File photo of Pope Francis meeting Francesca Di Giovanni File photo of Pope Francis meeting Francesca Di Giovanni 

Francesca Di Giovanni: finding every possible way to give hope to peace

The Under-Secretary for the Multilateral Sector of the Section for Relations with States and International Organisations of the Secretariat of State ends her service to the Holy See. In this interview with Vatican Media, she emphasizes the role of women and Vatican diplomacy in building peace and dialogue between nations.

By Alessandro Gisotti

Francesca Di Giovanni will turn seventy on 24 March. She is the first woman to have held the position of Under-Secretary for the Multilateral Sector of the Section for Relations with States and International Organisations of the Secretariat of State. An appointment she received from Pope Francis in January 2020, after having served as an official in the Secretariat of State since 1993. Having served three Pontiffs, she always dealt with multilateralism. A few days before the end of her mandate, Di Giovanni dwells - in this Vatican Media interview - on her personal experience and the contribution that the Holy See's diplomacy can offer to the cause of peace among nations:

After almost 30 years of service, your commitment and work in the Secretariat of State, and in particular in the area of multilateralism draws to an end. In what spirit are you living this moment, what is your assessment of these years?

The words that come to my mind regarding these years in the Secretariat of State are gratitude for various unforgettable moments in which I have been able to participate while working here; interest in the ever-new perspectives opened up with the wish to find paths of hope and possible concordances. Above all, questions regarding Providence that accompanies humanity in its journey towards the Kingdom, even in the darkest and most incomprehensible situations, when evil seems to prevail. From this point of view, certainly, the Section for Relations with States and International Organisations is not only a special observatory but also a privileged instrument of dialogue with various interlocutors. For this reason, although there have of course also been no lack of complex moments, gratitude is the feeling that prevails now, at the end of this period of work.

Today, also because of the war in Ukraine, some consider the system and multilateral organisations to be in deep crisis. Based on your experience, do you think there is any hope for the future on this front? 

As the Pope pointed out last January, speaking to the Diplomatic Corps, " The current conflict in Ukraine has made all the more evident the crisis that has long affected the multilateral system, which needs a profound rethinking if it is to respond adequately to the challenges of our time.“ It is a crisis of which we have been well aware for years, but which logically manifests itself most clearly when joint action is most needed to ensure peace and security for the world.

There is a common and pressing demand for the international community to seriously re-establish channels of dialogue at an institutional level in which general interests prevail over particular interests, that we work concretely with mutual respect even in the various systems of the multilateral context to find ways of dialogue that will make it possible to restore a basis of mutual trust, starting perhaps from limited or concrete objectives.

We have elements of hope, as Pope Francis emphasised on that occasion. They speak to us of possibilities: the agreement on wheat reached in Turkey, despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, but also the path undertaken by the COPs for combating climate change that does not stop, despite slowdowns and brakes; the awareness that the issue of migration and displacement involves many aspects and must be tackled together, as recognised by almost all governments through the Global Compact for Migration and the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees, agreements in the areas of education and culture, biodiversity ... We must not stop favouring these and various other positive steps, even if they must be supported by the political will of individuals and institutions, without impositions and "ideological colonisation", as the Pope reminds us, so as not to allow further regression of humanity.

Is there a mission, a diplomatic initiative among the many that you have personally carried out that you remember with particular pleasure and that sums up your thirty years of work in the “Terza Loggia”?

Honestly, the work we perform in our multilateral sector is rarely done 'in the first person', but is the result of the collaboration of a number of people with different skills and also different points of view. I am pleased to say that in the same vein, we have wanted to collaborate with some offices of the Holy See, with whom we discuss important issues or issues of common interest. This gives us elements to bring, in the international sphere, not only a shared position but also a voice of hope that comes from this sincere and rich encounter of elements stemming from different skills, cultures and experiences.

To cite one occasion that gave us hope as we worked towards the preparation of COP26 in 2022, on 4 October 2021, the Feast of St. Francis, the Holy See, together with the Embassies of Great Britain and Italy, organised an event in the Vatican that brought together high-level scientists and religious leaders representing the world's major religions. The aim was to call on the international community to raise its ambitions and intensify climate action, in preparation for the COP26 on Climate Change, to be held in Glasgow a month later. Some 40 religious leaders signed a joint appeal, which was presented by Pope Francis to the President-designate of COP26, Rt. Hon Alok Sharma. 

