Is Russia next?
After more than 50 years of a break in diplomatic relations and economic sanctions between the US and Cuba, on December 17 a breakthrough was announced in which Pope Francis and Vatican diplomacy played a leading role. Aleteia asked Archbishop Antonio Mennini, Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain and former Nuncio to Russia, to comment on yesterday’s announcement.
What can you tell us about this surprise turn in relations between the US and Cuba?
It is an historical, epochal event which reopens diplomatic relations between the two countries for the benefit not only of the people but also of refugees and political prisoners. It will certainly have repercussions for the freedom of the Church. This great gesture of relaxation may be a precursor to similar initiatives with other countries.
What do you have in mind?
Russia, and the US sanctions against this country following the Ukrainian crisis. Ukraine can play a pivotal role between Russia and the West by retaining its autonomy. Russian fears also need to be understood, although the errors should not be justified. It is said that sanctions should not affect the population, but in fact today the Russian people are experiencing great difficulty. I appreciated the remarks of Italian Prime Minister, President Matteo Renzi yesterday. He emphasized that foreign policy cannot be accomplished through sanctions and, at the same time, that Russia has to return to the international table in order to address the major issues at hand. Russia needs the West but the West also needs Russia. Just think of the situation in the Middle East, Syria, the agreement — now in the works — on the Iranian nuclear issue. We need a long-term foreign policy and we also need to give Russia a chance to play a role.
Castro and Obama thanked Pope Francis for his mediation: Is Vatican diplomacy playing an important role in international politics?
It’s obvious. Apart from the remarkable qualifications of the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the personal diplomacy and dialogue of Pope Francis has also borne much fruit. His Latin American origins, among other things, leads him to pay particular attention to the situations involving the communities of this continent. I am sure we will see similar results in the future.
Pope Francis is not the first pope to intervene on issues involving Cuba, isn’t that right?
One cannot not recall John XXIII’s intervention in the tensions between the US and the USSR at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. The Pope, in his goodness, had great foresight: although he was mocked by his detractors, the contacts he established with [Nikita] Khrushchev saved world peace. It also saved the life of Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, Major Archbishop of Lviv of the Ukrainians. Intelligent goodness always wins out, and Pope Francis is doing the same by responding to the Gospel invitation: “Be simple as doves but wise as serpents.” The Church does not have strong forces at her disposal, but she can offer dialogue and friendship, as Bergoglio is doing, and we hope that the Lord will always help him in this task of pouring a remedy on the “war that is tearing the world apart” today.
Chiara Santomiero is a Journalist with Aleteia’s Italian edition.