ROME — Ahead of COP26, the upcoming major summit on climate change that will be held in Glasgow in November, the Vatican are prepping an interreligious summit to discuss the matter.
“The British embassy to the Holy See, together with the embassy of Italy to the Holy See and the Holy See itself are working together in an event being held in two weeks, Faith and Science towards COP26,” said Wendy Morton, the UK’s Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.
Faith and Science towards COP26 will take place in Rome on Oct. 4.
Morton was in Rome Sept. 16 meeting with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Vatican’s Secretary of State, and Cardinal Peter Turkson, who runs the Vatican’s office for Integral Human Development.
Pope Francis has said he wants to attend the COP26 summit, but his attendance hasn’t been confirmed.
“It’s absolutely a matter for the Holy See when it comes to announcing papal visits, but of course, we would be absolutely delighted and thrilled if he were to attend it,” Morton said.
“We know how powerfully he’s been speaking around climate and around COP, and its impact not only on the planet but on some of the most vulnerable people and most vulnerable communities as well,” she said.
The upcoming summits – in Rome and in Glasgow – were among the things on the agenda, as was the importance of cooperation when it comes to girls education throughout the world.
“The Catholic Church runs 225,000 schools worldwide, being the largest non-governmental provider of healthcare in the world, including in fragile states,” Morton told Crux on Thursday, highlighting the importance of the Church as an interlocutor when it comes to guaranteeing girls have access to an education, as it can serve as a platform for a better life and job opportunities.
Morton spoke with Crux at the home of the British ambassador to Italy. What follows are excerpts of that conversation.
Crux: What brought you to the Holy See today?
Morton: I was really keen to come both to the Holy See and Rome, as we have a very strong bilateral relationship. There are very areas in which we’re working together on. One in particular is COP26, and with COP26 coming very, very soon, it seemed like a good opportunity to come here and have a range of meetings, and be able to have some really good conversations about climate change and a number of other development issues as well, such as girls education.
How can the UK and the Holy See work together when it comes to girls education?
I’ve had various conversations on girls education, which is one of our prime minister’s main goals, and really the importance of girls having access to 12 years education. And we all know that education is about more than just going to school, it’s about improving life chances, employment opportunities and perhaps setting up your own business. It also impacts on other issues, such as child marriage.
Today, we really discussed how we can work together, and meeting the various partners here, I gained a deeper understanding of some of the projects that they are involved in, all over the world, through their networks of churches and organizations. We had the opportunity to talk about the importance of getting more girls into school and the importance of them going back to school after the COVID pandemic, sharing information, sharing experiences, and also some of the barriers that sometimes can be cultural.
The Church has an excellent network, obviously around the world, and that’s a real benefit for my visit, being able to exchange views, knowledge as well, on a topic that we all feel so passionately about.
Anything in particular that surprised you today during your exchange with Holy See officials?
I know that we had a shared interest when it comes to girls’ education, and the talks we had with Archbishop Gallagher and Cardinal Turkson this morning were truly interesting. Our relationship is quite strong: The Prince of Wales was here quite recently, as was our prime minister.
But what really showed me, was the commitment from both sides, the Holy See and the UK, where we can focus on some of the most pressing issues of today. The Catholic Church runs 225,000 schools worldwide, being the largest non-governmental provider of healthcare in the world, including in fragile states. Having the opportunity to explore that, to discuss it, for me has been hugely beneficial.
You mentioned COP26. There’s been talk about Pope Francis’s going to Glasgow to take part in it. Do you have any insider information about his possible participation in it?
It’s absolutely a matter for the Holy See when it comes to announcing papal visits, but of course, we would be absolutely delighted and thrilled if he were to attend it. We know how powerfully he’s been speaking around climate and around COP, and its impact not only on the planet but on some of the most vulnerable people and most vulnerable communities as well. We will have to wait and see, but he would be very, very welcome.
How important is the role of religious leaders in issues such as climate change, girls’ access to education or clean water?
Over the years, through the work that I’ve done on development, I’ve often met with Church groups, and I know back in my own constituency, many of my churches have a real concern on development issues, as do parishioners. It’s important that as a minister of the FCDO, I do engage and have these conversations. Going back to COP and climate, this is a very good opportunity for the world to come together, because we know that no one country or sector can tackle climate change on their own, it’s going to take a real coming together across the world to tackle the issue.
Anything else that you would like to share?
Yes, the British embassy to the Holy See, together with the embassy of Italy to the Holy See and the Holy See itself are working together in an event being held in two weeks, Faith and Science towards COP26. You have three organizations working together on this really important agenda.
When you entered the world of politics, did you see yourself dealing with the Holy See?
When I entered the world of politics there were many things I did not envision doing, I can assure you. The one thing I will say is that as a minister of the FCDO I really believe in the importance of building relationships, and that of the UK with the Holy See is very important. I certainly never imagined that I would be here this week, at the Vatican, which is fantastic.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma