The Vatican’s man in Ottawa

| June 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

Diplomat_6-21-2014_0024Most Reverend Luigi Bonazzi hails from Bergamo, Italy, not far from where the world-renowned sparkling water, San Pellegrino, also hails, he proudly reports.  But today, he is the diplomatic representative, known as the Papal Nuncio, for the Holy See. He has held the same position in Haiti, Cuba, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. He’s also had postings in Cameroon, Trinidad and Tobago, Malta, Mozambique, Spain, the U.S. and Italy. He sat down with Diplomat editor Jennifer Campbell to talk about his diplomatic life and why he won’t call it a “career.”

Diplomat magazine: What is the main job of the Vatican’s man in Ottawa?  What are your priorities for your posting?

Luigi Bonazzi: As you know, I am the Papal Nuncio, representing the Holy See and, more personally, the Pope, who is, at this moment, Pope Francis, to the authorities of the country and also to the local Catholic church. I have a general sense of my tasks here, but the road I hope to travel is an open one. I don’t really have a road map because 90 percent of the Papal Nuncio’s time is spent in close contact with the Catholic church. Because it is a job that involves people and relationships with people, you cannot pre-define it. What you do is really the result of the quality of the relationships you establish. I will try to establish good relationships. One important priority is to enter into a profound personal dialogue with the bishops and all the different iterations of the Catholic church here in Canada. I am an ambassador and, at the same time, I am a bishop. In that job, I need to share the love and the joy of the gospel, really helping people who are looking for happiness. And everyone nowadays is looking for happiness.

DM: It sounds as though you’ll be doing some ministry here as well, then?
LB: Yes, I will be visiting dioceses and priests in their parishes. I will take part in the lives of religious communities. The church gives a central place where you can share the light of the gospel. I intend to be available as much as I can to this kind of ministry and this aspect of my job.

DM: What is the role of Catholicism in global affairs?
LB: Your use of the term global affairs reminds me of the words of Jesus: “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit himself?” It is Luke 9:25. It stresses that global affairs are always also personal affairs and personal responsibility, personal engagement. The world will progress if I progress. The world will enter into darkness if I am, myself, in darkness. Because global affairs are strictly related to individual affairs, we come to meet the usual question: Who am I? Where am I coming from? Where am I going? These questions also relate to global affairs.
This is a profound memory from my studies: The great philosopher, Heidegger, 80 years ago, said the night is coming, the world is entering into the night and what is tragic is that it doesn’t even realise [it is] doing so. The night to which he was referring is the eclipse of God in the conscience and in the life of the Western world. For Catholics and all Christian people, the primary contribution we can make is to help people keep the light of God. The problem is that God is disappearing and with the dimming of the light that comes from God, humanity is also losing some important references. It is increasingly entering into some destructive effects. In this sense, the principal task of a Catholic or Christian today is to help people to hear the voice of God.

‘I don’t like the word career.’

‘I don’t like the word career.’

DM: Can you talk a little bit about the beliefs of Pope Francis?
LB: I can speak about two specific characteristics of his personality that might explain his beliefs. First, there is something he wrote in a credo when he was 23 or 24. In it, he wrote: “I believe the rest are good and that I must fearlessly love them without ever betraying them for my own safety.” It shows a fundamental trust and respect of everybody. He has made a rule never to betray anyone. This is a characteristic that will show also in his everyday life. This accounts for the attention he gives to everybody and especially to those most in need.
The second one is coming from his experience as a disciple of Jesus. He says, “I have a dogmatic certainty that God is in every person’s life.” Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if he’s destroyed by vices — drugs or anything else — God is in this person’s life. You must try to see God in every life. Even if the life of a person is full of weeds, there is always space in which a good seed can grow. You have to trust in this. Fundamentally, this good seed is the presence of God in everyone.
Only someone who has a fundamental trust could have the simple courage to invite, without thinking in advance, the presidents of Israel and Palestine [Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas] to come together for a moment of prayer. It’s because he trusts them and believes something good can surface.

‘God is in every person’s life.'

‘God is in every person’s life.’

DM: When the Pope brought those two leaders together, he was trying to foster peace. Is that part of your mission?
LB: The first message we hear on the day of the nativity is that the son of God enters our world as a source of peace. The promotion of peace is the promotion of dignity of the human being and peace is a fundamental task of the Catholic church. We try to cultivate attitudes in every person that create peace. When you are invited to be a person who loves everyone and therefore is also forgiving, even of your enemies, the church is promoting peace. Peace is also a fundamental duty and task of civil society. In inviting the two presidents to pray, the Pope has exercised his mission, which is to remember that in this goal of peace, God is the source of it.

