So says Jesuit Father Robert John Araujo, former legal adviser to the permanent mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, professor at Gonzaga University School of Law and co-author of "Papal Diplomacy and the Quest for Peace: The Vatican and International Organizations from the Early Years to the League of Nations" (Sapientia).
He shared with ZENIT how John Paul II helped to establish and strengthen diplomatic relations, mediate disputes and uphold the dignity of the human person wherever possible.
Q: What is Pope John Paul II's diplomatic legacy?
Father Araujo: Pope John Paul II leaves behind an admirable legacy in the world of diplomacy.
When he became Pope in 1978, the Holy See had active diplomatic exchanges with a little more than 80 countries. At the end of his papacy in 2005, he had more than doubled the diplomatic exchanges to 174.
He also strengthened and increased the Holy See's participation in international conferences throughout the world that were hosted by a wide variety of international and regional organizations.
Some of these efforts achieved remarkable results when the Holy See was asked to mediate the border dispute between Chile and Argentina in the 1980s.
Through these efforts, the two neighboring states -- who were considering the use of armed force to resolve their border dispute -- amicably resolved their controversy with the Holy See's assistance and the Pope's encouragement by entering the Act of Montevideo in 1979. The successful conclusion was reached in 1984.
His Holiness also sent delegations to major international conferences dealing with important social and economic issues such as the International Conference for Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994, the Fourth World Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995 and the Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries for the International Criminal Court in 1998.
Needless to say, through the courage and inspiration of the Holy Father, the Church's delegations at these major conferences were able to modify the concluding texts of these conferences so that the false "rights" of the culture of death and exaggerated individual autonomy were not included or recognized and that some of the authentic concerns about the human family were included.
In the summer of 2004, the Holy See worked closely with the United Nations General Assembly for the adoption of the first resolution ever spelling out the rights of a state permanent observer at the U.N.
We must keep in mind that in its history, the U.N. has had many state permanent observers -- for example, Switzerland, Italy, East and West Germany, North and South Vietnam, North and South Korea, and Japan; however, none of them sought or received the formalization of their permanent observer status through the adoption of a resolution.
Q: How did John Paul personally display an aptitude for diplomacy?
Father Araujo: The Holy Father was a gifted man who knew how to work constructively with people from all regions of the world regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.
First of all, he continued with great skill the issuance of the annual World Day of Peace message commenced by Pope Paul VI in 1968.
In addition, he formally convened at the beginning of each New Year the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See to discuss with its members the pressing issues of the global community. He also took the time to greet personally the new ambassadors who were presenting their credentials to the Holy See.
Needless to say, he also enjoyed meeting heads of states and other dignitaries who would be visiting Rome. On these occasions, he ensured that the Church's views on the pressing issues of the day that threatened the dignity of the human person were made known to these powerful officeholders and diplomats.
Finally, he always took the opportunity to use the occasions of his global apostolic visits to meet with national leaders, some friends and some foes to the Church, to explore ways of bettering the lives of those who were oppressed and marginalized. Regardless of their views, these officials came to respect and even love the Holy Father.
Q: What was the significance of the Pope establishing diplomatic ties with the United States, Great Britain and Israel during his pontificate?
Father Araujo: The Holy See and the United States enjoyed diplomatic relations for a while in the 19th century; however, the aftermath of the Italian Unification led to dissolution of these relations.
They were restored on an informal basis when President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Myron Taylor, who held the title of "ambassador," as his personal representative to the Holy See. Formal diplomatic relations were restored in 1984.
Similarly, the Holy See had a long history of diplomatic ties with the British going back to the 11th century; full relations were restored in 1982, but a British legation was sent to the Holy See in 1914 -- several centuries after Henry VIII severed ties with Rome.
It is important to note that in both cases, diplomatic ties were renewed, not established for the first time. These two re-establishments were largely due to the efforts of John Paul II in his apostolic visits to both countries prior to reestablishing diplomatic relations.
He saw the need to concentrate not on past differences and frictions with these two countries but on shared concerns about the welfare of members of the human family and the threats they face in the contemporary world.
The 1993 Agreement with Israel demonstrated the Holy See's longstanding interest in relations with the Jewish people and the security of the Holy Land. In the context of the latter issue regarding the Holy Land and Jerusalem, the Holy See expressed its great interest in these subjects during the British Mandate issued by the League of Nations.
Through the intense labor of John Paul II, the peace and security of the Middle East remain in high profile in the diplomatic efforts of the Holy See. These concerns are manifested in discussions with Israeli and Palestinian authorities about peace in the region, religious liberties, freedom of conscience and protection of sacred sites.
It should be noted here that the Holy Father approved the establishment of official relations with the Palestinian Authority in 1994.
Q: John Paul II was the second pope to speak at the United Nations. How did his visit and the establishment of the Holy See as an observer influence international affairs?
Father Araujo: In October of 1965, Pope Paul VI was the first pope to travel to New York to speak before the General Assembly. John Paul II twice addressed the U.N. -- the first time in 1979, the second in 1995.
Although the Holy See approached the U.N. about the participation of smaller states in its work shortly after the organization's establishment, it took advantage of the invitations to serve as one of the 15 members of the Advisory Committee on Refugees established in 1951; consequently, it began to influence international affairs at the U.N. long before it became a Permanent Observer in 1964.
The Church's expertise was influential in the outcome of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
In 1955, the Holy See responded to the invitation of Dag Hammarskjöld to attend the conference that established the International Atomic Energy Agency whose principal function is to promote the peaceful use of atomic energy. The Holy See also became a charter member of this important organization and contributes to its vital work to this day.
As mentioned earlier, the Holy See, under the papacy of John Paul II, has also defended authentic human rights and the dignity of every person in numerous U.N. conferences and meetings since 1978.
Under his direction, the Holy See has made numerous major interventions in the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and even on occasion before the Security Council when non-member states were encouraged to provide their wisdom and insights on critical concerns.
John Paul's U.N. legacy will remind the world that every person bears the image of our Creator and loving God.
Q: What role do you think the future pope should play in international relations?
Father Araujo: That will be for the next pope to decide. However, I think it is reasonable to expect that he will see the need to continue in the footsteps of his immediate predecessor.
Of course, John Paul II continued the role of the papacy in the international order that commenced during the fifth or sixth century. The Holy Father is the head of the Church, but simultaneously he is also the head of a sovereign power whose presence in the world has outlasted any temporal sovereign.
Thus, it is relevant for the new pontiff to take note of his multiple roles in the world as pastor and sovereign. We must all be mindful of what Jesus said at the end of St. Mark's Gospel: "Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation!"
The next pope must be attentive to this as well, and, I think, he will be. And, for the rest of us, we must simultaneously be alert to what Jesus told us all: "The harvest is abundant, but the laborers our few."
May our new Holy Father, like his predecessor John Paul II, not be reluctant to inspire us to take up this challenge which each of us has received at our baptism.