Among the diplomats meeting with the Pope today was the ambassador of the Russian Federation -- with which the Vatican does not yet have full relations -- and the director of the representative office of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Also present were representatives of the European Union and of the Order of Malta, which has its own sovereignty recognized internationally.
When Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope in 1978, the Holy See had diplomatic relations with 85 countries.
In 2004, the Swiss Federation re-established the functions of its ambassador to the Vatican, to reinforce its relations with Rome.
The latest countries to establish relations were the newborn republic of East Timor and the emirate of Qatar. In both cases, the agreements were signed in 2002.
In 2004, the Holy See signed a Catholic education agreement with Slovakia (May 13) and a new concordat with Portugal (May 18), the Vatican press office noted today.
The Holy See also established agreements with the Free Hanseatic city of Bremen (May 13), with the German land of Brandenburg (May 25), with Slovenia (May 28) and with Paraguay (Oct. 18).
A concordat, an agreement between the civil and ecclesiastical authorities on issues of mutual concern, is an international contract that binds the parties juridically and guarantees freedom of religion and worship to Catholics in various countries.
It can address mixed or specific matters, such as religious support to the armed forces; marriage; and Catholic schools.
In the stipulations, the Pope, or his plenipotentiary, does not act as sovereign of Vatican City, but as head of the Catholic Church (Holy See), in order to give a stable and juridical character to cooperation between the religious and civil authorities.