Is it also a state visit?

POINTILLISMS - Mike Acebedo Lopez (The Freeman) - January 17, 2015 - 12:00am

I wonder why some reputable news sites call this visit by the people's pope, Pope Francis, both a pastoral and state visit. I spoke to a high-ranking church official just a few weeks ago and he described it as a "pastoral visit" and that Pope Francis supposedly politely refused the idea of a state visit broached by our government when they learned of his plan to come since he is here primarily for the victims of Yolanda, not to celebrate. I may be wrong, and perhaps the Vatican changed its mind at the last minute (because the Palace has started calling it a state visit), but there is a difference between a pastoral and state visit (although a visit can actually be both). 

Generally speaking, when a head of state of a foreign land visits our country, it doesn't make it automatically a "state visit." Between an official visit and a state visit, the latter has more pomp and ceremony involved, i.e. a state dinner or luncheon and more meetings between both heads of state and other high-ranking officials of the two countries. For this trip, I'm not sure if there is a state dinner or luncheon to welcome the Vatican's Head of State. A courtesy call at the Palace doesn't make this one a state visit either. ("Courtesy" being the operative word.) Unless it is called such by both states. 

Note the difference between the three: state visit, official visit, and working visit. And in this case, because he is Pope of the Church, the working visit is termed a "pastoral visit."

State versus official visit

President Gloria Arroyo's first trip to the United States as Philippine head of state and government in November 2001 was a working visit even if she met with US President George W. Bush. Her next trip to America when she addressed the World Economic Forum and met with Israeli President Simon Peres in February 2002 – despite her being a head of state visiting a foreign country, and despite her meeting a fellow head of state – was another working visit, neither state nor official visit.

She had a series of official and working visits to the US during her 9-year stint as president of the Republic (including those where she headed the delegation to the United Nations General Assembly; she addressed the UN's General Assembly in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2008) but it was her trip in May 2003, made upon the invitation of President George W. Bush, that was her one and only state visit to the United States. Her meeting with incumbent US President Barack Obama in July 2009 was not a state visit but an official visit.

The difference? In a state visit, the invitation comes from the host government; the host government is also expected to shoulder the costs of the trip. Costs may include accommodations, meals, and local transport service. A state dinner or luncheon as well as military honors are given, and the national anthems of both countries are sung/played. Typically, both heads of state have more than one meeting, and the high-ranking officials from the visiting delegation are able to meet with their local counterparts.

In the case of an official visit, it can be any high-ranking official (including the head of state) and, as in a state visit, the invitation comes from the host government. Though, unlike in the case of a state visit, a banquet is not required and military honors are given only when the head of delegation is head of state or government, but not when he or she is only cabinet rank.  Like a state visit, the cost is shouldered by the host government (accommodations, vehicles used in host country, etcetera).

However, a working visit, unlike the previous two, needs no invitation from the country to be visited. Also, even if the official visiting is a head of state, no state luncheon or dinner is given; military honors are likewise not given. The host country does not pay for working visits.

I assume that since the decision to visit the country was his (so he may be with the victims of Yolanda most of all), and no state banquet is being given (or is there a change in his schedule to include one that was not initially published?), and because our country is not shouldering the costs of the trip (or are we?), a  "pastoral visit" is more or less the same as a working visit, one aptly called such because he is, after all, the Supreme Pontiff of the Church.

However, if this is now called both a state and pastoral visit, I think we just redefined the universal meaning of what a "state visit" ought to be in the official and diplomatic sense.

All these technicalities aside, welcome Pope Francis! Viva il Papa!

(Note: That's why, even when I am unabashedly critical of the president, I did not join the ruckus when netizens criticized Kris Aquino for welcoming President Enrique Nieto of Mexico back in November.  It was neither a state, official, or working visit, but a mere pit stop to refuel his plane. The president was in Vietnam for the APEC Summit. At least a member of the first family was able to extend the courtesy of welcoming him during his short, unplanned trip.)



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