To prepare for the event and the Appeal, the Vatican organized seven monthly online meetings between religious leaders and scientists were held in 2021. A spirit of humility, mutual respect and responsibility to converge on a common moral duty towards the way we are called to care for our common home, was felt by all. The diversity of the participants and their active involvement made this a highly significant moment, from which to draw ample hope for the future.

If you had to explain today what is the specific contribution of the Holy See's diplomacy in an increasingly polarised world that is wounded by tensions and contrasts, what would you focus on?

Pontifical diplomacy has the unceasing commitment to be impartial, because the Holy See has no other interest in its diplomatic work than to accompany nations in building peace, justice and cooperation for the common good, respecting the dignity and rights of each person, towards a lived fraternity not only between individuals but also between peoples. For this reason, as a moral voice, the Holy See always focuses on the values of justice, truth and goodness, and always believes in the potential of people - and in this case of those who have the power to decide - to change the most terrible and ruthless choices and to choose paths of goodness. In this attitude, then, one can find avenues and methods for small steps, which are often confidential and unofficial, to facilitate and resume dialogue, within a range of fields from humanitarian to others. If dialogue is sincere, even if it starts with small steps, it builds and a light of hope can slowly be rekindled.

You were the first woman appointed Under-Secretary of the Section for Relations with States and International Organisations. How did you experience this novelty in a context in which you had developed all your professional experience?

It was a novelty that surprised me greatly: it had never happened that a lay person, let alone a woman, was called by the Pope to this service. I experienced it with this spirit of novelty and service, and when I met Pope Francis for the first time after the appointment, I told him: 'I will try to do my best'. So I tried, also because, at the same time, this Sector for multilateral issues was born as a separate entity: of course, it was taken care of also previously, but it was decided it should be overseen by a dedicated Under-Secretary.

Of course, for the Secretariat of State, it was a novelty, which is why I say that mine was a 'prophetic appointment' and I think it may become normal practice in the future: Pope Francis wants a greater presence of women where decisions are made, even here. As far as the context of the work is concerned, as you know, the Sector is made up of people from different geographical backgrounds, men and women, priests and lay people, and it is this characteristic of an environment where everyone can make their contribution that makes it possible to do the work and to offer the Holy Father and the Missions of the Holy See in the various multilateral contexts whatever is required in this area.      

Pope Francis has repeatedly emphasised the special role of women in peace. How can this call of the Pontiff encourage female leadership in the diplomatic sphere as well?

Today we see that more and more women are playing, even in a discreet and hidden way, a decisive role in political and international life and peace processes: a space that we hope will be increasingly occupied by women, whom Pope Francis encourages and supports. The feminine intuition and specific talents of women working in the service of peace allow for a healthy and enriched collaboration with men when they are heard on an equal footing.

We cannot generalise: we have positive as well as negative experiences. However, generally, a woman is inclined to seek - often in a determined and sometimes creative way - forms of cooperation rather than competition and intimidation or intransigence. Women are often attentive to interpersonal dimensions, to the mechanisms of relationships in local communities, to intercultural and transcendental aspects, as well as to problems concerning daily life or the need for care of life in its various phases. Women also play a great role in preserving peace, as they are educators of peace. It is not a matter of excluding male rationality, but of integrating the acceptance of different thinking into common reflection. 

What has your experience of life and faith in the Focolare Movement brought to your work in the service of the Holy See?

The spirituality and action of the Focolare Movement are inspired by what is sometimes called "the testament of Jesus", his request to the Father: "that all may be one". The ideal of universal fraternity, which, as Pope Francis writes in Fratelli Tutti, "allows us to recognise, appreciate and love each person, beyond physical proximity, beyond the place in the world where he or she was born or where he or she lives." This has helped me and inspired my work in the Section for Relations with States and International Organisations. A lived fraternity is certainly a dream, but it is also a message we can bear witness to with our lives as Christians, and also as members of one humanity. Another gift I received in the Movement, and have tried to put into practice, is love for the Church, a love that must be attentive, concrete, and free: I have not always succeeded, but it has also kept me joyful in this task entrusted to me.

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03 March 2023, 18:03