DM: Pope Francis has come out against abortion and contraception, but he’s been a little more lenient on homosexuality than other popes, saying one should be tolerant of homosexuals. Would you say that’s accurate?
LB: Precisely because I was stressing respect and trust in every person, this, of course, can be applied to a homosexual person as well. His statement that “Who am I to judge a person who is a homosexual who does what he can to be an honest and engaged person” is well known. At the same time, I think that Pope Francis feels that there are two different things: One is the person, who might have these inclinations, and also homosexuality itself. I think for Pope Francis, it’s evident that sexuality has a direction and a meaning that is not [possible] with homosexuality. Sexuality is about the communion of a man and a woman, in order to have children and assure the future of the human being. There is a fundamental discrepancy with that when it comes to homosexuality.

‘The main actors in the renewal of the church are women.’

‘The main actors in the renewal of the church are women.’

DM: You’ve had an interesting career. Can you share some highlights?
LB: First, I must tell you I don’t like the word “career.” I prefer to think of it as projects of life, or designs of life. I really, more and more, discover that my life, and the life of everyone, has a project at its origin. The best thing for you is to fulfil this project. This project is deep inside you. My project comes from God, from the love of God. The fundamental anthropological vision of the gospel is that the person develops all his capacity if he makes his life a gift to others. It is not just a career, to fight for personal success. The success comes as a consequence, but it is not what was intended. Often I remind myself what Mother Teresa used to say: “God has not called me to be successful, he has called me to be faithful to this love of service he has put within me.” This is the general attitude with which I see and try to interpret my life. I didn’t myself decide to become a priest; I was called to be a priest. I didn’t decide to have a career as a diplomat; I was called to it.

DM: How old were you when you heard this calling to become a priest?
LB: I was 20 when I started to understand more clearly what it meant to become a priest and what I was being asked to do.

DM: You also have a PhD in education, correct?
LB: I have a licence in theology and philosophy. I did a PhD as well, maybe to become an instructor in the seminary, but then I was called by the bishop to the diplomatic service. I entered into this adventure and I must say it’s been very interesting.

DM: There are places all over the world where Christians are being persecuted. Can you talk about that, where it’s happening and what the Vatican can do about it?
LB: There are very well known countries where, to be Christian and Catholic is pretty difficult: Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Central African Republic. Also, there are countries where it’s not possible to have a Bible and you cannot even wear a cross. Those are well known countries, but there are also places where it’s not so well known that it’s difficult for Christians to live. Of course, we don’t oblige anyone to be a Christian or a Catholic, but we would like to expect we can live freely as Christians and as Catholics. But this is a challenge. We wish to continue to show the vision we have of the world, to share what we consider useful and important. Martyrdom and persecution are part of Christian life. The respect for religious freedom is a battle, as is promoting the respect of human dignity.

DM: Pope Francis has spoken strongly about sexual abuse, saying he has a zero-tolerance policy. What does that mean for future offenders?
LB: It means that if a priest has such an aberration, he will lose his status as a priest and civil law will apply. He has said a priest who receives trust from the faithful and from young people must not abuse this trust. It is a kind of sacrilege.

DM: He has been respectful of women in his comments, but has ruled out the possibility of them becoming priests. Will that happen in our lifetime?
LB: There is a tradition in the Catholic church that it doesn’t feel allowed to promote women to priestly ordination and the reason is also well explained. I don’t think for that there will be a change in these things. Of course, there will be more value placed on the role of women in the church under Pope Francis. He often says the main actors in the renewal of the church are women. In this sense, the role of women is more and more important and valued.

DM: Was Pope Benedict’s resignation a surprise to you?
LB: When it happened, it was a very big surprise, but listening to the reasons that he gave made me appreciate even more the esteem and gratitude I had for him. This resignation took place during the year he’d proclaimed “the year of faith.” Many were a little bit shocked because they said this was a lack of faith, that he didn’t believe God was providing him with what he needed to fulfil his mission. But I said this is the greatest example of faith we’d seen because if faith means trust in God, to obey God, Pope Benedict had acquired an inner conviction that God was, for different reasons, asking him to step down. I would say that faith produces good fruit and we have seen the good fruit, which has been Pope Francis.

DM: Are there any countries with which the Holy See doesn’t or cannot have diplomatic relations?
LB: Very few. China is the big one. There is full readiness from our side to enter into a dialogue, but China doesn’t feel this is the moment. We don’t have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, but once again, we are available. We don’t have relations with North Korea, nor with Vietnam, but I think for Vietnam, it is a question of one or two years — we’ve done a lot of “journeying” together.
We are friends and respectful of everyone. We are open to everybody. Our only request is that the country respect religious freedom and the possibility of the church to develop its mission in that country.

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