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Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, Holy See Permanent Observer to the UN in Geneva Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, Holy See Permanent Observer to the UN in Geneva 

Archbishop Jurkovic: Dialogue strengthened as Observer at WHO

The Holy See has been accorded a non-Member State Observer status by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations specialized health agency, a tribute to the Church’s involvement and commitment to issues concerning the human family and health for all. Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, spoke to Vatican News about this recognition.

By Vatican News staff writer

Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, spoke to Vatican News in an interview on Tuesday about the Holy See's new status as a non-Member State Observer at the World Health Organization in Geneva. Below are a few excerpts from that interview.

Q: What significance does this new status have for the Holy See?

I would like to just tell you that the Holy See has participated at the World Health Organization (WHO) from the very beginning. It is interesting to see that the first session of World Health Assembly, which is the highest assembly of the WHO, was held in Rome, and the Pope made a speech to the participants on 29 June 1949. It was published in L’Osservatore Romano, and I have this page in front of me. So, it means somehow providentially the first session of World Health Assembly was held in Rome and the Pope offered words in favor of activity of this organization.

But, later on, as you know, this organization was at the beginning, now we have a United Nations system, so it means you have already a systematic participation of many organizations within the United Nations. So, the Holy See renewed the status of its participation at the United Nations in 2004 with a resolution in New York. And it was always a necessity to adapt the participation of other specialized agencies as we call organizations at the United Nations often; it was necessary to adopt this participation of other organizations to the status that we have now guaranteed juridically in New York in front of General Assembly. In the case of WHO, we did not have this status.

We were always year after year invited by the Director General, but we did not have a right to participate. So, now with this resolution we have full rights to participate but, as usually exists in the UN, in the quality of observer non-member state. It means a fully juridically-recognized sovereign entit,y but participating not in full membership but observer state membership.

So, what does it mean? For us it means stable, independent participation on the biggest events in the world health system that many believe represent WHO in Geneva. We consider this a juridical necessity and an expression of reality of what the Holy See does in the field.

The Holy See is visible basically through two activities. One is education. The Catholic Church has 300,000 schools in the world and 1,000 universities, more or less. And, through the welfare activity of the Catholic Church, which is more or less 110,000 institutions in the world. These are absolutely visible, and you cannot avoid not having in front of the WHO the participation of an observer state, somebody who is working in the world with 110,000 institutions. So, it means it was an absolute necessity.

Why now? This is a good question. Certainly, Covid is one of the reasons, and made it more important for us to join, compared to two or three years ago. And the second is also this conviction of the Holy Father that big global problems must be confronted at the international, multi-lateral level, which is very much appreciated here in Geneva.

Q: What do you think is the most valuable contribution the Holy See can make now also as an observer there?

I would tell you this is a complicated question, because when people speak about the Holy See, they say: "Aahh, but they are against this and that", so it is not a simple participation. I think what we are always defending is the aim of the WHO, which is health for all. So, we are within that. It means we are really testifying as a Church that we take care of everybody.

I was talking to an ambassador, and I wanted to present to him what the Catholic Church does. He said he is from a Muslim country, and he said: "You know, Mr. Ambassador, you do not have to tell me that, because I was operated on in a Catholic hospital, and my daughter was born in a Catholic hospital." So, I said that we are open to everybody.

The second thing that is also very important here is that, in the world in which we live today, we have to live together with different convictions. So, bringing to WHO the ethical and moral convictions of the Catholic Church, of our Christian faith, which are shared by many others, these are contributions.

It is not simplifying the working of the WHO. This is why some people feared we would create some uneasy situations. But, it is intellectually, absolutely indefensible, because health for all is the conviction of all. For us, it means a complicated way on how to participate and carry on the dialogue with people who have different convictions.

We just received after this brief period of negotiation an invitation from an embassy, another group organization based in Africa, to present now in front of Human Rights Council, which is going to meet in two weeks’ time, an initiative in favor of the family. Everybody knows that we are favorable to a certain view of the family, and they come to us, and we do it together with everybody else. It is an engagement with the world. That is concern for health for all, but at the same time it is also openness to accept the convictions of all. And I think this is a challenging task for us and challenge also for the organization.

Interview with Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva
01 June 2021, 15:05