Foreign policy and defense
Holy See is a nation in Southern Europe. Its capital city is Vatican City. The Holy See has diplomatic relations with over 180 states and is an observer in a number of international organizations, including the UN and the Council of Europe. The papal missions (nuntiaturas) around the world have the task of following developments in the Catholic Church in each country. Political and diplomatic reporting is usually done through the many visits the pope receives in Rome and through the papal trips abroad.
The Catholic Church emphasizes that the Holy See has no foreign policy. As the apostle Peter’s successor and God’s deputy on earth (see Religion), the Pope and his staff, according to the Vatican, have one task: preaching the gospel and making all people disciples. In reality, however, the Catholic Church has played – and still plays – a significant role in world politics.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Vatican for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
During his time as Pope (1978–2005), John Paul II visited 129 countries during 104 trips outside Italy. In 1993, the Vatican established diplomatic relations with Israel and then with a number of Arab countries. In 1994, “official relations” were established with the Palestinian movement PLO.
In 2000, Pope John Paul II himself visited Israel. Before the trip, he asked for forgiveness for the Catholic Church’s persecution of Jews, indigenous peoples, and other groups through the ages. However, relations between Israel and the Vatican were strained in 2007 when it became clear that the Vatican wanted to sanctify Pope Pius XII (see Modern History), who has been criticized for not openly stating Hitler’s genocideof Jews during World War II. In response to criticism, the Vatican argued that Pius XII was secretly working to save Jews from the Holocaust. A new diplomatic crisis arose in 2009 when the head of the Vatican’s Council for Peace and Justice compared the occupied Palestinian territory of Gaza to a concentration camp. The statement was made after Israel bombed the Gaza Strip (see Palestine, Modern History). Pope Benedict XVI traveled the same year to Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, where he urged Israel to end the blockade against Gaza.
The Vatican and the Muslim world
The fragile relations between the Christian and the Muslim world were expressed since Pope Benedict XVI in a speech in 2006 cited a medieval emperor who linked Prophet Muhammad by force. Both religious and political leaders in several Muslim countries criticized the Vatican. Morocco called its ambassador to the Vatican. The Pope later apologized for the words that wounded the Muslims and added that they did not reflect his own view.
Although the Vatican and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, Pope Benedict XVI received the Saudi King Abdullah in his papal residence in 2007. Over one million Christians are expected to live in Saudi Arabia, but they are not allowed to practice their religion publicly, a topic that was discussed during the meeting.
Communist Cuba has been visited by several popes. In 2012, it was Pope Benedict XVI’s turn to make a trip to the Caribbean, where he called for political reform, held a mass for over 300,000 people at Revolution Square in Havana, and met President Raul Castro and former leader Fidel Castro. The Vatican and Pope Francis personally came to play a central mediator role in the negotiations that in 2015 led to a groundbreaking agreement on prisoner exchange between the US and Cuba and to re-established diplomatic relations between the two countries. Already at President Barack Obama’s entry in 2009, the Catholic Church was contacted by Obama and Cuba President Raúl Castro, who both asked the Pope and Cuba’s bishop for help to mediate. Prior to Francis Cuba’s visit in September 2015, Cuba released several political dissent from prison.
The refugee crisis 2015
Among many other countries, Pope Francis has visited Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Palestine and several African countries. When the Pope held a mass in Manila, Philippines in January 2015, 6-7 million people came to listen. It is believed to be the largest audience ever for a pope fair. As the first Pope ever, Francis spoke before the US Congress in Washington in connection with a visit to President Barack Obama at the White House in September 2015. The many trips abroad should be seen as part of the Pope’s quest to make the church more global and not as Rome-centered as earlier.
Pope Francis clearly took a stand for Europe to receive and help the many refugees who, in particular in 2015, made their way to the continent to seek protection from violence and war. Francis said that every Catholic congregation in Europe should receive a refugee family. To serve as a good example, after a visit in April 2016 on the Greek island of Lesbos, where masses of refugees had gathered, Francis took two Syrian refugee families home to the Vatican.
The Holy See has no diplomatic relations with China and relations with the country have been problematic ever since the Beijing government in 1951 expelled foreign priests and placed the Catholic Church in the country under state control. It is estimated that there are around 9 million Catholics in China. But only Catholic communities that are independent of the Vatican are allowed: Catholic groups that see the Pope as supreme leader have been in the hidden. The Vatican has tried to approach China in order to resume diplomatic relations. This endeavor was intensified during Pope Benedict XVI’s term of office (2005–2013) and in 2007, the appointment of a new bishop in China for the first time since 1951 Vatican approval. In 2010 and 2011, two Vatican appointments were rejected by the Vatican, while two Chinese bishop appointments in 2012 received both the approval of the Vatican and the Chinese authorities. During Pope Francis, China and the Vatican have been gradually approaching each other. In the fall of 2018, an agreement was reached that would mean that Catholics in China no longer need to be divided without their bishops being simultaneously recognized by both the Vatican and the Chinese authorities. According to the agreement, the communist regime and the Vatican should have a dialogue about who should become bishops, but the pope should be the one to appoint them. Following the agreement, the Pope approved seven bishops previously appointed by Beijing. In the fall of 2018, an agreement was reached that would mean that Catholics in China no longer need to be divided without their bishops being simultaneously recognized by both the Vatican and the Chinese authorities. According to the agreement, the communist regime and the Vatican should have a dialogue about who should become bishops, but the pope should be the one to appoint them. Following the agreement, the Pope approved seven bishops previously appointed by Beijing. In the fall of 2018, an agreement was reached that would mean that Catholics in China no longer need to be divided without their bishops being simultaneously recognized by both the Vatican and the Chinese authorities. According to the agreement, the communist regime and the Vatican should have a dialogue about who should become bishops, but the pope should be the one to appoint them. Following the agreement, the Pope approved seven bishops previously appointed by Beijing.
The Vatican’s only military ally, the Swiss Guard, dates back to the 16th century. The task of the force is to guard the Vatican Palace and act as the Pope’s bodyguard. The around 100 soldiers must be Catholics, unmarried and born Swiss citizens. They must be at least 174 centimeters long and must have fulfilled Swiss military duty. The guardsmen are equipped with traditional swords and hillebard (javelin) but now also have modern handguns.
There is also a civilian police force, the Gendarmerie of the Vatican, who is responsible for the general order. The gendarmes should be military-trained Italian men, at least 175 centimeters long and unmarried. They carry pistols but also have access to heavier weapons. Both the gendarmerie and the Swiss Guard have close cooperation with the Italian police.