercion and violence, even concealed murder. Women and children and, in general, all those living in a state of poverty, can become the victims of a trade causing wounds to the body and to the spirit that do not close."
Parolin has also been at the forefront of Vatican efforts to approve and implement the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (The Holy See ratified the treaty on July 18, 2001.) Addressing the International Atomic Energy Agency on September 18, 2006, at its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, Parolin referred to this treaty as "the basis to pursue nuclear disarmament and an important element for further development of nuclear energy applications for peaceful purposes." He said: "Since this treaty is the only multilateral legal instrument currently available, intended to bring about a nuclear weapons-free world, it must not be allowed to be weakened. Humanity deserves no less than the full cooperation of all states in this important matter."
Concerning recent developments in international negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, the Vatican official reaffirmed "that the present difficulties can and must be overcome through diplomatic channels, making use of all the means that diplomacy has at its disposal and considers necessary to eliminate all the elements which objectively impede mutual trust."
On a lighter note, Parolin achieved a certain notoriety during 2006 via the internet as a possible future Pope. A note about the papal prophecies of the medieval Abbot Malachy posted on the Wikipedia website speculated that Parolin might be the "Petrus Romanus" ("Peter the Roman") whom Abbot Malachy predicts will be the last Pope before the end of the world. The Wikipedia entry reads: "Because no number is assigned to Petrus Romanus (Malachy’s 112th "Pope"), it is possible that (Peter the Roman) may take on the role of the Pope without putting on the robe of the Pope. Under this possible scenario, a catastrophe at the Vatican (perhaps a terrorist attack) could wipe out the top leadership of the Church during either a consistory or a conclave of the College of Cardinals. As a result, with no viable College surviving to elect a new pontiff, this particular scenario would have a surviving official of the Roman Curia succeeding to the top leadership of the Church but not as Pope. Since he would not rise to the papacy itself but instead would become, in effect, the top caretaker of the Church, he would not need to assume a new papal name such as Peter; thus he would keep the name he has had since his birth in Italy, and that name already would be Peter (or, in Italian, Pietro). Currently (that is, as of March 2006) there is only one such candidate for Petrus Romanus within the Roman Curia. His name is Pietro Parolin..."
One internet poster summarized his view of this prediction with these words: "The Prophecies of St. Malachy are a large dose of Irish baloney." Another noted: "In the case of the College of Cardinals going poof, the election of a new Pope would devolve to the remaining Roman clergy, who hold the power of election by natural right. No caretakers needed."
All kidding aside, we are proud to honor Monsignor Parolin this year for his patient work on behalf of international peace.
PÉTER ERDÖ #4
BY WLODZIMIERZ REDZIOCH
Who is the foremost Catholic leader in Europe today? In October, the plenary assembly of the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of Europe, which includes 34 separate conferences, met in St. Petersburg, Russia, to elect new officers for the next five years (2006-2011). They chose Péter Cardinal Erdö, archbishop of Budapest and primate of Hungary, as the new president of the European bishops’ conferences. We felt we could do no less than echo their choice by honoring Erdö as one of our "Top Ten" people of 2006. Vladimiro Redzioch interviewed him just after his election exclusively for Inside the Vatican.
Photo: Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdö, president of the Catholic bishops of Europe
WLODZIMIERZ REDZIOCH: Isn’t it rather unusual that Europe’s Catholic bishops met for their plenary assembly in Russia?
PÉTER CARDINAL ERDÖ: As a young priest in Communist Hungary, I never would have imagined coming to Russia to take part in a plenary assembly of European bishops. Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of the largest cities of the ex-Soviet Union is home to a very active and rapidly-growing Catholic community.
REDZIOCH: What were the results of your discussions?
ERDÖ: We held the assembly in the Seminary of St. Petersburg, so we were in a setting where it’s easy to see the extreme importance of a priest’s role and his work. I’m convinced that ex-Communist Europe has more to say on the subject of priestly vocations than the rest of our continent. It’s become clear here that the content of theological teaching and therefore the development of theological faculties and the building of seminaries is of the utmost importance.
While in Russia, I was also very impressed by the presence of religious movements and small religious communities which had come from all parts of Europe.
Then, marriage and families. In contemporary Europe marriage and families are in a deep crisis. It is important not only to defend but to present marriage and the family in an attractive and convincing way to all Christians. In this respect, we can accomplish a great deal if we collaborate with the Orthodox Churches.
REDZIOCH: In his message to the gathering, Benedict XVI expressed the hope that "this meeting would encourage the witness and the contribution of the Catholic Church and, in collaboration with the other Christian Churches, would present a common goal for the benefit of all of Europe." What contribution was His Holiness referring to?
ERDÖ: The transmission of the faith. We talked about catechisms, the teaching of religion, and how the various Christian communities can collaborate in transmitting the faith, while still respecting the identity of each Church.
REDZIOCH: Doesn’t the problem arise that state laws and fundamental Christian values are frequently in conflict?
ERDÖ: Yes. It’s true that from the Council of Europe -- not to be confused with the European Union -- we receive worrisome signals. Frequently the Council’s recommendations try to introduce new "fundamental rights" that have nothing to do with human rights or the classic list of fundamental rights.
REDZIOCH: My Catholic friends in Russia often used to tell me that they felt a bit "abandoned" by the rest of the Church. Did you discuss this problem?
ERDÖ: Concerning financial support, there’s been a long tradition of generosity of the Western Churches towards those of Eastern Europe. But today there’s also a kind of cultural and pastoral support as well. We can’t overlook the presence and help of Western priests and nuns in Russia. The meeting of so many heads of Catholic bishops’ conferences is also a definite comfort to the Catholic community in Russia. Moreover, as I said before, this community isn’t as small as it seemed. For example, before the Russian Revolution in 1917, about 7 percent of the population in St. Petersburg was Catholic. Today, once again lots of people are rejoining the Catholic Church.
The participants at the assembly celebrated Mass in the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, built during the reign of Catherine the Great. It’s the oldest parish in St. Petersburg. The church was packed with young people. We met a very dynamic Catholic community. This is a sign of hope.
REDZIOCH: Hungary joined the European Union in 2004. Is being part of Europe a challenge?
ERDÖ: We Hungarians can offer Europe our patrimony of values, memories, and knowledge. Unfortunately, a lot of times we have the impression that some Western Europeans are not ready to accept these gifts, which are not materialistic. Western Europeans must not forget that in former Communist countries the populations were enslaved and taken advantage of for 40 years and that all their personal belongings were nationalized. Western Europeans, who remained free, must take into account that they owe a moral debt to these populations.
REDZIOCH: You became a priest at the same time as Karol Wojtyla became Pope. Who was John Paul II for you?
ERDÖ: He was a great and charismatic Pope. He knew how to use the mass media. He was a great pastor. I respected and admired him immensely because he consecrated me bishop. From him I learned how to have the courage of my convictions, not to offend anyone, and not to be ashamed of sufferings and physical weakness in public.
REDZIOCH: As a theologian you also knew Cardinal Ratzinger. What do you think of Pope Benedict XVI?
ERDÖ: Again, as I’ve already said, he knows how to listen to others. He observes, is a good listener and only afterwards makes wise and well thought-out comments. I know this from personal experience.
Top Ten People: #5 & #6
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