Vatican Diplomacy: Diplomatic Relations At The Funeral Of The Pope (Part I)

Pope John Paul II was widely regarded as a great global diplomat – working for peace and attempting to unite citizens of the world. This reputation did not end at his death, and followed the pope through his own funeral. The funeral, reputed to be the largest in modern history, also became the diplomatic event of 2005. Ceremonies for the pope brought numerous world leaders together, including many that would not normally appear in the same country, let alone the same room.

The funeral was wrought with diplomatic implications, as many countries with strained relations came together. President Bush sat nearby leaders from Iran, which he has called part of the “axis of evil,” Syria, and Cuba, which he has called an “outpost of tyranny.” President Bush did not make any gestures towards these nations. Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair also avoided coming into contact with President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, a nation which has recently had very poor relations with Britain. Britain’s Prince Charles, though, did commit a diplomatic faux pas by shaking Mugabe’s hand, later apologizing for the mishap.

The funeral also created diplomatic problems for China and Taiwan. China boycotted the pope’s funeral because of the attendance of President Chen of Taiwan. The Vatican is the only European nation to have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Other nations with estranged relations meeting at the funeral included India and Pakistan, and Turkey and Armenia.

And in the Middle East, an international stir was created when Israeli President Moshe Katsav shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian President Mohammed Khatami. This is a monumental step in Mideast diplomacy, though government officials note it is too early to tell if the gestures will have any actual political impact. Further complications arose when Iran’s president later denied the handshake ever happened.

The following is an aggregated list of international coverage of diplomatic relations at the funeral of Pope John Paul II on April 8, 2005. The Center on Public Diplomacy will soon be following this report with Vatican Diplomacy Part II, which will focus on the public reactions to the death of Pope John Paul II and the appointment of Pope Benedict XVI.

Vatican ‘Decananza Diplomatica’ and the French Language Keep Some Space Between Bush, Assad and Khatami
(Angelo Persichilli,  Embassy, Canada, April 13, 2005)
“For politicians, for the first time it was not important where they stood, but where they sat. That was last week, during the funeral of Pope John Paul II,” writes Persichilli. Seating at the pope’s funeral created a diplomatic headache for the Vatican, but they managed it with a combination of seniority, hierarchy, and the alphabet. (Seniority was based upon each nation’s diplomatic seniority with the Vatican.) Embassy  analyses the diplomatic seating chart.

China, Catholic Church at a Crossroads
(Francesco Sisci, Asia Times, China, April 12, 2005) 
The representation of Taiwan at the Pope’s funeral caused diplomatic troubles between the Vatican, China, and Taiwan. The Taiwanese press noted the Vatican brushed off Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian in two ways: First, they didn’t give him the right to represent China, only Taiwan; and he did not have the opportunity to speak with other world leaders because no translators were provided.  This was all in stark contrast to the days leading up to the funeral, when China was upset at the Vatican for having diplomatic relations with Taiwan. China did not send a representative because of Chen’s presence in Rome. Estranged relations between the Holy See and China creates many problems for both nations.

New Pope May Favor PRC Ties at Expense of Taipei
(The China Times, China, April 12, 2005)
Whoever succeeds the recently deceased Pope John Paul II as the next leader of the Catholic Church is likely to renew talks with Beijing to establish diplomatic relations as one of his priorities. Should renewed talks lead to an exchange of recognition between the two sides, it would be a serious political blow to Taiwan, as the Vatican is the island’s sole diplomatic ally in Europe.

Forget About the Gestures, Let’s See Some Substance - Editorial
(The Daily Star, Lebanon, April 11, 2005)
The pope’s funeral last week threw together historic enemies like Israel, Syria, and Iran, in new, diplomatic situations. The handshakes between the president of Israel and the president of Iran, a nation which has been seeking the destruction of Israel for years, was a historic moment. However, this gesture means nothing by itself if the politics do not follow suit.

