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The Holy See Celebrates 54 Years as Permanent Observer to the United Nations

On April 6, 1964, the Holy See became a Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations and established its Mission in New York City. This was fitting, not only because of the growing involvement of the Holy See in UN deliberations, but above all because the four pillars of the UN as enshrined in its Charter dovetail very well with four main pillars of Catholic Social Teaching: the prevention of war and the promotion of peace; the protection and advance of human dignity and rights; human development; and helping nations to keep their word and honor international treaties and law.

The Holy See enjoys by its own choice the status of Permanent Observer at the United Nations, rather than of a full Member. This is due primarily to the desire of the Holy See to maintain absolute neutrality in specific political problems.

In its 54 years of existence of the Holy See Mission in New York, there have been five Papal visits to the United Nations.




Papal Visits to the UN



"As you know very well, peace is not built merely by means of politics and a balance of power and interests. It is built with the mind, with ideas, with the works of peace." -Blessed Paul VI to the UN General Assembly on October 4, 1965



Saint John Paul II visited the UN twice: on October 2,1979 and October 5, 1995.


On April 18, 2018, Pope Benedict XVI delivered an address to the UN General Assembly.


Pope Francis visited the UN on September 25, 2015 and said "War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and peoples."


To read the words of Pope Francis at the UN and to watch him speak at the UN, click here.

To read the words of past Popes at the UN, click here.




What is the distinction between the Holy See and the Vatican?

The term "Holy See" refers to the supreme authority of the Pope as Bishop of Rome and head of the college of Bishops. It is the central government of the Roman Catholic Church. As such, the Holy See is an institution which, under international law and in practice, has a legal personality that allows it to enter into treaties as the juridical equal of a State and to send and receive diplomatic representatives.

Vatican City is the physical or territorial base of the Holy See, almost a pedestal upon which is posed a much larger and unique independent and sovereign authority/rule: that of the Holy See. The State of Vatican City itself also possesses a personality under international law and, as such, enters into international agreements. However, it is the Holy See which internationally represents Vatican City State. In fact, when the Holy See enters into agreements for Vatican City State, it uses the formula: "acting on behalf and in the interest of the State of Vatican City. "


Holy See Diplomacy

Since the fourth century, and well before the constitution of the Papal States, the Apostolic See has sent and received diplomatic missions. On February 11, 1929 the Holy See and Italy resolved the "Questione Romana" following the cessation of the Papal States by signing the Lateran Treaty. By means of this Treaty, Vatican City State came into existence. Article 12 of the Treaty notes that diplomatic relations with the Holy See are governed by the rules of International Law. Years later, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), convened for the purpose of codifying diplomatic law, went even further by formally recognizing the practice accepted by any receiving State regarding the precedence of the representative of the Holy See within the Diplomatic Corps (Art. 16, §3). The Holy See now has diplomatic relations with 182 of the 193 countires in the world, with 116 Apostolic Nunciatures and Permanent Missions across the globe, endowing the Holy See with one of the world's most extensive diplomatic networks.