She presented her credentials to Pope Francis on the morning of Saturday, June 4. Since then, Florence Mangin is officially the new French ambassador to the Holy See. At 63, she had been France’s representative in Portugal three weeks earlier, arriving in Rome just in time to attend the canonization of Charles de Foucauld, celebrated by the pope on May 15.
As usual, she will not detail the content of her interview with the pope. Twenty minutes alone, in Italian – a language she speaks fluently, remembering her years spent at Palazzo Farnese, headquarters of the French Embassy in Italy, between 2004 and 2008: “A very warm contact. We talked about substantial subjects, with apparent simplicity,” says the diplomat today.
On her desk in the Villa Bonaparte, the seat of the embassy since 1950, Florence Mangin first finds the burning Ukrainian file, more than a hundred days after the start of the Russian attack. She insists on the convergences between France and the Holy See. “We have in common this idea that we must keep a dialogue with Russia open”, she explains, pointing out that both Paris and the Holy See support the possibility of mediation.
Nuclear and just war
“The pope and the president have spoken to each other several times since the beginning of the war”, she continues, emphasizing the need to “to speak of peace, even if it seems distant, even if the sound of weapons is heard”. “We also share a very great concern with regard to the looming food crisis, and therefore of all the efforts intended to lift the Russian blockade and therefore the Ukrainian cereals”, insists the new ambassador. She finds in Vatican diplomacy points in common with that carried out by the United Nations, where she represented France between 2009 and 2012, with the Viennese authorities of the multilateral organization.
But relations between France and the Holy See also include points of disagreement, including in military matters. Chief among them: nuclear weapons, of which the pope regularly condemns not only the use, but also the possession. Directly touching on the concept of deterrence, so dear to Paris.
“As much on nuclear power as on the notion of just war, which Pope Francis has developed, it is possible to find points of convergence”, says Florence Mangin. A subject “diplomatic and strategic” which must be discussed with the Holy See.
Beyond the military aspects, the ambassador defends a line of constant dialogue with the Vatican, including on the most difficult subjects such as bioethics, on which the points of view seem indeed irreconcilable. “By nature, on social issues, we have different approaches, she analyzes. In this area, we will not convince each other because our premises are really too far apart. However, it is important to continue to explain why we think this. Not to cross swords, but to explain the state of society and the fundamentals of French legislation. » A way, she hopes, of“avoid misunderstandings”.
An effort of “pedagogy” is also necessary, according to her, on another subject: secularism. The concept has always been a strange thing in Rome. “Secularism has nothing to do with being against religion,” she points out.
Valuing the action of the French in the Curia
At the head of “oldest post in the French diplomatic network”, the former ambassador to Portugal, who was also a senior official for equal rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will also continue the efforts of her predecessor, Elisabeth Beton-Delègue, on the promotion of women working in the Vatican. As well as on the defense of the Francophonie.
In a Vatican Rome where the theme of the decline of French influence has almost become commonplace, the new representative of France to the pope insists: “Rather than complaining that it was better before, we must take note of the situation and value the action of the French people who work in the Curia. »
In a few days, Florence Mangin will receive at the Villa Bonaparte 40 scholarship holders allowing them to take French lessons. Among them: members of the Curia. A way of ensuring, she says, that French remains “a language that remains alive”.