Pope Francis extends agenda of change to Vatican diplomacy
By Gavin Jones and James Mackenzie
ROME (Reuters) - Pope Francis' hard-hitting criticisms of localization and inequality long ago set him out as a leader unafraid of mixing theology and politics. He is now flexing the Vatican's diplomatic muscles as well.
Last year, he helped to broker an historic accord between Cuba and the United States after half a century of hostility.
This past week, his office announced the first formal accord between the Vatican and the State of Palestine -- a treaty that gives legal weight to the Holy See's longstanding recognition of de-facto Palestinian statehood despite clear Israeli annoyance.
The pope ruffled even more feathers in Turkey last month by referring to the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians in the early 20th century as a "genocide", something Ankara denies.
After the inward-looking pontificate of his scholarly predecessor, Pope Benedict, Francis has in some ways returned to the active Vatican diplomacy practiced by the globetrotting Pope John Paul II, widely credited for helping to end the Cold War.
Much of his effort has concentrated on improving relations between different faiths and protecting the embattled Middle East Christians, a clear priority for the Catholic Church.
However in an increasingly fractured geopolitical world, his diplomacy is less obviously aligned to one side in a global standoff between competing blocs than that of John Paul's 27-year-long papacy.
This is reinforced by his status as the world's first pope from Latin America, a region whose turbulent history, widespread poverty and love-hate relationship with the United States has given him an entirely different political grounding from any of his European predecessors. Continued...