by ROWENA OREJANA
WELLINGTON — New Zealand Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae will be visiting Pope Francis at the Vatican by the middle of May.
While the official announcement is yet to be made,this could be the very first state visit made by a New Zealand governor general to the Pope.
The governor general’s office said they had “consulted historian
Gavin McLean and as far as we can ascertain, no governor-general has ever met the pope [in Rome]”.
Mr McLean is a senior historian with the History Group of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and author of Governors: New Zealand’s Governors and Governors-General (2006).
The first meeting between a Catholic pope and a New Zealand governor-general was when Pope John Paul II visited the country in
1986. He was given a state welcome by then-Governor General, Sir Paul Reeves, and Prime Minister David Lange.
Papal Nuncio Archbishop Martin Krebs explained the diplomatic relations between New Zealand and the Holy See were established only on 20 June 1973.
“High level meetings before that date are not probable,” he said. Archbishop Krebs said the governor general will be in Italy not only to pay a visit to the Holy Father, but also for the 70th anniversary of the destruction of the Benedictine Abbey of Montecassino
during World War II.
The Governor General’s office confirmed the visit, but declined to give further information about the matter.
Sir Jerry comes from a religious background. His birth and adoptive fathers were ministers of the Ratana Church.
Massey University Professor of History Peter Lineham, an expert in New Zealand religious history, said the visit reflects respect for the Vatican’s role in international diplomacy.
He said the role that the Vatican has taken in a number of international issues, particularly in trying to bring about an end in civil strife in Syria and Lebanon, has been increasingly recognised.
“I think it’s a mark of respect of the diplomacy of the Vatican as well as a normal courtesy of the head of state to meet another head of state,” he said.
by ROWENA OREJANA