The new United States ambassador to the Holy See revealed his shared concern with Pope Francis for those who are subject to poverty, as well as his optimism on U.S. relations with the Vatican.
“This is amazing in terms of his focus on the poor and generating kind of an interest for the Christian faith and defining what it is you should be doing for the poor,” Ambassador Ken Hackett said in reference to the Pope during an Oct. 25 interview with CNA.
Hackett was nominated in June by President Barack Obama to serve as the 10th ambassador to the Vatican, and was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate in an Aug. 1 evening session.
He has officially taken over the position held by Miguel H. Diaz, who left the diplomatic post in Nov. 2012 to become the Professor of Faith and Culture at the University of Dayton, Ohio.
Hackett brings to his position extensive experience in relief work, having served with the Peace Corps in Ghana from 1968 until 1971, afterwards dedicating 40 years to working with Catholic Relief Services, spending 18 of those years as the organization’s president and CEO.
During his interview, Hackett voiced excitement about the ability to work so closely with the pontiff, and stressed the importance of knowing who the poor are and “how they should interact in your life.”
He emphasized the significance of not just passing by “that individual who is homeless on the sidewalk,” but thinking seriously “about the policy and structural issues that cause people to be poor.”
The ambassador called this an area of convergence between the Vatican and the U.S. government, particularly the Obama administration, which he said is “deeply concerned about issues of poverty and justice,” as well as “marginalization.”
The U.S. government, Hackett added, is also concerned with the “persecution of minorities, particularly Christians and their constraints on freedoms of religion around the world in horrible places.”
“We see so many incidences around the world where people, not only Christians, are constrained in their ability to practice their faith and to live in peace, and the administration is deeply concerned about those issues as is the Holy Father.”
The envoy's remarks come as current U.S. religious freedom ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook is allegedly set to resign. President Obama faced criticism during his first term in office for leaving the post vacant for nearly two and a half years before Cook's appointment in June of 2011.
Hackett addressed recent tensions between the Obama administration and U.S. Bishops on the HHS mandate, which requires employers to provide and pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs and procedures in employee health insurance plans, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.
On the topic, Hackett said that “there are so many areas where the current administration, the Obama administration and the Holy See interact positively and work together on many, many issues, religious freedom being one of them.”
“There are issues where there is disagreement,” he added, “but friends can disagree and I would say that we are much more focused on where there is a positive interaction.”
“Collaboration will lead to real changes, peaceful changes, opportunities for people who are distressed.”
“I see the positive, I don't really want to focus terribly on those elements that may be important but they're not the whole picture by any means.”
In response to questions on his position amid the concern of many bishops involving the administration's stance on certain issues, Hackett said, “I don't find difficulty representing the President because there are so many positive areas of engagement, interaction, collaboration.”
He expressed his hope that despite disagreements, the United States and the Holy See can “work together on issues of migration, on the economy, on jobs,” as well as “trafficking, poverty and peace, peace in the Holy Land, a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis and the betterment of people throughout the world,” urging that “that's where we should be focusing.”
Expressing his goals for the future of his term, the ambassador revealed that he wishes “to broaden and expand the collaboration that is possible between our government and the Holy See and the Church around the world.”
“The Catholic Church reaches into the smallest village, the smallest community, the most distant place, and it reaches those people who are left out very often.”
“I believe there is a deep concern among this administration about how to reach those people and to create a better balance,” he reflected, “a more just balance and give more opportunity for people to reach their God given potential.”
Speaking of Pope Francis and his actions and involvement in these issues so far, Hackett noted that “He's bringing some changes, that is for certain.”
The ambassador also referenced his time working with Catholic Relief Services, highlighting how his experience in the organization helped to prepare him for the new role he has undertaken.
“I think what prepared me for this position, if there was really anything but Divine Providence, was the people I encountered,” he noted.
“The poor around the world, courageous Church people under difficult situations, intrepid people,” and “nuns in Eastern Congo and priests and catechists…who are doing terrific work” was pivotal for his formation, he said.
“To see how that all fit into the Church Universal,” he reflected, was a significant preparation for his role as ambassador to the Holy See.