Pope Francis' upcoming visit to European Parliament and the Council of Europe may serve as a wake-up call to Europe to adjust its role in the world, an expert in international relations told CNA Oct. 30. Fabio Petito, senior lecturer in international relations at Sussex University, said that “the Pope’ visit to Strasbourg may be crucial, since it is the first time we have a non-European Pope who visits the places of European institutions.” “This provide an opportunity: a non-European Pope will bring to Europe the non-European world's issues,” thus helping the European institutions in “integrating their views” and eventually to “put into action more clever politics, for example in the eastern front,” Petito suggested. Petito spoke at a seminar held in Milan and organized by the Institute for International Political Studies and the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Petito presented a paper along with Scott Thomas, as senior lecturer in international relations and the politics of developing countries at the University of Bath. The seminar focused on “Foreign policy and religious engagement: the special case of Italy,” and explored how the Italian government could strengthen its policy-making by engaging with religious agents. It ended up being a more wide-ranging discussion on the way several countries have developed a dialogue with religious figures; for example, the U.S. state department has established an office of faith-based community initiatives to reach out to religious leaders and to engage with faith communities. Thomas told CNA that a wider interest in religious actors may be profitable for every country, not just Italy. “Given the variety of global social trends that are affecting all the countries — from the rise of the global south, to the religious cultural context that is emerging in global powers, to the rise of a global middle class — and that are involving always more people who are religious, I would say that the role of the Holy See as a global actor, able to engage with this new world, suggests a real opportunity to create a new knowledge of the world.” “If you want to understand if political-economic systems really work, you must know what happens at the base; and religious actors are at the cutting edge of understanding what happens at the base,” Thomas continued. Petito underscored that “the city of Rome can be a hub of religious connections and network with which to connect religious movements,” given that Rome is home to the Vatican. “It can be a place for bridging gaps in global issues,” he said. Petito said that the Vatican's recent initiatives on refugees and human trafficking “show that there can be a real cooperation that can actually bring common outcomes for states and religious actors.” “It’s clear that if you want to know what’s going on you have to speak with Vatican officials. What Pope Francis has to do, with the network of information he can access, is to provide information, pursuing a dialogue with the key questions on social policy,” echoed Thomas. This the reason why Pope Francis' visit to Strasbourg is so important. “It may be a wake-up call to Europe to adjust its role in the world,” with a more in-depth consideration of the non-European context: those parts of the world that Pope Francis would call 'peripheries.'
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