In recent issues of the One Voice, we’ve heard a lot about people who are coming to speak at the Eucharistic Congress, June 28-29, at the BJCC. One of those speakers whose name has appeared often is Archbishop Cristophe Pierre. It is not surprising that many people do not know who he is. Archbishop Pierre occupies a traditional position in the Church called the, “Apostolic Nuncio.” At this point, most people are probably thinking, “That title didn’t make it any clearer who he is!” So what is an apostolic nuncio, or a papal nuncio as it is sometimes called, and why should that matter to us?
According to the official website, http://nuntiususa.org, the position of the Apostolic Nuncio is described as:
“The Pope, as the Vicar of Christ on earth, in order to ensure that each country has a tangible sign of his care for the Lord's entire Flock, appoints an Apostolic Nuncio (Ambassador of the Holy See) as his personal and official representative both to the Church in the United States and to its Government.”
In 1929, the Vatican became an independent city-state engulfed on all sides by Italy. This means that the Holy Father is now not only responsible for the spiritual pastoring of the Catholic Church, but that the Holy See also represents the Church in matters political. So, Archbishop Pierre is an emissary of Pope Francis to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in matters related to the faith, and the administration of Church disciplines.
Christ promised he would always be with us. He has kept this promise in one way, through His true presence in the Holy Eucharist, which is NOT a sign but is really Him. One way He additionally left us a physical sign of His presence in the Church, is by establishing Peter as His Vicar. Every pope since Peter has been that sign. Obviously, Jesus knows that being able to see, hear, and be with someone we can look in the eye is very important to us as human beings. Our faith is filled with outward signs and physical expressions because God made us body and soul as one person. If those signs were so important that Jesus established them in Divine Wisdom, it would be a tragedy if most of the people of the world never got to physically see or be with that sign, the Vicar of Christ. The Church has established nunciatures, regions of the world that are served by an ambassador of the Holy Father so that we can always be reminded how connected we are to him.
In addition to matters of the faith and church administration, the Apostolic Nuncio also serves as an ambassador to the United States government. The Vatican is an independent city state, a sovereign nation of its own. This is because Pope Pius the XI saw the need to separate the church from political affiliations that deviated from the truth. It was a brilliant maneuver that has served the Church well. But as such, the governing body of the Holy See now maintains diplomatic relations with many foreign countries in an effort to serve Catholics all over the world. While we may not see or hear form the nuncio on a regular basis, we can be sure he keeps a very busy schedule working on our behalf.
One of the functions he performs in representing the Holy Father is to deliver messages when His Holiness cannot bring them himself. This was the case with the letter Archbishop Pierre sent to Bishop Baker which was printed in last week’s issue of the One Voice. Pope Francis asked Archbishop Pierre to extend congratulations on the anniversary of our Diocese and let us know of his prayers for the upcoming Congress. Rather than just having someone in Rome draft an email, Pope Francis sent it through his proxy, the Nuncio. When a new bishop is named, Archbishop Pierre will notify him. When a bishop retires, the nuncio will be the one to accept his letter of resignation on behalf of the pope. When new documents are published, or some liturgical guidance is given by Rome, it will usually come through the nuncio’s office and then to the other Bishops.
Archbishop Pierre was born in France in 1946. He entered seminary in 1963 (at just 17!) and was oradained in Rennes in 1970, after having interrupted his studies for two years of military service (all French young people do two years of military or civil service). After studies in Paris and Rome, he was appointed to the Vatican diplomatic training school. He was made nuncio to Haiti by Pope St John Paul II and endured years of very difficult and sometimes dangerous church-state relations. Then he was sent to Uganda, where he bravely argued against the governments campaigns which would have forced people to violate the Church’s teaching on respect for the dignity of human life. He worked to find solutions to stopping AIDs which did not include forcing people to violate their consciences. In 2007, he was moved to Mexico, where he is credited with improving government and church relations with artful skill. Now he comes to us in a time of trouble, appointed in 2016. The scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church once again have been placed very squarely on his shoulders. We should pray for him every day.
Why are these positions and the traditions they represent so important? All of these offices and complicated archaic names might seem a little odd and superfluous until we consider the Apostolic nature of the Church. Jesus set up His church on the rock of Peter. Peter, with the other eleven (then ten, then eleven again…) apostles guided and instructed the Church. They laid their hands upon others, such as Matthias, and passed on their apostolic mission from Jesus so that the Church would continue to spread, grow, and thrive. We can trace the “lineage,” or succession, of all of our Bishops back through two millennia directly to the Apostles. This principle, called Apostolic Succession, is a key element of what it means to be truly Catholic. It is how we can trust that we remain connected to the true Gospel of Jesus. While my parish is made up of my local people and our pastor, I belong to an ages-old church that encompasses the whole world, is for everyone, and has room for everyone in it. In fact, it was Christ’s final command to our bishops that they make disciples of all peoples! This connection to something greater, bigger, older, and universal is something we should be proud of. It should bring us great joy, comfort, and confidence.
It also relates in a special way to the Eucharist. Where does the Eucharist come from? We receive the precious body and blood of Jesus from the Holy Mass, the unbloody sacrifice, united with Jesus on the Cross. The sacrifice of the Mass is mystically offered, one sacrifice in many places and times, by ordained priests. And priests are made so by Bishops, and Bishops by other bishops going back to the Apostles. This succession is not merely political. It isn’t simply about controlling the message. It is about Jesus Christ remaining with us always, until the end of time, by sacramentally providing us with the Bread of Heaven.
Truly, the Nuncio is a physical example of the missionary discipleship Jesus has required form the Church.