2013-10-23 Vatican Radio(Vatican Radio) The United States’s new ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, says his many years of experience working in the field of Catholic charities have introduced him to countless lay and religious in the Church “doing wonderful things” in the area of human development - a resource which he hopes to put to good use in promoting international development in unison with the Holy See.
Prior to his new posting, Ambassador Hackett gave forty years of service to the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), where he was the President and CEO from 1993 to 2012. He began his career with CRS in 1972 as a staff member in Sierra Leone.
He presented his letters of credentials to Pope Francis on October 21 this year. He shared this moment with Tracey McClure:
“It was a very moving experience to present the credentials, which I had almost forgotten – my secretary was right there – and secondly just to meet him. I had never met the Holy Father before and I’ve met a lot of Cardinals and church men and women around the world. But never him. And having read and heard and seen so much of what he had done, just to actually meet him was inspiring and an honor. … obviously I told him why we hope we can work together on many, many issues that affect human dignity and the poor and people who are marginalized.”
“I told him that I had experience in my many years (of service in human development and that I’d met) many people in the Church who’ve been courageous, intrepid. People who’ve done wonderful, wonderful things. Sometimes we hear about the negative and we don’t hear about the positive things done around the world.”
“We shared the fact that there are things in the world that the Holy See and the United States can come together on and particularly, peace. Obviously he talked about his prayer for peace and praying for our president… these are trying times obviously and he is quite aware of what has been done.”
Ahead of his audience with Pope Francis this week, Ambassador Hackett met Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello of the Vatican Governatorate. The two recalled their shared experiences in Rwanda, a “painful” recollection Ambassador Hackett observed. As Archbishop, Bertello was Apostolic Nuncio to Rwanda in the early 1980’s before the genocide. Ambassador Hackett said the Cardinal suggested he recount their Rwanda experience to Pope Francis.
“Since Catholic Relief Services has had programs in Rwanda and many other places around the world for many years, I would, as CEO and President, visit. We’d always call on the nuncio and the bishops’ conference, etc. And so I knew him before the genocide. And then I visited his home shortly after the genocide in Rwanda…in August 1994. And I told him that as I went to his nunciature and viewed the mortar holes in his ceiling in his bedroom, I said ‘you must have been absolutely traumatized.’ And he admitted he was. He came out and of course then was posted to Geneva and a few other places… but he did some wonderful things in there..”
“That’s the wonder for me in this position. That I have met people in the Church, women religious, lay leaders, cardinals, bishops, priests from around the world. And now, here I am in Rome, in the Vatican – they all pass through! And it’s so wonderful to recapture those friendships (of) people who have put me up in Congo and in Indonesia and then have them come here for their ad limina (visit to Rome) and to be able to offer them a meal or even just a cup of coffee , it’s wonderful.”
Past U.S. ambassadors from varied business and academic backgrounds have taken up causes to champion during their posting to the Holy See – causes such as ending human trafficking, promoting human rights and inter-religious dialogue. Ambassador Hackett’s more than 40 year history of working in the field of international human development brings a unique dimension to the job. Which areas of interest will he be pursuing in his new post at the Vatican?
“All of those areas regrettably are still in need and I will pick up on them. In my previous positions, I was engaged in all of those. International human development is something that the Holy Father has spoken about – then he talks about the situation of refugees as well obviously. That would fall under human trafficking and the movement of people. It’s something that is of concern to my government very much. And it is an area (in which) we have collaborated with the Holy See and will continue to. And if we can do more in human development, in peace issues, I hope we can. And I hope… that I can use my connections and contacts from the past to enhance those efforts in any way.”
Listen to Tracey McClure’s extended interview with Ambassador Hackett in which he discusses his Jesuit training, the rigorous selection procedure to become U.S. ambassador, whether his Catholic faith ever comes into conflict with his job, and what lessons are to be learned from the recent U.S. Government Shutdown :