The permanent diplomatic mission of the Kingdom of Spain to the Holy See was established in 1480, and is therefore the oldest in the world still in existence.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope’s Secretary of State, presided over a Mass this past October 12 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the Spanish Embassy in the Vatican, the oldest embassy in the world.
The Spanish Embassy still sits today in the Monaldeschi Palace, also known as the Palace of Spain (Palazzo di Spagna). Until 1622, the Spanish ambassador did not have a permanent residence. He chose to establish it on a square located in the heart of Rome which, in homage, was later baptized Spain Square, Piazza di Spagna. The Square is today a tourist hotspot.
Cardinal Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, celebrated the Eucharist on Spain’s National Day under the gilded coffered ceiling of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major – the gold given by the “Very Catholic” (muy católicas majestades) sovereigns to the Spanish Pope Alexander VI. In the presence of members of the diplomatic corps, the cardinal paid tribute to the pioneering political decision of the kings of Spain, which inaugurated the rich diplomatic history of the Holy See. The permanent diplomatic mission of the Kingdom of Spain to the Holy See was established in 1480 – and is therefore the oldest in the world still in existence. Today, 183 states maintain diplomatic relations with the Vatican, the smallest state in the world.
Spain and secularization
Cardinal Parolin, Pope Francis’ “right arm,” paid tribute to the ancient Spanish Christian tradition, but also highlighted the challenges of secularization.
The Cardinal recalled the long history of Spanish Christianity, remembered every October 12 on the feast of the Marian visitation of the Virgin of the Pillar to the Apostle James, evangelizer of the Iberian Peninsula, in the year 40 in Zaragoza.
October 12, he recalled, is also a key date for the Spanish-speaking world, since it is the date on which Christopher Columbus arrived in America in 1492. This date is commemorated in many other countries around the world and is also celebrated in the Americas as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
In his homily, Cardinal Parolin highlighted the process of generalized secularization that has hit Spain in recent decades. “Spain, like all European countries, is a plural reality, where many no longer recognize themselves in Christianity,” he conceded. Calling for mutual respect and dialogue between believers and non-believers, he gave Spain the goal of building “a peaceful homeland, attentive to the common good, respectful of religious freedom and open to the world.”
Parolin also wondered if it is still possible, as is traditionally done on every October 12, to ask for faith, hope and charity for all of Spain. “If, on the one hand, this [process of secularization] saddens us,” the Secretary of State said, “on the other hand, it pushes us to be credible witnesses of our faith.”
The cardinal also called for prayers “for all Spaniards, without offending anyone,” and described faith as an “openness to the transcendent dimension of life and to spiritual values.” Hope, the Italian cardinal continued, can be conceived of “as a tension towards a better world and as a struggle to achieve it.” Finally, he said it was possible to implore God for charity “as a solidarity towards the neediest and the most vulnerable.”