Well, let me just say that it was a privilege for me as the first Catholic Secretary of State in about 32 or 33 years to have the privilege of going to the Vatican today to talk with the new Secretary of State there about the broad array of issues that we face together across the world. And on a personal level, it was a thrill for me to be able to do that, as an altar boy, as a young kid, I would never have imagined that I would have been crossing the threshold of the Vatican to meet, as Secretary of State, with the Secretary of State of the Holy See.
And it was a very comprehensive, very, very interesting conversation. We touched on just about every major issue that we are both working on, that are issues of concern to all of us. First of all, we talked at great length about Syria, and I was particularly appreciative for the Archbishop’s raising this issue, and equally grateful for the Holy Father’s comments – the Pope’s comments yesterday regarding his support for the Geneva II process. We welcome that support. It is very important to have broad support, and I know that the Pope is particularly concerned about the massive numbers of displaced human beings and the violence that has taken over 130,000 lives.
In addition, the Secretary – Archbishop Parolin asked me for a solid briefing with respect to the Middle East peace process. Pope Francis will be going to Israel and the Palestinian territories and to Jordan in May, and so we agreed, after I gave a briefing, that we would stay in touch in order to keep him abreast of what we’re doing and then what progress there may be in the peace process. But obviously, there are issues of enormous concern to the Holy See, not just about peace, but also about the freedom of access for religious worship in Jerusalem for all religions and appropriate resolution with respect to Jerusalem that respects that going forward.
We also talked about Africa, the challenge of Sudan, where there are particular interests. There is a large Catholic population in South Sudan. President Kiir, himself, is Catholic, and I think that our efforts over the last days could be augmented by the efforts of the Holy See with respect to trying to end the violence and bring about a peaceful resolution. I think the Secretary of State of the Holy See was very interested in what he and they could do in order to try to assist in that process.
We talked also about Cuba and the need for respect for freedom of religion and freedom of – and respect for human rights. I raised the issue of Alan Gross and his captivity, and we hope very much that there might be able to be assistance with respect to that issue. And similarly, the Holy Father yesterday in his speech raised the responsibility that we all have for the climate, for responsibility for planet Earth, which is our common home, as he said. And we share the responsibilities with respect to that.
We talked about the common interest of Pope Francis and President Obama in addressing poverty and extreme poverty on a global basis. The United States of America is deeply involved in efforts in Africa and in other parts of the world – in Asia, South Central Asia – to address this poverty, as is the Catholic Church. And so we have a huge common interest in dealing with this issue of poverty, which in many cases is the root cause of terrorism or even the root cause of the disenfranchisement of millions of people on this planet.
So this was as comprehensive a conversation as I’ve had with any secretary of state or foreign minister in the course of my tenure, and I think, happily, we agreed on an enormous amount of things that we can cooperate on. That’s what’s important. We need to find all of the voices that are prepared to fight for anti-poverty or peace or for reconciliation among peoples, to bring religions together, to bring people together, and to make peace. I am very mindful of the fact that in his first Urbi et Orbi speech or address, the Holy Father did speak about the importance of peace and the importance of all people on Earth being peacemakers.
So I’m grateful for the conversation we had today. I know that the Holy Father is anticipating the visit of President Obama here, and the President is looking forward to coming here to meet with him. So much was agreed on as a mutual agenda this morning, and I’m particularly pleased to know that the Holy Father and the Secretary of State in the Holy See will continue to speak out about peace in the Middle East, continue to try to bring the parties together, continue to help address some of the most pressing concerns that are challenging failed states and failing states in too many parts of the world.
It is good to know that we will have this common enterprise together, and I was very grateful to the archbishop who I had the pleasure of congratulating on his elevation to cardinal, which will take place in February. So it was an all-in-all very helpful meeting, and I’m confident that the groundwork and agreement that we reached with respect to the peace process, as well as a number of other urgent priorities, will help us as we go forward in the next days and months.
Thank you very much.