Day 2 in Rome: Two-Way Diplomacy, Pasta and Nerves

February 9, 2017

I’ve gained a far deeper appreciation of the day-to-day work of diplomats during my time here.

Prior to this visit, my experience with diplomacy and foreign affairs largely came from books. I’ve wondered what it was like, in older days, to be an ambassador to another country, entrusted to look after the interests of your homeland while nurturing key relationships with foreign peers.

In today’s era of e-mail and text messages, which carry the expectation of immediate response, I wonder what it must have been like to finish a confidential dispatch, seal it in wax, send it by courier and wait (and wonder) whether your message made it home.

These were the things going through my mind during our visit today to the Embassy of the Holy See.

After a series of four separate security checkpoints, our group had the privilege of meeting Louis L. Bono, the Chargé d’ Affairs at the embassy. He’s serving in the position until a new United States Ambassador is selected to lead the embassy team.

Bono had the air and grace of a very distinguished gentleman—the perfect type of person to fulfill the embassy’s mission of working in tandem with the Vatican on issues like conflict prevention, human rights, peace, poverty eradication and inter-religious understanding.

Until this meeting, I had understood embassy diplomacy to be essentially a one-way street, wherein you’d largely represent your own country’s best interests. But Bono described his embassy’s work in two-way terms—a balancing act, really, between the interests of the United States, and the Vatican. I’m paraphrasing, but Bono aptly described the embassy as managing between the “world’s hardest power and the world’s softest power.”

More than one member of our group questioned if the embassy’s role might change under President Donald Trump and his “America First” agenda. Bono answered the question with the ease and deftness you’d expect of a seasoned diplomat. The upshot: Only time will tell.

Nancy and I opted out of a group dinner for the evening. We took the recommendation of dealer Jake Sodikoff of Steven Toyota, Harrisonburg, VA, and went to Flavio Al Velavevodetto.

I questioned Jake’s recommendation as soon as we arrived. The place was empty. We ordered a variety of pasta dishes. After the first taste, I knew what Jake had raved about. Each bite was better than the one before it. By the time we finished, the place was jam-packed—a nod to the later dinner hour for everyone who lives here. Thank you, Jake, for the tip!

I also spent much of my day thinking about the trip’s most important moment, which arrives late tomorrow morning. After we meet as a group with Pope Francis, I’m told we’ll each have about two minutes, individually, to meet with him.

I’d like to report I’m ready. But I’m more like a bundle of raw nerves.

The Pope is, after all, the most holy and wisest man on earth. He’s as close to God as any one of us might ever get. Our hosts have told us we can discuss or say anything we like in our one-on-ones. The Pope encourages and welcomes free and open engagements with strangers. I almost wish they’d have set some clear parameters.

Should I ask for a miracle? Continued blessings for my family and friends? The meaning of life? World peace?

I’m hoping (and praying) that sleep tonight will bring clarity and purpose in the morning.