How John Paul Became The Vatican’s Master of Public Diplomacy
(Alvin Snyder, USC Center on Public Diplomacy, April 11, 2005)
Whether by divine providence or a quirk of fate, the most charismatic Pope ever, who was made for television, came along just at the right time, when technology would finally make him available to all of the people all of the time. Worldwide media coverage of the latter has eclipsed every major news event in sheer visibility in recent memory, according to Global Language Monitor, including 9/11, the South Asian Tsunami, and the deaths of Ronald Reagan and Princess Di. And more people converged on the Vatican to mourn this Pope than any other in history.

The Vatican Handshake and its Meaning
(Orly Halpern, Amman, The Jerusalem Post, Israel, April 10, 2005)
Funerals are strange events, writes the Jerusalem Post’s Halpern. They occasionally bring together the worst foes, who forget their differences and unite in mourning the deceased. After a historic handshake between Syria, Iran and Israel, many state news agencies are quick to spin the event. Syria’s official news agency has acknowledged the handshake, while Iranian President Muhammad Khatami has denied it ever took place.

Kiss of Peace, Handshake from Hell
(Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, United Kingdom, April 10, 2005)
Beaumont writes: In life, he challenged world leaders, criticised regimes and had the power to embarrass princes. In death, Pope John Paul II left behind one last message - of peace and brotherhood - that has sown embarrassment and confusion among some of those who came to mourn at Friday’s funeral. Prince Charles conceded that he did indeed shake hands with Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe, while Irani president Khatami denies that he did not shake hands, as alleged, with Israel’s president Katsav. A more positive meeting was between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Jacques Chirac of France.

John Paul’s Last Miracle: Enemies Unite at Funeral
(James Button, Sydney Morning Herald, Australia, April 10, 2005)
In the VIP section Requim Mass during the pope’s funeral proceeedings, world leaders put aside their differences to unite in their greif. Israel’s president shook hands with the president of Syria, and Former Polish president Lech Walesa ended a decade-long feud with his successor, the social democrat Aleksander Kwasniewski. U.S. President Bush did not share in the goodwill, failing to offer his hand to Irani and Syrian presidents, despite close proximity. And Britain’s Prince Charles committed a faux pas by shaking hands with Zimbabwean President Mugabe, who is shunned by the European Union.

Vatican Will Abandon Taiwan to Win China’s Catholics
(Peter Goff, Beijing, The Telegraph, United Kingdom, April 10, 2005)
The Vatican is preparing to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan, in a deal discussed just hours after the pope’s death. The deal would allow an estimated 8 million Chinese Roman Catholics to practice Catholicism freely for the first time in 50 years. Bishop Zen of Hong Kong handled the negotiations. Zen said: “The Holy See has been thinking of giving up Taiwan. This is a difficult [decision], but it has decided to do it. If the Holy See does not establish [diplomatic] ties with China, Catholics there will not have real freedom.”

Chen Attends Funeral of Pope at Vatican
(The China Post, China, April 9, 2005)
Attending the service for the pope at the Vatican, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian became the first Taiwanese leader to set foot in Europe. This seems fitting, as the Vatican is Taiwan’s only European ally. The visit was in defiance to China’s attempts to diplomatically isolate Taipei.

Chinese Media Ignore Pope’s Funeral
(CBC News, Canada, April 9, 2005)
The funeral of Pope John Paul II made news around the world, but not in China. The state-controlled Chinese media blocked out all coverage of the pope’s funeral proceedings, with no reports or photos released. Beijing does not recognize the Roman Catholic Church.

China Lifts Media Blackout on Pope Funeral to Slam Taiwan Leader
(Khaleej Times, United Arab Emirates, April 9, 2005)
China’s state-controlled media blacked out all news of the pope’s funeral. The only report seen in China concerned foreign ministry comments condemning Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian’s attendance at the funeral. China has refused to establish ties with Rome until the Catholic Church cuts ties with Taiwan and pledges not to use religion to influence Chinese affairs.

