UNITED NATIONS – The Holy See said Monday the Vatican flag will be raised for the first time at the United Nations just before Pope Francis arrives on Friday morning — without any ceremony.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See's United Nation's ambassador, told a news conference that the Vatican changed its decision not to have the flag fly for the pope's first visit to the United Nations at the recommendation of the U.N. Secretariat.
The Palestinians campaigned for a General Assembly resolution that was overwhelmingly approved on Sept. 10 allowing U.N. observer states to fly their flags alongside those of the 193 U.N. member states. The Holy See and Palestine and are the only two U.N. observer states.
Auza said the Holy See "has not been very keen" about the Palestinians' campaign because it breaks a 70-year-old U.N. tradition.
"On the other hand, the state of Palestine has a right," he said. "We could not oppose their plans to ask for this."
Auza recalled that when asked at a news conference on Sept. 9 — the day before the General Assembly vote — whether the Holy See flag would be raised before the pope's visit, "My answer at the time was a categorical 'no.' Now, it's a categorical 'yes'."
The archbishop said that in meetings with U.N. officials last week he was told that "the United Nations authorities think that the visit of the pope would be a momentous time to have the Holy See flag already raised, even though we didn't plan to have it."
Auza said U.N. officials told him "we know that your position on this is very cautious, very prudent," and suggested that U.N. staff could raise the flag without any public ceremony. He stressed that this was a suggestion, and wasn't "forced" on the Holy See.
After consulting the Vatican, "we accepted the proposal,"Auza said. "So that means that there will be no ceremony. We will not even be there."
U.N. flags are usually raised around 7:30 a.m. EDT (1130 GMT), and the archbishop said he will be with the pope at that time on Friday.
But when the pope's motorcade drives up First Avenue, just past 42nd Street, outside U.N. headquarters an hour later, he will see the Holy See flag with its gold and white bands, and a gold and a silver key bound together by a red cord and topped by a triple tiara crowned by a cross, flying on a tall pole that is already in place.
In contrast to the Holy See, the Palestinian U.N. Mission has invited hundreds of dignitaries and diplomats to a ceremony on Sept. 30 when its flag will be raised by President Mahmoud Abbas after he addresses the General Assembly. "The Holy See will certainly be represented," Auza said.