Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has gone to Rome to visit Pope Francis. He said that he hopes to raise a number of issues with the Pope during discussions with him. A State Visit is a formal visit by a foreign head of state to another nation, at the invitation of that nation’s head of state.
How come when other Caribbean heads have visited the Pope this year, they were not described as state visits, but simply as an audience with the Pope.
My investigations show that the definition of a State Visit involves some or all of the following components:
- A welcoming ceremony consisting of a review of the Swiss military honour guards, parades, and the playing of national anthems by a military band.
- A 21-gun salute fired for foreign heads of state and a 19-gun salute fired for foreign heads of government.
- An exchange of gifts between the foreign head of state and the head of state from the nation hosting the state visit.
- State dinners, either white tie or black tie, hosted by a head of state, with the foreign head of state being the guest of honour.
- A visit to the national legislature body, often with a formal address by the foreign head of state being delivered to the legislative body assembled.
- High-profile visits by foreign heads of state to national landmarks such as laying a wreath at a shrine or cemetery.
- Cultural events celebrating links between the two nations, which are held in conjunction with a state visit.
The splendour of state visits are reserved for special people like the British Queen, not for Prime Ministers of tiny Caribbean islands. Remember Gonsalves is not the head of state for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — Queen Elizabeth II is, or her representative, Sir Frederick Ballantyne is. Gonsalves is a prime minister. Even Angela Merkel, the German president, recently had an audience with the Pope, and it was described as just that “an audience with the Pope”.
The costs of a state visit are usually borne by the treasury of the host country, in this case the Vatican. Most foreign heads of state will stay in the official residence of the head of state who is hosting the state visit, in a guest house reserved for foreign visitors, in the case of the Vatican there are dozens of apartments reserved for state visits, some states will reside in their own nation’s embassy located in the foreign nation being visited, in the case of SVG and the Vatican no such place exists.
Is this really a State Visit, isn’t it simply an audience with the Pope?
The Office of the Prime Minister has said that Gonsalves left the country on Monday, Dec. 16, to visit the Vatican at the invitation of Pope Francis and will meet with the Pope on Dec. 19. Where will Gonsalves be between Dec. 16 and the 19? What will he be doing between Dec. 19 and 28, when he is scheduled to return to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines?
They said that the State of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is meeting the travel expenses of the Prime Minister, his wife, Eloise Gonsalves, Ambassador King and Mr. De Freitas. They further said the Prime Minister is meeting the travel expenses of his three children and mother-in-law, Miss Harris.
Ambassador Said is meeting the travel expenses for himself and his wife.
What is described as his delegation includes his wife, Eloise Gonsalves, and their children, Isis, Soleil and Storm, and his mother-in-law, Dominican Ursula Claudia Harris.
The other members of the delegation are Wafic Said, non-resident ambassador to the Holy See and his wife, Rosemary Said.
Others in the group are SVG’s recently appointed Permanent Representative to the United Nations, I. Rhonda King, and Adrian De Freitas, said to be a representative of the Catholic Community in SVG, are both also part of the delegation.
That is what we have been told, now let me show you what my investigations appear to indicate so far.
A Papal audience is a formal meeting that takes place between a head of state and the Pope at the request of the head of state. The Papal invitation follows a request for a meeting from a head of state, or from a Bishop within that said state.
The Pope doesn’t call his secretary and say, “Send Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, an invitation for an audience with me. I would like his company.”
Either Gonsalves or someone on his instructions like a Catholic Bishop would write to the Prefecture of the Papal Household, 00120, Vatican City State. Fax: +39 06 6988 5863 and ask if it would be convenient for the Pope to grant a private audience with Gonsalves and his family and others in his group.
What would then happen if an audience is granted, the popes secretary will write to the head of state and say the pope requests the pleasure of you and your group, on (Date) at (Time).
I firmly believe that meeting with the Pope is a private choice by Gonsalves and his family. I further believe the state of Saint Vincent should not pay any part of travel, or accommodation of Gonsalves or his family, or the group he chooses as his accompanying friends, but describes as a delegation.
There is nothing that Gonsalves can say to the Pope during a 22-minute meeting (that is the average time this year for such meetings) or even in a 45 minute meeting (that is the maximum time this year for such a meeting) that can be worth the cost of taking himself and wife and whoever else SVG is paying for it to the Vatican for an audience with the Pope. Its much simpler to write a letter, send a FAX or even SKYPE.
Seeing as they are not returning until the Dec. 28, this visit is probably part of a private Christmas holiday. If that is so, why should the tax payers pay one red cent of this Christmas getaway? WHY?
The Pope would be advised by his Papal advisers who to favourably respond to, and even the response would come from his Papal secretary or the like, perhaps with the popes signature, and if you are really lucky an impressed seal or two, depending how important you are.
On the occasion when a private audience is granted, those one-to-one private audiences are held in the Papal Library, and are generally limited to heads of state, governmental ministers, religious leaders and ambassadors.
Private audience or meetings with small groups usually take place in the Consistory Room or the Clementine Room, the most likely meeting place for the Gonsalves group.
When private audiences are obtained, there are strict rules of protocol. When the Pope approaches the visitor during a private audience, the visitor is expected to kneel and kiss the Pope’s ring.
I have been in touch with Popes Prefecture Secretary of the Papal Household and laid before him the allegations against PM Gonsalves of rape and other matters. I did exactly the same thing with the previous Pope.
I have a private email address with which I keep in contact and update the Papal Prefecture on what is the current situation in SVG.
I also keep the Queen’s Secretary informed of the same matters. I don’t know if Sir Freddy has been doing that, but just in case, I do it as well.
Don’t forget the U.S. Embassy in Barbados, they are well informed by lots of Vincentians, even by ULP MP’s, Senators and sometimes past by Gonsalves’ Press Secretary.
WHY? Why have I taken the time to research and write this? Because the man is unfortunately a self-confessed liar. I check everything he says (a) to see if it has any truth content and (b) to see if there are any obvious lies. Since he confessed to the nation that he sometimes tells lies, I automatically check all that I can.
I hope that Gonsalves claims do not cause embarrassment for his Reverence the Holy Father Pope Francis, but don’t blame me for that, blame the man that brags the state visit with the Pope.
I have something to write about the document he says was issued by the U.S. Senate for his sterling work, etc. Hold on to your seats, it’s coming a little later. Wow! You will never believe it.
Self Appointed Keeper of the Whistle, and still blowing hard.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].