The influence of Vatican diplomacy is ever stronger, as evidenced by the traditional audience with the Pope by the corps of diplomats assigned to the Holy See.
Just behind Pope Francis, the presence of the Cardinal Secretary of State, Msgr. Pietro Parolin, reminded us that the financial and legal setbacks that are shaking the walls of Terzia Loggia – in reference to its location on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace – should not overshadow the intense diplomatic activity of a dicastery which over the decades has become the real center of power in the Vatican.
At the beginning of 2022, 183 States maintain diplomatic relations with the Holy See. To these have been added the European Union (EU) and the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta.
A handful of states – with a scandalous reputation – are still reluctant to set foot in the Vatican: Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, China, and North Korea. Even Vietnam ended up establishing formal relations with the Vatican in 2011.
In addition, there are 87 embassy chancelleries based in Rome, including those of the EU and the Order of Malta, the offices of the League of Arab States, the International Organization for Migration, and the Upper Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The year 2021 has been marked by intense bilateral activity. On February 10, the “the VII Additional Agreement of the Convention Regulating Patrimonial Relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Austria, of 23 June 1960” was definitively ratified.
But the most striking fact has been the very particular attention of Roman diplomats towards the Orthodox world. Several summit meetings have taken place in Russia, Greece, Serbia, and Ukraine.
Greece has even asked the Holy See to serve as moderator in the Balkans, where the situation remains tense. As proof of the Church's interest in the region, Cardinal Parolin traveled to Slovenia last September in order to participate in a forum bringing together the heads of government of the countries of Central Europe.
President Vladimir Putin even picked up his phone to wish Pope Francis a happy birthday, just as a reminder that Russia remains the key player in resolving the Ukrainian question, which worries the Roman Pontiff.
Caucasia was not ignored by Roman diplomacy in 2021: the Holy See inaugurated a nunciature in Yerevan, Armenia, while the country is in crisis since the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh, at the end of a lightning war with Azerbaijan, supported by Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey.
The eastward shift in Vatican diplomacy was therefore confirmed during 2021. Pope Francis did not hide his desire to go to Moscow, and even to Beijing, during his pontificate.