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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon meets with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon meets with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher 

UK Minister of State praises strong dialogue with Vatican over world issues

On Tuesday morning, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with State, met with Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, the United Kingdom's Minister of State, who spoke to Vatican News about the many issues the British government and the Vatican have a joint interest.

By Vatican News staff writer

The meeting of Archbishop Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with State, with Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, included discussions focusing on current global challenges, ways to deal with them and also together where possible.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who is the UK Minister of State and the Prime Minister's Special Representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, also met with the Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, Paolo Ruffini. 

Vatican News' Devin Watkins met up with Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who granted this interview.

Q: How are your meetings going at the Vatican, and what kind of topics are you covering?

It's not my first meeting with the Vatican. The United Kingdom through Her Excellency Ambassador Sally Axworthy enjoy a very strong relationship with the Vatican. We have a very constructive dialogue over a range of issues.

On this particular trip my focus has been on important issues of freedom of religion or belief. Also, issues involve my role in preventing sexual violence in conflict and also issues of media freedom, which is quite relevant to our discussions today.

I think the Vatican, the Holy See, has a profound role to play, both not just in terms of the strength of its symbolism on the world stage, but the interventions that can be made by the Catholic Church on resolving and perhaps challenging parties to conflict to actually come to the negotiation table and actually bring people in communities together.

And if I may say so, it was best illustrated recently by the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Iraq where we saw a real bridging of the divisions of communities, a real healing and reconciliation taking place. It was an important meeting, and I think even if I can reflect personally, no words were needed. What you saw was the strength of faiths coming together, leaders importantly of those faiths coming together in friendship and reconciliation. I think that's a very strong message, and the role of His Holiness Pope Francis and the role of the Catholic Church is an important one on the world stage.

Part of our relationship being through our Ambassador, through the direct ministerial engagement, is exactly to see how we can further complement our work in this area. 

Q: How can the Vatican and the British government work together to promote media freedom in the world?

When we look around and see media freedom, and indeed the freedom of journalists to report, you don't need to go further than the current conflicts we are facing. Often the first victim of any conflict is media freedom. Where you see journalists rights being usurped, where you see media freedom or indeed journalists being targeted, agencies being shut down, newspapers being shut down, you can be absolutely sure that other human rights abuses are taking place.

Two years ago, the United Kingdom along with Canada launched what was known as the International Media Freedom Coalition, a global coalition to stand up for the rights of journalists. Now, as a person in public life, as a politician, the media is not always our best friend, but it's important that we stand up for the rights for journalists to exercise their media freedom and then report freely on situations around the world.

In this regard, on your specific issue of the Vatican, your communications that you have, your different channels you have, the languages in which you operate again are demonstrable about the importance to communicate to people. Often the most vulnerable, the most marginalized communities, regrettably, across the world are those of minority faith communities.

The United Kingdom has led on spearheading a campaign to stand up for Christian persecution, but also the rights of all communities, faith communities, and others in light of the suppression they face. But, at the front line, you will find journalists seeking to report the reality of what we have seen. With the strength of social media now we have seen a total change, an evolution or even some would argue a revolution in how conflicts are reported, the situations, the suppression of democracy, the suppression of human rights, and in this respect it is absolutely important.

We have seen the Media Freedom Coalition, this formal coalition, grow from about 26-27 founding members to close enough to 50. And, certainly, I hope in due course the Vatican will consider being very much part of that Media Freedom Coalition we're getting very strong support for. I think it would be more than just a symbolic gesture, but it would be an important contribution if indeed the Vatican joined that important coalition.

Q: You spent many years in the banking and financial sector in the City, how can the financial sector, banks, and corporations in general work to prevent sexual violence in conflict? Is there any relationship, or way they can help there? 

Well, I think the whole essence of what banks do, banks are often the lifeblood of any economy; they are the backbone of strengthening economies, and they have a role to play in terms of responsible lending, to looking at their own lending book to see who they are lending to, what are the supply chains of those corporates they lend to.

So, it is not just an issue of one element within the broad range of human rights. It's important that corporates, that the banks that support those corporates, also look at their respective supply chains. So, whether it's tackling those who abuse and cause issues of sexual violence and conflict, but equally those who abuse, and we call out egregious abuse of human rights.

It is important also that it is not just a government resposibility; it's not just a Church responsibility; it's the responsibility of everyone in society.

The business community has an important role to play, and in this respect when it comes to banks the whole issue of ethical lending, the whole issue of protecting the environment, the whole issue of corporate social responsibility.

Banks have an important role to play that they help people in need, but equally in their own corporate client base, they are actually scrutinize how are they lending, who are they lending to and reminding those they lend to and assist of their corporate and social responsibilities to communities. 

Listen to the full interview
25 May 2021, 11:54