Thursday, July 28, 2011

Who was Archbishop Pietro Sambi?

Most of the Catholic sites online announced that Archbishop Pietro Sambi died today. Even though every human passing deserves some reflection and prayer, what is so special about this man?

A brief obituary reads:
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, whom Pope Benedict XVI appointed Apostolic Nuncio to the United States in 2005, has died following complications from lung surgery. He was 73.
Ordained a priest in 1964 and a bishop in 1985, Archbishop Sambi served as Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to Burundi (1985-91), Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to Indonesia (1991-98), and Apostolic Nuncio to Israel and Cyprus, as well as Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine (1998-2005).
Archbishop Sambi’s tenure saw the appointment of Cardinal Donald Wuerl as Archbishop of Washington (2006) and the appointments of five other prelates to archdioceses that traditionally have cardinals: Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore (2007), Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit (2009), Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York (2009), Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles (appointed coadjutor in 2010), and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia (2011).
Archbishop Sambi’s funeral will take place on August 6 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Senator John Kerry receives Communion from Archbishop Sambi in 2006
Archbishop Sambi infuriated some and thrilled others (and sometimes alternatively so). He was known at the prelate who gave Eucharist to pro-choice presidential candidate John Kerry and the one who helped install Bishop Timothy Dolan, outspoken on anti-abortion issues, as the Archbishop of New York.

For those of us who are blissfully ignorant of ecclesiastical politics, the term "Apostolic Nuncio" may be unfamiliar.
The role of the Apostolic Nuncio, however, is an important one. He is the ambassador for the Vatican and facilitates communication between the Vatican and the USA. He is also key in the appointment of bishops.

The USCCB site explains Archbishop Sambi's role:
The nuncio is the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States.  (The United States and the Holy See have had full diplomatic relations since 1984.)  Like other ambassadors, Archbishop Sambi represents the Holy See’s views on various issues to the U. S. government.  In addition, he acts as a liaison between the Holy See and the Church in the United States.  He announces the appointment of new bishops and often attends their ordination or installation as the Vatican’s representative.

The Nuncio's facebook page tells us more about his role in "bishop making":
Archbishop Sambi (l front) seated next to Cardinal George of Chicago at Mundelein Seminary
The nuncio also fills a central role in the appointment of bishops to episcopal offices in the country, and is the official responsible for making the announcement of an episcopal appointment.

It's an incredibly challenging position and is made even more difficult because those who serve the office are usually Roman insiders and not from the country they live in. However, they do work in conjunction with bishops and advisors from the country and dioceses they serve and that does create a creative tension between the Church of Rome and the local church.