The Queen has helped strengthen relations between Britain and the church, says ambassador
ROME – Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See hailed the legacy of the late Queen Elizabeth II, saying her faith and deep respect for the popes she met throughout her long reign have helped shape his country’s relationship with the Catholic Church.
Talk to Node of the importance of faith to the Queen, Ambassador Chris Trott said: “there is no doubt that her faith was central to the role she played.”
“I think that makes my position here particularly poignant in this context, because she met five popes in her lifetime,” Trott said, expressing his belief that “the mutual respect between her and the popes she met obviously helps to facilitate the work that I do, because I am his representative here.
As a constitutional monarch, the Queen had no direct power over policy or decision-making, but “the self-evident nature of her faith reinforced the nature in which it was held by the individual popes she met. “, Trott said, noting that it was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II that Britain reestablished formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1981.
Queen Elizabeth II died Thursday at the age of 96, after occupying the British throne for 70 years, making her the longest-reigning monarch in the world. His reign spanned seven different pontificates, beginning with Pope Pius XII. She met Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2014.
RELATED: Pope praises Queen Elizabeth’s ‘unwavering service’ and her faith in Christ
Trott also spoke about how the UK government plans to continue to engage with the Holy See, specifically citing a shared concern for the sustainability agenda and the environment, which he said make the Holy See a “natural” partner.
He also spoke about the UK’s new monarch, King Charles III, saying he believed Charles, despite some past controversies, would be a more modern monarch who will likely continue his late mother’s legacy, but in his own way. .
Please read below for NodeInterview with British Ambassador to the Holy See Chris Trott:
Node: Can you describe the feeling of the British people at that time? You are here in Rome, but how do people generally experience this moment?
Trot: I think you get the impression that the British public is really very moved by the death of Her Majesty. You saw the crowds lining the street where his coffin was driven out of Balmoral yesterday, the attendance of people at public events across the country, there was this glorious process of, I want to call it the annunciation, but I’m not sure what to call it. In the old days, before social media, they had to send people to cities and towns to announce that there was a new king. This system has been revived for the time being, so you have seen in cities and towns across the country, the city before going out and announcing Charles’s accession to the throne. It was really, really, very striking and very moving.
I watched the proclamation in London…
Yes. I am very struck by the fact that you have already seen the mark of His Majesty the King on the decisions that are taken. There was a nice service in St. Paul’s Cathedral on Friday night, and instead of inviting the government – our prime minister was there – but they took 2,000 bracelets out into the street and just gave them to people. So the cathedral had 2,000 members of the public randomly picked from the street from all walks of life, overseas tourists, who just got an armband and then went to sit in the cathedral.
This decision, I believe, was made by His Majesty the King. I still can’t get used to saying it, even though my title has changed. I have to remember, we’ve all been reminded, to make sure that on our electronic signature box, we no longer say “Her Majesty”, we say “Her Majesty”. It’s the smoothness of the transition, it makes it quite easy. Even though emotionally it’s hard, practically it’s quite easy.
You have been in Her Majesty’s service for several years. What struck you most about her and being able to serve under her direction and leadership?
I think it’s a sense of honor to serve someone who has clearly spent his entire life dedicated to serving his people. Being chosen to be his representative abroad was extremely, exciting? No, it’s not exciting. An honor? Yes. You don’t spend a lot of time with her, she doesn’t send you instructions every day, but in your role as ambassador, by tradition you are granted an audience, either before you leave or at the start of your assignment, so twice I have been received by His Majesty. It was called “kissing the hand,” but it didn’t involve kissing. It was a wonderful occasion, as it was very informal, although we were quite tense at first.
You walked in and there were a few other ambassadors and their spouses, and she spent ten minutes with each couple, talking about your posting, talking about your family. It was so normal, and she was so genuinely interested in my family, as well as very knowledgeable about the country in which I served. She had been to almost every country in the world, so she was able to talk about her stay in this country, the contacts she had had with the country, and it was so natural.