World Leaders Join Hands in Gesture of Harmony
(Gethin Chamberlain, The Scotsman, Scotland, April 9, 2005)
The pope’s funeral gave heads of state an opportunity to put aside old differences. This was no more apparent than in a handshake between Israel’s president and the leaders of Syria and Iran. Israeli president Moshe Katsav has made no secret of the handshake. He said: “The president of Iran extended his hand to me, I shook it and told him in Farsi: ‘May peace be upon you’.” He later shook hands with the president of Iran as guests were encouraged to demonstrate a gesture of goodwill to those around them. Israeli officials noted it is too early to say if this gesture will translate to future diplomacy. Tension came about when President Bush’s face appeared on the giant screens at the ceremony and was booed by the crowds.

Khatami Denies Gesture
(The Telegraph, India, April 9, 2005)
Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami has “strongly denied” Israeli media reports that he shook hands with Israeli President Moshe Katzav and spoke with him at Pope John Paul II’s funeral at the Vatican, the official Irna news agency said today. “This claim is like other baseless claims made by the Zionist media in the past,” he said.

Translating the Body Language of Hands Extended, and Not
(David E. Sanger and Steven Erlanger, The New York Times, April 9, 2005)
Papal funerals are not supposed to be about diplomacy, but put this many world leaders in one section of St. Peter’s Square, and diplomacy happens. And so, at the funeral of Pope John Paul II, there was news about a president of the United States who did not shake the hands of two Middle Eastern adversaries, and a president of Israel who did.

Pope’s Death Unites Chinese Catholics, Stirs Hopes of Change in Policy Toward Rome
(Christopher Bodeen, AP, North County Times, California, April 8, 2005)
The Associated Press writes that John Paul’s death united China’s Catholics in mourning, at least temporarily blurring the line between official and underground churches and fueling hopes that Beijing might ease its rejection of any ties between believers and Rome. The two sides have “come together in prayer and mourning,” said one Catholic in Shanghai who asked to be identified only as Mary. “We hope the Chinese government will now be even more open.”

Pontiff’s Death Brings Mideast Diplomacy
(Roula Khalaf, Middle East Editor, The Financial Times, April 8, 2005)
Financial Times: The funeral of Pope John Paul II on Friday provided an opportunity for moments of Middle Eastern diplomacy as Israeli President Moshe Katsav shook hands with the leaders of his country’s enemies: Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Iran’s Mohammad Khatami.

Mideast Diplomacy at Pope’s Funeral
(The Scotsman, Scotland, April 8, 2005)
The Pope’s funeral in early April brought together the president of Isreal and the leaders of Israel’s major enemies Iran and Syria. Israeli President Moshe Katsav chatted with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami and embraced the president of Algeria.

Vatican Diplomacy in Funeral Seating
(CNN International, April 8, 2005)
Leaders from across the globe met at the Pope’s funeral on April 8. Only an alphabetical seating chart divided world leaders with historically bad relations. Going alphabetically, U.S. President George Bush and French President Jacque Chirac, whose relations soured around the Iraq war, sat with only their wives between them. The funeral sparked diplomatic tensions early when China announced it would not send a delegation due to the Vatican’s relations with Taiwan.

Diplomacy Test for Vatican
(Jeremy Page, The Times of London, United Kingdom, April 8, 2005)
The Pope’s funeral created a logistics nightmare for the Vatican. Not only did they have to maneuver crowds of 4 million, but they had to arrange for the visits of 200 world leaders and avoid awkward diplomatic encounters. President Bush will be avoiding the presidents of Iran and Syria, while Tony Blair will take pains not to encounter the president of Zimbabwe. And almost everyone will be avoiding the president of Taiwan.

President of Zimbabwe Arrives in Rome, Despite Ban on Travel
(Michael Wines, The New York Times, April 8, 2005)
Zimbabwe’s president, Robert G. Mugabe, arrived in Rome on Thursday to attend Pope John Paul II’s funeral, apparently using a diplomatic loophole to evade European Union sanctions that ostensibly bar him from traveling to any of the union’s member states.

