VATICAN CITY — The new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Joe Donnelly, officially began his duties April 11, presenting his letters of credential to Pope Francis.
Donnelly, 66, is a former member of the House of Representatives and the Senate. U.S. President Joe Biden nominated him to the Vatican post in October, and the Senate confirmed him in January.
Meeting other ambassadors to the Vatican and members of the media after his meeting with the pope, Donnelly said, “To meet the Holy Father, to stand with him and spend time with him — that’s something you never dream of. It’s just unthinkable to have that chance.”
During his meeting with Pope Francis, he thought of the Gospel passage, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me,” he said. “That’s our mission.”
He told the other ambassadors that he looked forward to working with them and the Holy See to fulfill the mission Biden gave him: “to make our planet a safer and better place,” he said.
Donnelly paid special tribute to Andrii Yurash, who had presented his letters of credential as Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See April 7 and was at the reception.
“Our nations stand together in every way,” Donnelly told Yurash. “We pray for you. We will work together with you so that you can keep the freedom you have worked so hard to earn, and for your son, who is in harm’s way” in the army. “We pray for him every night, so God bless you and God bless Ukraine.”
A video clip released by Vatican Media showed Donnelly presenting his to the pope and then handing him another envelope he told the pope that Biden had asked him to deliver.
Donnelly gave the pope a Native American blanket, telling the pope it was made by “our original peoples,” and he gave him a crucifix made from wood from the original pews of “our home church, the Notre Dame Basilica.”
Pope Francis gave him a stack of bound copies of his encyclicals and apostolic exhortations, including “Fratelli Tutti” and “Laudato Si.'” The pope seemed a bit apologetic at the size of the stack, but Donnelly told the pope, “I love to read.”
In a video posted to the embassy’s Twitter account, Donnelly said the United States and Vatican “have a very special relationship,” working together “to be a force for good in the world.”
The special areas of collaboration, he said, include defending human rights and religious freedom, combating human trafficking, caring for the environment and “advancing peace, security and the rights of children, seniors, women and all of our brothers and sisters everywhere.”
In the video, Donnelly also said he and his family “are proud to be members of the Catholic faith. From my childhood through my university and law school years at the University of Notre Dame, through years of public service in Indiana and Washington, D.C., the Catholic Church has been a core part of my life and my values.”
Donnelly said he had been “proudly moved” by the power of the church and its members to improve the lives of people around the world.
“As U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, I will do all I can to ensure that the United States and the Vatican work together to advance human rights and dignity,” he said.
Donnelly is the 12th U.S. ambassador to the Holy See since full diplomatic relations were established in 1984. Callista Gingrich, nominated by President Donald Trump, left the post in January 2021 after Trump lost his bid for reelection.
The new ambassador served in the House from 2007 to 2013, representing Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District, and he was a U.S. senator from 2013 to 2019. A Democrat, he ran for reelection to the Senate in 2018, but he lost to Republican Mike Braun. From 2019 to 2021, he taught courses on American politics, public policy and leadership at Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs.