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Wednesday, 14 March 2001

Your Excellency,
Distinguished Guests,

It gives me great pleasure to be present here today at the Pontifical Filipino College for the Solemn Te Deum on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Philippines.

Back in 1900, Archbishop Placido Chapelle became the first of six Apostolic Delegates to the Philippines. On 4 July 1946, the Philippines became a republic and five years later, during the presidency of Elpidio Quirino, the Apostolic Delegation was raised to the status of Nunciature. Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi became the first Apostolic Nuncio on 9 April 1951, and he undertook his new responsibilities with the missionary and apostolic zeal which always characterized his work as a papal representative. Since then six other Nuncios, including the present one, Archbishop Antonio Franco, have had the joy and privilege of serving the Holy See in your country.

The first ambassador of the Philippines, H.E. Dr Manuel Moran, presented his Letters of Credence to Pope Pius XII on 4 June 1951. On that occasion, Dr Moran spoke of his country's desire to maintain and strengthen its long-standing bonds of friendship with the Holy See, and to cooperate with the Holy See in the great task of promoting peace and human dignity and freedom. Over the past 50 years there has been a succession of ambassadors of the Philippines who have been unsparing in their efforts to foster mutual understanding and cooperation between the Philippines and the Holy See. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to you, Ambassador de Villa, for your years of dedicated service on behalf of your country, which you have represented with all the gentle and noble spirit characteristic of your people. I gladly express my gratitude, as well as that of my collaborators, for the many personal acts of kindness which have marked the past five years.

We are celebrating 50 years of intense contacts between the Holy See and the Philippines. During those years there have been three papal visits to the Philippines:  the 1970 visit by Pope Paul VI and the visits of 1981 and 1995 by Pope John Paul II. These were immensely joyful occasions, when the Filipino people turned out in huge numbers to show their affection and esteem for the Holy Father. How could we forget the five million people who turned up to greet Pope John Paul II at the Manila World Youth Day in 1995? It was a truly impressive occasion, the largest gathering for a papal event in the Church's history. For all of this, we give thanks to the Lord:  Te Deum laudamus!

Today, the question is often asked:  why is there a papal diplomacy? The answer is complex. And it is connected with the 2,000-year history of the Church and of the papacy itself. But in a few brief words, the answer is that the Popes have always sent their representatives to the leaders and governments of nations, because it is the nature of the Church to draw all cultures and all peoples into the communion which is the Church's very nature. The Holy See's diplomatic corps is entirely at the service of the communion of believers and the unity of the human family, and therefore at the service of understanding and dialogue between peoples.

Through the Nunciatures, the Holy See is able to facilitate dialogue with the civil authorities, foster contacts with the local Churches and maintain a presence in international life. As an "expert in humanity", she brings the benefit of her experience to bear in international debates about social problems, human rights, cooperation for the development of peoples and questions of peace and justice. The Church has a distinct spiritual mission to bring the leaven of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples and nations. She serves humanity "by making available to men and women the saving power which, guided by the Holy Spirit, she receives from her Founder" (Gaudium et spes, n. 3).

Although the Church and the political community work on different levels and are mutually independent, both serve the same humanity (Gaudium et spes, n. 76). In that service there is ample room for dialogue and cooperation, as both strive to build a civilization which respects the dignity of every human being.

It is my hope that the high level of cooperation between the Philippines and the Holy See will continue to grow and be strengthened, especially through the efforts of the Embassy and the Apostolic Nunciature. At the very core of this cooperation lies our mutual commitment to the common good and to the promotion of the spiritual and moral values which give Filipino society its solid foundation.

I extend warm greetings to all the members of the Filipino community in Rome, and I assure you of my prayers for the spiritual and material well-being of your people everywhere.