.- Pope Benedict XVI will no longer give a speech to new foreign ambassadors to the Holy See as has been is custom up until now, but he will continue to meet them personally when they are appointed.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., explained the changes to the media Dec. 15. He said the move was being made for “reasons of simplicity and consistency with current diplomatic practice,” and that it should not be seen as a reflection of the 84-year-old Pope’s health.
It is diplomatic protocol for new ambassadors to submit a formal “letter of credence” to the head of state asking for diplomatic accreditation. It is at these ceremonies that speeches are sometimes exchanged.
Fr. Lombardi explained that the practice of the Pope addressing new ambassadors is a recent innovation that “did not exist as such, apart from a few exceptional occasions, such as during Second World War,” until the pontificate of Pope Paul VI 1965-78.
Prior to Pope Paul VI, said Fr. Lombardi, these speeches “were written texts that were exchanged and then published, but were not actually pronounced.” This is still the custom in many countries, he said, describing the Vatican practice as “a peculiarity of the Holy See in recent years.”
He also observed that under Pope Paul VI there were “about 90” ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, whereas “today there are about 180, almost twice that.”
What is essential, he said, is for the new ambassador to meet the Pope in person and present his letters of credence, so that the two are known to each other.
Papal speeches to ambassadors often give the pontiff an opportunity to address the people of a particular nation. Fr. Lombardi said that will still be done in the future “with specific messages for certain occasions or in circumstances of particular importance,” such as national holidays or major anniversaries.
In fact, Pope Benedict met with 11 new non-resident ambassadors to the Holy See today. He addressed them collectively, which Fr. Lombardi said would be less likely to happen if they were maintaining a mission in Rome. For resident ambassadors, the Pope would most likely meet with them one-on-one, the Vatican spokesman explained.
In his remarks to the new diplomats, the Pope stressed the need for international solidarity.
“We are all responsible for one another,” he told the group gathered in the Apostolic Palace, “therefore it is important to maintain a positive vision of solidarity because it is the driving force of integral human development.” This solidarity, he said, was also “inter-generational,” having its roots in the family.
Today’s changes to ambassadorial audiences with the Pope come at the end of a year in which Pope Benedict also replaced one-on-one meetings with individual bishops on “ad limina” visits to Rome with more prolonged group discussions.