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Ambassador to Holy See decorated by Vatican

MANILA (Agencies) : After more than two years as the Philippine ambassador to the Holy See, Mercedes Tuason, who succeeded her predecessor, Henrietta de Villa, in controversial circumstances, was awarded the Order of Pius IX with Class of Dame by the Vatican on May 23.

The chief of protocol for the Holy See, Monsignor Fortunatus Nwachukwu, assisted by Monsignor Guillermo Javier Karcher, the first class attaché of the Secretariat of State, presented the award to the Philippine ambassador.

CBCP News quoted Monsignor Nwachukwu as saying that Pope Benedict XVI decided to make the award to Tuason for her “significant contributions in the advancement of bilateral relations between the Holy See and The Philippines.”

The award is signed by the Vatican secretary of state, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone.

The Order of Pius IX, also known as the Pian Order, is a papal order of knighthood founded on 17 June 1847 by Pope Pius IX.

Although the Pontifical Orders of Knighthood of the Holy See are originally founded and available for giving honours to men only, in November 1993, the Vatican issued instructions that the Pontifical Orders of Pius IX, the Cross of St. Gregory the Great, and of Pope Saint Sylvester would be open to women. 

On 20 October 2006, Hong Kong-based Käthi Zellweger, the then-head of the Caritas North Korea desk, was awarded the Cross of St. Gregory the Great.

A member of the Protestant Church of Switzerland, Zellweger told the Sunday Examiner, “What I have achieved is all thanks to Caritas, so I share this award with my Caritas colleagues.”

During her 10 years as the Hong Kong-based face behind the Caritas outreach to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Zellweger calculated that she visited North Korea 60 times.

In 2006, she went to live in Pyongyang as an aid liaison officer for the Swiss government, a job that she explained was similar to the one she held with Caritas.

“When I began in 1995, hunger was at its peak and, by 1997, the situation had improved, but was still fragile,” she said at the time, describing the once prosperous nation as a country that has fallen apart.

Among the living recipients of the higher ranks of the Order of Pius IX are Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano, the king of Spain, Juan Carlos I, and the queen of Denmark, Queen Margrethe II.

Tuason is one of the top 100 graduates from St. Scholastica’s College in Manila and received the Pax (Peace) Award from the same institution in 2009.

She is also involved in Church activities and has been inducted as a dame of the highly influential worldwide Order of Malta, which provides care for the sick, medical services for the poor and distributes relief goods to disaster-
stricken areas.

Pope Benedict XVI decided to make the award to Tuason for her significant contributions in the advancement of bilateral relations between the Holy See and The Philippines