‘I hope to be able to inspire’: Meet Australia’s 36-year-old ambassador to the Holy See

CNA Staff, Sep 3, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Australia’s new ambassador to the Holy See is a 36-year-old mother of two with a passion for youth outreach.

Ambassador Chiara Porro presented her credentials to Pope Francis last week and is now the only resident ambassador from the Pacific region in the Vatican diplomatic corps.

“I hope to be able to inspire and act as a bit of a bridge,” Porro told CNA Sept. 1.

“I spoke with Pope Francis about young people as well and the future of the Church … And he said, ‘Yes, but, Chiara, remember that the elderly have a lot to contribute still,’” she said.

Born in Italy, Porro said that she was able to have a lengthy conversation in Italian with Pope Francis during her meeting at the Apostolic Palace last week.

“I asked him how do you engage with youth, particularly when there is this crisis of confidence,” she said.

“It has been a difficult period of the Catholic Church in Australia in the past few years. We had a royal commission into child sex abuse. There was Cardinal Pell’s case. I feel like we are coming to a time now where we can reflect back and look at the experience, look at what we went through,” she said.

“There were a lot of lessons learned, both positive and negative, from the whole experience which I hope we can find a mechanism to share some of those lessons.”

She said that Pope Francis told her that one of the most important things is to listen.

During her meeting with the pope, Porro presented him with a relic of St. Mary MacKillop, Australia’s first saint. The Australian Embassy to the Holy See is preparing to celebrate the 10th anniversary of MacKillop’s canonization in October.

Now known as St. Mary of the Cross, MacKillop founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart. She focused particularly on the education of poor children.

She began the order’s work with a school in a stable in the small town of Penola in 1866. Before her death many more educational institutions were established in “bush” areas where hardship was common.

Today, the “Josephites” are present across Australia and New Zealand, and have extended their ministry to Ireland, Peru, East Timor, Scotland, and Brazil.

“Her work was very much centered around giving educational opportunities to the very poor, and also she suffered a lot in her journey,” Porro said.

“And she really represents the spirit of Australia: perseverance, welcoming, open, you know? Looking after those who most need it.”

A career diplomat, Porro has previously served in diplomatic posts in India, West Africa, and on the Pacific island of New Caledonia.

She said that she was keen to collaborate with the Holy See in advocating for the reform of multilateral institutions.

“There is a real need and a realization that our global institutions are not functioning effectively … It was set up so many years ago. It needs change. The Holy See is very active multilaterally at the UN and other organizations, and I think that we can work together to get some of the reforms to improve effectiveness, improve representation,” she said.

Porro has also been collaborating with the bishops in the Pacific islands, where she says the Church plays an important and often unrecognized role in education, healthcare, and disaster response.

In many ways, this diplomatic post has been a homecoming for Porro, who was born in Milan, but left with her family when she was three. She said that she recently had the chance to visit Assisi — the home of her namesake St. Clare — with her husband and two sons.

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