Building bridges between the Holy See and world

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, who has spent 26 years in the Vatican's diplomatic service, has been the Holy See's apostolic nuncio and permanent observer to the United Nations since 2001.

In that role, he represents the Holy See in the international debate on current issues, helps build consensus among member nations in the defense of human rights and argues for grass-roots Catholic Church interests on humanitarian issues.

He has no vote, but has the right to speak from the floor and provide an ethical perspective to worldly concerns. One such recent concern has been the proliferation of nuclear arms.

Our Sunday Visitor recently met with Archbishop Migliore to discuss the Holy See's positions on topics such as immigration, globalization and relations with Muslim nations.

Our Sunday Visitor: Realizing that immigration currently is a political issue in the United States, how does the Holy See apply the Church teaching regarding immigration at the United Nations?

Archbishop Celestino Migliore: Christian social tradition recognizes the grave decisions facing the governments in this regard, and so the Holy See at the United Nations has intervened and contributed to this debate, remembering those values of solidarity and human justice without which society would simply disintegrate.

For example, while the normative framework affecting international migrants is found in a number of international law provisions, in areas such as the movement of people for the purpose of family reunion, the issue of dual nationality and the placement of migrant workers, the framework has lagged behind the changing migration realities on the ground.

Although the provisions of international human rights law apply in principle to all human beings without discrimination and oblige states to ensure the enjoyment of the declared rights by "all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction," several gaps and ambiguities weaken recognition of and access to migrants' rights. The lack of specificity regarding the migrants' entitlement to these fundamental rights is also reflected in national legislations.

The Holy See encourages and support states, regional bodies and relevant international organizations to examine the potential for the development of common understandings on issues not covered by current legal frameworks.

The U.N. Convention on All Migrant Workers and their Families, with some 20 ratifications so far, has to some extent responded to these deficiencies. But the limitations of the convention are also clear: It explicitly excludes from its scope a number of important groups of migrants and fails to cover explicitly situations of potential human-rights abuses. Among those outside the scope of the convention are refugees and stateless persons, investors, students and trainees, seafarers and workers on offshore installations.

OSV: The Holy See has found common ground with some Islamic states in matters of abortion and other moral questions. In other settings, Church leaders have been warm in contacts with Muslim figures. Many Catholics complain that their Church is willing to be very friendly to Muslims, and even encourage the building of mosques in traditionally Christian communities, but the gesture is not returned. For example, a mosque exists in Rome, but no church is allowed in Riyadh. How reciprocal and solid is this common ground between Catholics and Muslims?

Archbishop Migliore: Pope Benedict XVI, in his encounter with Islamic leaders last year in Cologne, pointed out the recognition of the centrality of the person as a common basis for understanding, one which enables us to move beyond cultural conflicts and which neutralizes the disruptive power of ideologies. And it is precisely on this ground that recently, in receiving ambassadors from countries with a Muslim majority, the pope insisted that the practice of the religion a person has freely chosen be guaranteed to each one.

Reciprocity is possible only when and where people are convinced of and ready to respect the human dignity of every human being. This concept is also the precondition for any encounter, cooperation and dialogue. Our mutual relations have to develop on this precise point.

OSV: Critics of U.S. international economic policy say "globalization" often is exploitative and oppressive, that U.S. investment in effect subjugates and abuses persons in countries outside the country. Does globalization, as it is understood in current economic realities, ever provide benefits or opportunities?

Archbishop Migliore: One need not be a rocket scientist to see the benefits and opportunities produced by the economic globalization. At stake is not production, but rather access to benefits and opportunities.

Globalization in the United States, just as anywhere else, goes forth with its own iron logic -but it lacks a common ethic, something which the world's nations and civil society must supply day by day.

OSV: In May, you said religion suddenly had become an important concern at the United Nations. Is this an opportunity for the Catholic Church in its mission of evangelization and of building an environment of respect for people and for human life in the world?

Archbishop Migliore: For years, religion was taboo at the United Nations As a matter of fact, the U.N. Charter does not mention religion. Its goals are peace and well-being for all, to be attained by means of cooperation and international law.

All of a sudden, in these last years, religion has erupted on the scene at the United Nations.We speak much of encounter or even dialogue among religions and civilizations.

I think we have to make sure that we make good use of this new interest. By that I mean religion has the greatest potential for being a part of the solution when it is treated as such.

What we must do, I think, is threefold.

First, to allow or even encourage religion and religions to join the wide spectrum of agents of peace and builders of peaceful coexistence.

Second, to allow them and encourage them to give this important contribution in their own terms - that is, religions are called to create, support and promote the precondition of every encounter, every dialogue, and of every understanding of pluralism and cultural difference. That precondition is the dignity of the human person.

Third, we have to avoid undue and dangerous interferences. In fact, there is a particular type of interreligious dialogue where religious representatives and their constituents engage in discussion on the theological and spiritual tenets of their respective religions and exchange positive experiences with a view to promoting mutual understanding mud respect among all.

This type of interreligious dialogue requires that it be conducted in a full climate of faith and in a spirit of dependence on God that is characteristic of many religious beliefs. In a word, it has to be engaged in by believers whose primary interest is in fomenting good personal and communal relations with God, and also international coexistence.

Now, this type of interreligious dialogue does not appear to be part of any international organization's charter, and is therefore better left to religious experts and appropriate representatives of religions.

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is the associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor.