U.S. ambassador Diaz: theologian envoy to theologian pope

October 2, 2009

diaz-1Miguel Humberto Diaz might sound like the name of an ambassador from Spain or any Latin American country, but in fact it belongs to the new American ambassador to the Vatican.

And if any further proof  were needed that things are changing in Obama’s America, consider this: The surnames of the previous ambassadors to the Vatican were: Wilson, Shakespeare, Melady, Glendon, Flynn, Boggs,  Nicholson, Rooney, and Glendon.

In my coverage of the Vatican, I knew most of them well, a few of them very well,  and at least three — Melady, Flynn and Nicholson (two Republicans and a Democrat) — became friends who still keep in touch. Their kindness then and now will always be appreciated.

Still, there is a certain buzz in the air in Rome over the arrival of Diaz, who presented his credentials to Pope Benedict on Friday. The first Latino to get the post, he is Cuban-American (born in Havanna and raised in Miami).  Apart from the last ambassador, Harvard Prof. Mary Ann Glendon, Diaz perhaps knows more about Roman Catholicism and the workings of the Church than any of his predecessors.

But perhaps most significantly, Diaz is a theologian. He was professor of theology at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, both in Collegeville, Minnesota. He is also  a former president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians fo the United States and board member of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

President Obama, in sum, sent a theologian ambassador to a theologian pope.

diaz-2As was to be expected, Diaz made his debut at the Vatican with the words of a diplomat. His address to the pope spoke of  mutual concerns such as food shortages, an ethical response to the economic crisis. He  praised the pope as any new envoy would and promised to be a bridge builder between Washington and the Holy See.

Also as was to be expected, the pope’s address to Diaz touched on issues dear to the pope, such as “issues touching the protection of human dignity and respect for the inalienable right to life from the moment of conception to natural death as well as the right to conscientious objection on the part of health care workers, and indeed all citizens.” The full version of the pope’s remarks to Diaz are here.

But one could only imagine how they both might enjoy a private theological discussion. If it ever happens (and I for one would not be surprised if it did)  we will probably never find out about it. Popes are not supposed to do theological one-on-ones with ambassadors.

But then again few, if any, ambassadors to the Vatican have been theologians.

(Photos: Ambassador Diaz and Pope Benedict, 2 Oct 2009/Osservatore Romano)

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