One of the joys of this new assignment for me are the people I get to meet. Since my arrival, I’ve been able to reconnect with those I’ve met over the years in the religious, academic, and humanitarian world. And I’ve been able to begin laying the foundations of friendship with many new people who make up the Vatican community. Last week my wife and I hosted Vatican officials, other Ambassadors to the Holy See, men and women religious, and friends working in the academic and humanitarian sectors, for my first official reception after presenting my credentials to the Pope.
The diplomatic community here is actually quite large as the Holy See has diplomatic relations with 180 countries, the most of any country after the United States. A great many of these diplomatic representatives did me the honor of attending my reception. My wife and I also spoke with three Dominican sisters who joined us – a true pleasure as that is the order which taught our daughter in high school some years ago. We were pleased as well to receive Monsignors Peter Wells and José Bettencourt, from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and Protocol office respectively, at our home.
And the other two U.S. ambassadors in Rome – yes, there are three of us in total! – joined us as well: U.S. Ambassador to Italy John Phillips and U.S. Ambassador to the UN agencies in Rome David Lane.
While these larger representational events are quite stimulating, I equally enjoy opportunities for a deeper, more thoughtful personal exchange. Recently I hosted a dinner for Harvard Divinity School professor Harvey Cox. Harvey was in Rome for lectures at various Pontifical and other universities. His 1965 book “Secular City” was a bestseller and he’s a legendary mind in American theology. I was happy to finally have the chance to dine with the master and other scholars who joined us.
The dinner conversation went from potential changes in the Vatican Curia, to opportunities for faith leaders to engage the critical peace and justice issues of our day to more complex matters of how to best interpret science and recent understanding of biblical history with contemporary understanding of scripture. (Possibly a new book for Professor Cox.)
President Obama and Secretary Kerry have called for new strategic energy to be placed on the engagement of religious leaders. I couldn’t agree more. Since I have had considerable experience in this regard — particularly with Catholic, Protestant, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish faith leaders — I found this evening with Professor Cox and other scholars, who actually shape the agenda in which future faith leaders find their moorings, to be most exhilarating.
My predecessor Ambassador Miguel Díaz, a theological scholar in his own right, set the tone for this kind of dialogue in his invitation to Professor Cox some years back. I was able to ride on the history of wonderful Embassy contacts and connections.