From Castle Hill to the Holy See

By Christina Gretton, 28 December 2020
Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, Chiara Porro meets with Pope Francis at her credentials ceremony in August this year. Image: Supplied.

 

Australia has a new Ambassador to the Holy See. As a former parishioner of St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill, Ambassador Chiara Porro shares how her faith is shaping her life today.

Speaking with Pope Francis and acting on behalf of the Australian Government are all in a day’s work for the newly appointed Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, Chiara Porro. Ambassador Porro is a Catholic who belonged to St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill as a child.

These days a quick check of her Twitter account @AusAmbHolySee shows her actively promoting Catholic agency Caritas, the Pope’s messages from Fratelli tutti, his messages on the role of women in the Church, as well as his address to the United Nations in September this year. She has addressed many gatherings in Rome and internationally via Zoom, and has even had the chance to take a helicopter ride with Cardinal Turkson to the beautiful Po Delta.

While living in an international cosmopolitan city like Rome (albeit now much quieter due to the pandemic), and now working on a global stage, Ambassador Porro has fond memories of making her sacraments at St Bernadette’s with a good friend – the two are still close today. As a young parent herself, the crying room at St Bernadette’s now stands out as particularly memorable.

“The churches here don’t have them. Now I have young children I really see how helpful they are when the boys are restless,” she says.

She had a happy childhood with parents who supported her education and interest in international affairs.

“We moved to Indonesia when I was a teenager. This really sparked my interest in wanting to discover the world and travel and represent my country. Growing up in Australia, I have always regarded it as my home. Being able to represent the Australian Government is a ‘grateful surprise’ for me,” she admits.

“I think it was when my family were in Indonesia that my passion for international politics emerged. We were there when the Suharto regime fell and it sparked my fascination for studying international diplomacy.”

Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, Chiara Porro, and her family: husband Rien Schuurhuis and children Tomas and George. Image: Supplied

Her Dutch-born industrial design engineer husband has his own business which he can run from any country. This has enabled the family to stay together through Ambassador Porro’s international postings, as her husband also moves wherever she is posted.

Her own children, aged six and three, attend an international school in Rome. She is not yet sure where her eldest son is likely to make his First Communion in the next year or so, particularly during the COVID crisis. “But it will be such a unique experience,” she expects.

When asked which church she attends most regularly for her own worship she momentarily takes a breath as she considers the array of options she has in Rome. “The churches are incredible here. Looking out our front door we can see five beautiful churches. We are currently going to the French church, St Louis of the French (Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi), as my son learned the language during my last posting in New Caledonia. So we thought we would keep up his French at this church. It also has three masterpieces by Caravaggio in its Contarelli Chapel.”

Already her children have met Pope Francis. “Even my three-year-old was in awe of him,” she says. “I was told I should bring my boys as Pope Francis loves children. I think it was a real pleasure for him to meet them. The Pope has this innate ability to connect. He is so incredibly easy to speak to, and he exudes this warmth.”

Ambassador Porro shared how her faith shapes how she lives her life and intends to perform her role.

“Coming to Rome and meeting with these incredible priests, fathers and sisters who do really important work has reminded me of those values that are embedded down in me – like equality, humility and caring for the other. Every day in my job I am reminded of that because I have interactions with people who live their faith so strongly. It’s not just about going to Mass on Sunday, it’s about everyday life.”

Ambassador Porro meets with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences including those that have been hurt by the Catholic Church. She discussed how she has learned to listen to all view by observing Pope Francis.

“It’s about humility for me. Pope Francis is the prime example – he doesn’t need expensive cars or palaces – he is very humble. That is how I hope to do my job here. It’s not about my title. It’s about making the world a better place by taking in what everyone has to offer.”

 

This article was originally featured in the Summer 2020/2021 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.

 

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