Vatican City, Apr 9, 2019 / 07:21 am
Thirty-five years ago today, William A. Wilson presented his credentials to Pope John Paul II, becoming America's first ambassador to the Holy See. This historic moment marked the start of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the Vatican.
Although our embassy was officially established in 1984, ties to the Holy See date back to our nation's founding. The early years saw the appointment of consuls and resident ministers to what was then the Papal States. Relations temporarily ended in 1870 following Italian Unification. The United States and the Holy See, however, continued to engage at a distance.
Throughout our history, U.S. presidents have recognized the important role of the Holy See in advancing peace and justice. From 1870 to 1984, several personal envoys were dispatched to the Vatican for discussions on humanitarian and political issues. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt's envoy to Pope Pius XII worked with the Holy See to feed European refugees, provide aid to Eastern Europe, and assist allied prisoners of war.
But as the Second World War gave way to the Cold War, the destructive force of the Soviet Union threatened to sweep across the free world. Millions died under the thumb of communist rule and many more continued to suffer under its tyranny.