15 May 2009

British Ambassador to the Holy See visits Newman Society


Francis Campbell, the British Ambassador to the Holy See, spoke at Oxford University on hursday 14th May. Addressing an audience of academics and students at Blackfriars, the niversity Hall of the Dominicans, the Ambassador delivered a ‘Thomas More Lecture’ which was jointly organised by Oxford University Newman Society and the Las Casas Institute. Mr. ampbell began the lecture by arguing that faith issues had, until relatively recently, been eglected in the formation of foreign policy. He told his audience “While no doubt the marginalising of religion started with the Enlightenment, it was more likely fuelled in recent ecades by ecularisation/modernisation theory ... It was commonly assumed that the world was following a trajectory set off in north Western Europe at the time of the Industrial Revolution. For much of the 20th century the theory went unchallenged.”

The Ambassador stated that “there is scarcely a month without a religious story dominating the media” and provided examples of the resurgence of religious issues on the world stage. Mr. Campbell went on the say that “Increasingly today religion is perceived as a threat because of its association with terrorism. A major challenge is to bring it back to a situation where we have a more balanced perspective and see it as much as a vehicle for peace and helping resolve conflicts.” He posed the question “How do we arrive at a situation where foreign policy is better equipped to deal with religion?” and argued that “First, we must sensitise ourselves to a world in which religion is alive and well; not the world in which some might feel more comfortable. Secondly, we must begin to see religion as much as a source of healing as it is now seen as a source of division.”

In the second part of his lecture Mr. Campbell drew on his experience as Ambassador to the
Holy See to reflect on the importance of Vatican’s diplomatic role on the world stage. He argued that the Holy See occupies a unique position as a world opinion former with grass root networks in almost every country. Focusing on issues of international development, climate change and the environment, and military disarmament the Ambassador outlined areas of concrete corporation between the UK Government and the Holy See.

In his concluding remarks the Ambassador told his audience “Faith is a feature of modern life, including our foreign policy. But when viewed exclusively through a negative prism we are selling our societies short and abandoning a valuable asset which can help us address many contemporary challenges… [R]eligion has played a much needed positive role in bringing peace and stability to many situations. Now, the challenge is to see the bigger canvas: it is to realise that religion can serve to propel us forward to achieve the greatest challenge of our time, feeding the hungry, educating the young, housing the poor and caring for the sick and resolving and preventing conflict. In all of those tasks, the Holy See is a vital partner for the UK.”

The lecture was given as part of Oxford University Newman Society’s 2009 series of Thomas More Lectures’, which are centred on the theme of ‘religion in the public square’. It was held in conjunction with the Las Casas Institute of Blackfriars Hall, as part of the institute’s Martin de Porres programme, which is sponsored by CAFOD.

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