She never escaped it, and you saw that two days before her death she received our new Prime Minister, and it was pretty clear, both the Prime Minister and his predecessor said publicly that in those meetings she was perfectly lucid, perfectly engaged, an absolute pleasure as always to talk. In a way, maybe she was very lucky to have been able to pass in such a smooth way as that. That may have added to the shock a little bit, because I think for a lot of Brits she had always been there and she almost felt like she was going to be there forever, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t It wasn’t like she was sick for a while and then passed away, it was suddenly announced that she was under medical care and passed away.
It was a shock for us too. One of the many things people remembered the Queen for was her faith and the role she played in her daily life. Serving under her and watching her, what role would you say her faith played in everything she did, her decisions, and her service?
I think there is no doubt that her faith was central to the role she played, central in a way that did not affect day-to-day decisions, because as a constitutional monarch she had no not as much control over a lot of the decisions she makes, but she approved of them rather than making them. But you can see the way she spoke in her Christmas messages, for example, or her involvement with the church or believers, not just Christians, you can see how much that meant to her.
I think that makes my position here particularly poignant in this context, as she met five popes in her lifetime. The first time she came was Pius XII and she was a princess, in 1951. I think the mutual respect between her and the popes she met obviously facilitates the work that I do, because I am her representative here, and I think, and you saw it in the very moving telegram from Pope Francis that he sent to King Charles a few hours after his death was announced, you could see in that that the fact of his faith , and the evident nature of her faith, reinforced the nature in which she was held by the individual popes she met.
That was going to be another question, was how her faith shaped this particular post…
I think so. It was only during his lifetime, under his reign, that we re-established, after a fairly long pause, the appointment of an ambassador to the Holy See. There had been one in 1530, and there was a void, but in 1981, inspired in part by the relationship she had begun to develop with John Paul II, the British government decided to raise the level of diplomatic representation here in Rome to a post of ambassador in its own right. This year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of our diplomatic relations at this comprehensive level. We opened an embassy here in 1914, but it was headed by a minister rather than an ambassador, a minister of diplomatic rank rather than a minister as in government minister.
Apart from these practical changes, how do you think his approach has shaped the relationship between Britain and the Holy See?
I think it sets the context, as I described it. The monarch does not engage in what I do on a day-to-day basis because what I do is engage on issues my government wants me to engage on, talk about issues that matter to the British people, and not necessarily to be led by Her Majesty The Queen.
There will be no change in that, because the values that we support or the work that we do on the Sustainable Development Goals, for example, the Catholic Church and the Holy See are natural partners in the work what we are doing to try to meet the expectations set out in this document, and the network of health centers and schools that the Catholic Church runs around the world. And we cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals without engaging with the institutions that deliver education and healthcare, which means we are natural partners because we share a natural ambition.
My previous jobs in Africa allow me to bring here an understanding of the issues of conflict and humanitarian issues that are very close to the heart of Pope Francis. It’s a reflection of how we see that the focus may have shifted under Pope Francis that I’m here and talking about all those things that mean so much to him and mean so much to us.
One last question. What do you think we can expect now with King Charles?
In a way, we all felt we knew him, because he’s been heir apparent for 50 years, but in fact, in a number of interviews he’s done over the years, he’s always specified that his role as king will be different from that of his role as heir. He recognized in some of the things he’s said in the past, because he was seen as a prince on campaign, and with all due respect to him, he was talking about the environment long before we did, so he was campaigning on issues that still matter, but he made it clear that his campaign he is going to have to step back from that to be head of state. I imagine he will have learned a lot from watching his mother and will use that experience to shape his reign.
As I said before, I think we’ve already seen the impact of a much more modern approach in allowing TV cameras into his membership council on Saturday morning, it was extraordinary. It’s him, it’s his decision, no one is going to impose that on him, and I think that shows that he’s going to be more modern. He’s not going to let go of the trappings of monarchy, because that’s part of who we all are, but I think we’ll see him draw on his mother’s experience but create his own identity as a monarch.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen