(Vatican Radio) Kenneth Francis Hackett, the last U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, completed his three and a half years’ service on January 19, 2017.
Like all other American diplomats serving abroad he stepped down from his post just before the inauguration of the U.S’s new President, Donald Trump.
A former President of Catholic Relief Services, Hackett was appointed as the US’s Ambassador to the Vatican in the summer of 2013.
Before leaving Rome, he shared with Linda Bordoni his insights into this unique posting and into the intense and busy lifestyle an ambassador to the Holy See inevitably ends up leading.
Listen to the interview:
Former Ambassador Kenneth Hackett recalled some of the special highlights that defined his three and a half years in office: “Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, the Cuba opening, the many issues that we have dealt with that are not very public on various countries around the world that are troubled like Venezuela, Congo, Burundi, Somalia, Philippines, China…”
“So the portfolio that we engage in with the Holy See is global, and that was fun for me” he said.
Fun, but also important, he said “because the issues of war and peace and poverty and inequity and persecution are all important things to try and bring a resolution to”.
Hackett recalled many beautiful liturgies in which he participated during his term of office and his interaction with the community of diplomats accredited to the Holy See where, he says, he has made many friends.
He also mentions the many hardworking and dedicated people who work in the various offices of the Vatican saying there is much talent and commitment on the part of those who work and foster the positions of the Holy See and of the Church around the world.
As regards professional relations Hackett said “what was unexpected is the fact that the Vatican has its own special way: it’s a bit mysterious, and three and a half years is not long enough to fathom its depths”.
Pointing out that those who work in the Vatican are not simply executing a 9-to-5 job, but are motivated by their faith and want to make a difference, Hackett said “this really does make a difference and they work very hard.”
As an ambassador to the Holy See does, Hackett had the opportunity to meet with Pope Francis on more than one occasion.
“He’s so affable, so engaging, so warm,” sincerely interested in the person he is talking to” he said.
Hackett says before coming here he knew Bergoglio as a Jesuit Provincial and he said he continued to see that trait in him: “a very smart, committed leader, who listens and then makes a decision, doesn’t equivocate. I admire that!”
Giving us some little known insight into the workings of the diplomatic corps here in the Vatican, Hackett said ambassadors and their staff primarily engage with the Secretary of State’s second section: “that’s on a very frequent and current basis. We have a number of people who come in and brief the Vatican on a number of issues – anything from religious freedom to nuclear disarmament to human rights to civil unrest in various countries. We also deal with those curial offices and dicasteries that deal with things like human rights and poverty and climate change and trafficking in persons”.
He says they have frequent engagement with various Pontifical Councils on issues like interreligious dialogue, with Caritas, with Cor Unum, with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and of course the new Dicastery for Integral Human Development.
He recalls in particular a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that brought the Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, to Rome.
“It’s a wide range, we don’t deal in doctrinal or worship issues, those are not our purview” he said.
Hackett highlighted the deep engagement the Obama administration promoted in the fight against human trafficking and mentioned the many occasions during which the US Embassy to the Holy See was able to spearhead the effort to eliminate the terrible scourge.
“I hope, Hackett concludes, the new administration finds the same level of engagement that the Obama administration did. We are hopeful.”