The pope and Vatican City, the smallest independent state | Global News

The pope and Vatican City, the smallest independent state

/ 06:58 PM January 15, 2015
Vatican City. AFP

Vatican City. AFP

MANILA, Philippines—Tucked within the walls of Rome, Vatican City is recognized as the smallest independent state in the world, with an area of 44 hectares and a population of 800.

With the pope as its sovereign leader, the tiny city state is also responsible for the souls of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.


This is why Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines this week is considered not only a pastoral visit to Filipino Catholics but also a state visit, which involves meeting President Benigno Aquino III and other government officials.

Origin and Structure


Created in 1929, Vatican City came about with the signing of the Lateran Pacts between the Holy See (Sancta Sedes or “Holy Chair,” the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome) and Italy.

As an absolute monarchy, the Vatican City’s legislative, executive and judicial bodies are headed by the pope. It also has what it calls a Pontifical Commission, which is headed by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, also the President of the Governorate of Vatican City.

While legislative acts are carried out by the pope and the commission, the executive government is headed by Bertello, with the help of other officials. Vatican City also has a tribunal, an appeals court and a supreme court.

During Pope Francis’ courtesy call at Malacañang on Friday, January 16, the national anthem of both states will be played as the two flags are hoisted.


The flag of the Vatican City features two vertical bands–one yellow, the other white. On the white part is the Vatican City coat-of-arms, which consists of the crossed keys of Saint Peter and the Papal Tiara. The flag is square-shaped, like Switzerland’s.

On the other hand, the pontifical anthem, composed by Charles Gounod, is played when the pope or his representative is present. The Vatican does not consider it a national anthem.

International relations


The Vatican City State has long been recognized by international organizations and nations.

Both the Holy See (the universal government of the Catholic Church) and the Vatican City State (a sovereign territory) has signed international conventions on various issues such as racial discrimination, rights of the child, and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The Holy See also assigned a papal nuncio, as in the case of the Philippines, as an envoy or an ambassador.


At present, Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto serves as the papal nuncio and liaison of the Catholic Church to the Philippines. When he arrives in the Philippines, Pope Francis will be staying at the Apostolic Nunciature on Taft in Manila, which is equivalent to an embassy.

Relations with the Philippines

In a press briefing earlier this month, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis said the Holy See “has held influence on the Philippines over five centuries.”

He mentioned the spread of Catholicism during the Spanish colonization and the creation of dioceses and ecclesiastical provinces in the country. In 1579, Manila became a diocese, and 16 years later it was turned into an archdiocese.

But it was only in 1951 that the formal diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the Philippines were established, along with the creation of a nunciature, brought about by the upgrading of the Vatican’s apostolic delegation to the Philippines.

The first papal nuncio to the Philippines was Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi. Meanwhile, the Philippine envoy to the Vatican was Dr. Manuel Moran, who was also the ambassador to Spain. He presented his credentials to Pope Pius XII on June 4, 1951.

Pope Francis is the third pontiff to visit the country. The first was Pope Paul VI in 1970. It is the country’s fourth papal visit–after Pope John Paul II (now a saint) visited in 1981 and 1995.

“The courtesy call by His Holiness Pope Francis on His Excellency President Benigno S. Aquino III provides the latter with the opportunity to update and exchange views with His Holiness Pope Francis on both domestic and international events,” Seguis said.

Fast Facts:

•    Vatican City is only slightly larger than the SM Mall of Asia, which has a total land area of 42 hectares.

•    The number of Catholics globally is almost four times as large as the population of the United States and comparable to that of India (1.267 billion) and China (1.369 billion).

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