Senior Vatican priest Archbishop Paul Gallagher has been given an Honourary doctorate by Liverpool Hope University in recognition of his role as a distinguished ecclesiastical ambassador.
Archbishop Gallagher, who is from Liverpool, received his Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (honoris causa) during the graduation ceremony at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King on Tuesday (July 16).
The 65-year-old from Aigburth was appointed to the role of Secretary for Relations with States by the Pope in 2014.
It is a position similar to a foreign minister, charged with liaising with national governments on behalf of the Vatican.
Speaking ahead of the ceremony, when the Archbishop addressed Hope's latest graduates, he said he felt “greatly honoured”.
“Liverpool Hope has a real vitality about it,” he said. “It is a fine institution in my home city and one where everyone is nurtured – not just in an educational sense – but also as people and in faith.”
Archbishop Gallagher is responsible for the Holy See’s diplomatic relations with states, including the Vatican’s establishment of concordats or similar agreements with governments.
And he carries out his important role during what he described as a “challenging period for the world”.
Tensions between some Western powers and Iran continued this week, as issues such as Brexit continue to sow division in the UK.
“We live in almost unprecedented times of tension and conflict,” he said. “A lot of people are very concerned about where we are going and it can sometimes feel like there is a drift towards conflict.
“Some people have drawn comparisons between the present day and the period in the run-up to WWI when it was suggested that nations sleep-walked into the war.
“There can be a tendency in the West to isolate ourselves in a bubble of prosperity but that bubble could burst.
“Then people will be looking for answers and meaning and that is when the Church will be called to give witness.”
Archbishop Gallagher was a pupil at St Francis Xavier School, and started his ministry in Fazakerley.
He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Derek Worlock at the Metropolitan Cathedral in July 1977.
Reflecting upon the issues facing the Roman Catholic Church in his home city and the wider world he said: “It is keeping viable communities going.
“But also the Church only has a future – and actually is only the Church – as long as it continues to evangelise.
“We need to do more of that. The demographics are not in the Church’s favour. Families are smaller, many people are not having children and contemporary life is often difficult to reconcile with our traditions such as Sunday mass.
“They are the issues facing Parish Priests in Liverpool. That is why the Archbishop is right to say ‘We need to do a bit of stock-taking and see what our priorities are. Then we can move forward.”
Archbishop Gallagher’s career so far has included working across the world – with roles in Tanzania, Uruguay, the Philippines, Strasbourg, Burundi, Guatemala, Australia and Rome.
But despite his long and impressive CV to date, his appetite for serving God remains undiminished.
“I have got a good few more years in me yet,” he said. “People talk about secularisation but I would note that world-wide commitment to a religion is growing rather than declining.
“It is still very important to people.
“We must remember that as we continue to bear witness to the Christian spirit, instead of being fixated by things such as the numbers of people attending mass etc.
"The Church does not exist for itself – it exists for people and to serve people."