03.17.13

Former Ambassador Miguel Díaz on Pope Francis

The first Hispanic-American ambassador to the Vatican tells Joshua DuBois what he expects from the first Latin American pope.
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Pope Benedict XVI speaks with Miguel Díaz, ambassador of United States to the Vatican, during a meeting there in October 2009. (Reuters, via Landov )

In 2009 President Obama appointed Miguel Díaz to be the first-ever Hispanic U.S. ambassador to the Vatican (the Holy See). After serving in Rome during the president’s first term, Ambassador Díaz just returned to the United States to become the university professor of faith and culture at the University of Dayton. Here, Ambassador Díaz answers five questions about Pope Francis. (Our written exchange has been condensed and edited.)

1. You just returned from Rome after four years as the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. If you were there now, how would you be greeting the election of Pope Francis?
I would be co-sponsoring a number of celebrations in honor of this occasion, especially with Latin American diplomats, given the pope’s heritage and my own Cuban-American background. We would bring together family, friends, Vatican officials, Americans in Rome, and fellow ambassadors to honor Pope Francis and applaud this historic moment.

2. As a Latin American Catholic in the United States, how did you feel when you saw Pope Francis walk through those curtains for the first time?
When President Obama nominated me in 2009 as the first U.S. Hispanic ambassador to the Holy See, I heard a number of people speaking of my nomination as representative of the “new” face of Catholicism within the United States. The reality is that soon, almost half of Catholics in the United States will be of Hispanic heritage. The historic election of the first Latin American Pope signals a shift of Christianity to the Global South. As the Pope walked through the curtains, I felt excitement and pride in the fact that the Church has broken with tradition and that this religious leader represents the new face of the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis has walked with the poor and marginalized; that tells us something about how he will approach the papacy.

3. Does the election of Pope Francis portend major shifts in the Catholic Church—ideologically, demographically, or otherwise?
I have always told my students that perspective matters. The angle of our vision does not define us, but it does shape how we see the world. Undoubtedly, the Latin American background of Pope Francis, his experiences as an Argentine, and more broadly speaking, as a Latin American, will impact his papal vision and administration. There is an aphorism in Spanish, “Tell me who you walk with, and I will tell you who you are” (“Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres”). Pope Francis has walked with the poor and marginalized; that tells us something about how he will approach the papacy.

4. What does it mean that the former cardinal Bergoglio chose the name Francis?
Already within the first few days of his pontificate we have seen a move toward simplicity and greater concern for the poor and marginalized within the Church and society. His name will be a constant reminder to himself and others around him of the Christian saint who stood on behalf of the poor, challenged the abuse of power and privilege through his humility, expressed great care for all of the earth and its creatures, and bridged cultural and religious differences through his famous encounter with Sultan Al-Malik al-Kamil. If the Pope builds his ideas and actions on the example of this fine Christian saint, we might be in for some pleasant surprises.

5. Any final thoughts?
I truly hope that Pope Francis’s papacy will offer an opportunity to deepen diplomatic ties between the Holy See and the United States so that together we might address the major challenges that face the human family and advance the common good.