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5 Key stats on Vatican diplomacy

Pilgrims wave flags as they arrive before the start of the welcoming ceremony of World Youth Day

Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 01/12/24

What do the diplomatic relations of the Holy See look like? Find out more through these five statistics that show the extent of the Holy See's diplomacy.

On January 8, 2024, Pope Francis received the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See and gave a speech about the issues at stake globally today. Aleteia takes a closer look at the diplomatic relations of the Holy See in January 2024 through five key numbers.

states with full diplomatic relations

Out of some 190 countries across the world, the Holy See has full diplomatic relations with 184 states, as of January 2024. This number has increased by one since January 2023, as last February the Holy See established full diplomatic relations with the Sultanate of Oman. The last country before this year to have established diplomatic relations with the Holy See was Myanmar in 2017. 

With these countries, the Holy See has either a local nunciature (110) or a non-residential nunciature (74); in this latter case, the apostolic nuncio, the Holy See’s “ambassador,” resides in another country than the one he represents. For example the new apostolic nuncio to Oman, Archbishop Nicolas Thevenin, is a non-residential ambassador and is located in Egypt, as he is also the apostolic nuncio to this country. 

In comparison, China has diplomatic ties with 181 countries and the United States with 189 countries.

Apostolic nuncios

There are currently 95 apostolic nuncios stationed in various positions across the world as the pope’s diplomatic representatives. Many nuncios represent the Holy See in more than one country at a time. There are 26 nunciatures that are currently vacant, such as for example the one in Nicaragua, after the previous nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, was expelled by the government in 2022 due to the regime’s persecution of the Church.

Other vacant nunciatures include, for example, Taiwan (which has been since 1979), Venezuela, and Armenia. 

Countries with no diplomatic ties

Today there are 12 countries that do not have formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See. The Holy See has no formal diplomatic relations with seven countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China (except for its temporary pastoral agreements), North Korea, and the Maldives; it has no diplomatic relations with Tuvalu, but has an Apostolic Delegation for the Pacific; and it has no diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, but has an Apostolic Delegation for the Arabian Peninsula.

In some countries, the Holy See does not have an ambassador but has apostolic delegates: these are the Comoros, Somalia, Brunei, and Laos.

Finally, there is Vietnam that has developed a special relationship with the Holy See, as the two countries do not have formal diplomatic ties yet. However, in July 2023 the two countries agreed to have a resident pontifical representative in Vietnam, meaning a different figure to an apostolic nuncio.

Since 2011 the Apostolic Nuncio in Singapore had also the mandate of non-resident papal representative for Vietnam, and was therefore only allowed to make temporary visits. Since 2018 this post has been held by Polish Archbishop Marek Zalewski, who was then appointed as resident representative in December 2023. Although the two countries do not have formal diplomatic ties yet, this is a major step forward in developing their relations. 

Embassies to the Holy See in Rome

At present, 91 embassies accredited to the Holy See are located in Rome, including those of the European Union and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Some ambassadors to the Holy See do not have a permanent residency in Rome.

In 2023 Azerbaijan set up its permanent representation in Rome for example, as before that the Azeri ambassador to the Holy See was located in France. The same thing occurred in 2022 with Switzerland. 

There are also certain offices accredited to the Holy See that have branches in Rome such as, for example, the League of Arab States or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

Important developments and anniversaries

There were three important diplomatic developments in 2023 and four nations celebrated significant anniversaries in terms of the number of years that they have had relations with the Holy See. As mentioned beforehand Oman and the Holy See established formal diplomatic relations in 2023. 

As mentioned above the Holy See then continued developing its relations with Vietnam by appointing a residential pontifical representative  in 2023. Additionally, the Holy See signed a supplementary agreement with Kazakhstan in order to make it easier for foreign ecclesial and religious personnel to obtain visas and other permits to reside in the country. 

Lastly in 2023 the Holy See also celebrated four important diplomatic anniversaries : it celebrated its 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Panama, its 70th anniversary with Iran, its 70th with South Korea and its 50th with Australia.

A bonus anniversary: Already in 2024, the Holy See and the USA celebrated their 40th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations. 

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