Millions Flood Rome for Pope’s Funeral
(Arab News Agency, April 8, 2005)
John Paul II’s funeral, the largest in modern history, brought mourners from across the globe. Arab News notes that: The “Great Satan”, part of the “axis of evil” and an “outpost of tyranny” will all gather for the funeral of Pope John Paul, who toiled for peace but whose mourners find it hard to forgive each other. Many nations with longstanding hostilities between them will be attending. These include the U.S. and Iran, Syria and Israel, Britain and Zimbabwe, among others. Cuba will also be in attendance.

Israel, Mideast Foes Shake Hands at Pope’s Funeral
(Jeffrey Heller, SuissInfo, Switzerland, April 8, 2005)
“The president of Iran extended his hand to me, I shook itand told him in Farsi, ‘May peace be upon you’,” said Isreali President Moshe Katsav of his meeting with the president of Iran. Silvan Shalom, the Israeli Foreign Minister, later told CNN that the handshakes gave Israel a “glimmer of hope that somethingcan change in the Middle East,” but that peace between Israel and the Iran and Syria was still far off. Katsav noted “We are cultural people and say hello nicely and shakehands. It still doesn’t means the differences are gone.”

Charles Shakes Hands with Mugabe at Funeral
(Ireland Online, Ireland, April 8, 2005)
Britain’s Prince Charles shook hands with the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe at the Pope’s funeral. Charles, who was seated one place away from the president, was “caught by surprise” when Mugabe leaned over to greet him. President Mugabe side-stepped a European Union travel ban to attend the service in Rome. A later statement from Charles’ camp said noted that “The Prince finds the current Zimbabwean regime abhorrent.”

Vatican Visit a Breakthrough for Taiwanese Presidents
(Huang Tai-lin, Taipei Times, Taiwan, April 8, 2005)
Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian’s trip to the Vatican for the pope’s funeral offers an unprecedented chance to take part in an international event and is reminiscent of Cold War era `funeral diplomacy.’ It also gives Taiwan’s president the golden opportunity to stand alongside other state leaders on the world stage at an international event.

Boos and Catcalls Greet Bush at St. Peter’s
(Der Spiegel, Germany, April 8, 2005)
George W. Bush was the first United States president to participate in the funeral of a pope – despite ideological differences with Pope John Paul II over the Iraq war. But when the large television monitors showed an up-close picture of George Bush, loud booing erupted from the crowd.
Also available in the German languageLINK

Foes Reunited at Pope’s Funeral
(ABS-CBN News, The Philippeans, April 7, 2005)
The “Great Satan,” part of the “axis of evil” and an outpost of tyranny will united in Vatican City this week for the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Iran’s former leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini was the first to call the United States “The Great Satan,” while President Bush in turn accused Iran of being part of an “axis of evil.” Other nations with estranged relations meeting at the funeral include China and Taiwan, and Turkey and Armenia. India and Pakistan will also be attending, but only after their recent gesture of citizens walking across a “peace bridge” between the two nations.

Vatican Diplomacy Arranging Seating for the Funeral of Pope John Paul II
(EITB Basque News, Spain, April 7, 2005)
Leading up to the Pope’s funeral, Vatican officials were busy creating a seating arrangement for foreign heads of state that would not further strain diplomatic relations. The seating chart was done in French, the traditional language of diplomacy.

A Pope of Peace and Bush’s War - Opinion
(Derrick Z. Jackson, The Boston Globe, April 6, 2005)
In a press conference annoucing the president would attend the pope’s funeral, a reporter asked President Bush “‘How do you think this pope has affected America’s spiritual and political life? And how much weight did you give to his opposition to the Iraq war?” Bush began his answer by calling the pope courageous, moral, and godly, but he never answered the question about the Iraq war. Jackson notes that “Bush called the pope a man of peace. Bush could not answer the question on Iraq because the pope’s presence, even in death, continues to expose him to be a man of war.”

Vatican Diplomacy
(J. Michael Parker, San Antonio Express, Texas, April 6, 2005)
During the reign of Pope John Paul II, more nations opened up diplomatic relations with the Vatican than ever before in history. As the oldest surviving government on Earth, the Vatican holds a special diplomatic role. When the Pope began his tenure in 1978, only 84 nations were represented in the papal court. Today, 174 nations are represented in that body.

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