By Harshmeet Singh
Vatican City, the world’s smallest and the least populated independent country is a mystery to many people around the world. A walled enclave within the Italian capital, Rome, Vatican City has a population of 842! And among those 842 citizens is the Pope – the leader of Catholic Church. The history of the Vatican is one complex and interesting story!
Earlier in the day, most of today’s Italy came under ‘Papal States’ which was ruled by the Popes. During their rule, they also established the St. Peter’s Basilica which was the world’s largest church at that time. This church was constructed in a hilly area, known as Vatican. After the church came up, the Popes decided to build a wall around the church, to protect it from foreign attacks.
In 1870, the Kingdom of Italy captured Rome. After the capture, the erstwhile Pope hid behind the walls of the Vatican, which has since been the capital of the Catholic Church. Italy decided against attacking the Vatican, thinking that it might have religious consequences. Rather, Italy decided to be patient and what for the Pope to come out of the walled Vatican; a wait that didn’t end for 6 decades.
And then entered Benito Mussolini
Worried over Italy’s negative image being propagated worldwide due to Pope’s accusations of ‘imposed imprisonment’, Italy’s then Prime Minister, Benito Mussolini decided to strike a deal (Lateran treaty) with the Pope. According to the deal, Italy would give the Vatican’s land to the Pope along with some financial compensation. In return, the Pope must acknowledge the existence of Italy and remain neutral during any future conflicts or in politics.
With the signing of the deal, the world got a new country, Vatican City. Today, that country has all the aspects of a sovereign nation, including its own laws, king, stamps, etc.
Understanding the Vatican
Apart from the incredibly famous Pope, Vatican City is also home to a King and the Holy See! The throne of the Pope is given the name – Holy See. Apart from the throne, The Holy See is also the name given to the rules of the Catholic Church.
One of the least known aspects about the Vatican is that it is a monarch with absolute power to the King. And surprisingly enough, there are no talks about the King of Vatican City! This is what makes Vatican one of the few countries to use Euro as a currency without being a part of the European Union. Since EU membership is only given to democratic nations, Vatican can’t be a member nation of the EU.
Here comes the most puzzling piece of information – The King of the Vatican is the same person as the Pope! In his capacity as the King, he can overrule any decision of the legislative within the Vatican without giving any reason. It is, in fact, a unique case of an elected leader getting limitless power within a country.
And the confusion goes far beyond
Vatican City, despite being recognized as a nation, isn’t a member of the United Nations. In fact, it is The Holy See that holds a permanent observer status in the UN, but without any voting rights. Confused? There are still some more weird facts to go! There are no female citizens in the Vatican, meaning that no one is born a Vatican citizen. The only way to gain the membership of Vatican City is to be granted the same by the King. And the King only grants membership to those who serve the Holy See. In short, only the servants of the Pope get to be the citizens of Vatican City. The citizenship ends as soon as the person resigns from the job.
According to the Lateran treaty signed between Mussolini and the Pope, if a person loses his citizenship of Vatican City and isn’t a citizen of any other nation, he would be automatically recognized as an Italian citizen.
Due to its extremely small size (44 hectares), Vatican City is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t house any foreign embassies. The embassies to the Holy See are located in Rome.
With many more such complex aspects of Vatican City hidden under the wraps, the country remains an enigma for the outer world. But perhaps what is more important is to understand the faith and belief that billions of Catholic around the world have in this tiny nation and everything that it engulfs.