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NUNCIO-US Dec-19-2005 (690 words) xxxi

Pope names veteran Vatican diplomat as new U.S. papal nuncio

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI named a veteran Vatican diplomat, Italian Archbishop Pietro Sambi, to be the new papal nuncio to the United States.

Archbishop Sambi, 67, has served as the Vatican's representative to Israel and Palestine, where he helped arrange Pope John Paul II's historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000.

He replaces Colombian Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, who was retiring at age 75 after serving as nuncio in Washington since 1998. The Vatican announced the appointment Dec. 17.

Archbishop Sambi is known in church circles as an energetic and gregarious man with an ability to bring the human touch to diplomatic challenges. He speaks Italian, English, French and Spanish.

In a statement welcoming the appointment, Bishop William S. Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the pope had honored the United States by appointing such an experienced prelate.

Bishop Skylstad said Archbishop Sambi was already well known to many U.S. bishops who have worked to support the church in the Holy Land.

"We look forward to working with Archbishop Sambi and we are most grateful to Archbishop Montalvo for the great contributions he has made to the church during the past seven years," Bishop Skylstad said.

Israeli Franciscan Father David Jaeger, a longtime participant in Vatican-Israeli talks, said he thought Archbishop Sambi would be an "extremely effective nuncio in the United States."

"He has a very great gift for making friends with people at every level, high and low, and for getting along and winning the confidence of everyone he meets," Father Jaeger said in an interview in Rome.

"He has a friendly, outgoing and engaging personality, and he will be a great asset to the church's representation in the United States. I'm sure he will take the capital by storm," Father Jaeger said.

Among Archbishop Sambi's greatest qualities, Father Jaeger said, was his "deep and abiding priestly piety."

Archbishop Sambi was born June 27, 1938, in the northern Italian town of Sogliano sul Rubicone. He was ordained in 1964 and earned degrees in theology and canon law before entering the Vatican's diplomatic corps in 1969.

He worked in Vatican nunciatures in Cameroon, Jerusalem, Cuba, Algeria, Nicaragua, Belgium and India, and was apostolic nuncio in Burundi and Indonesia. In 1998 he was named as nuncio to Israel, apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine, and nuncio to Cyprus.

During his years in Israel, Archbishop Sambi was involved in talks or negotiations on a wide variety of controversial issues with the government of Israel and representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In preparation for Pope John Paul's Holy Land pilgrimage, Archbishop Sambi held numerous private meetings with religious and civil officials to work out the detailed itinerary of the visit, which proved to be highly successful.

In 2001, he led a Christian peace convoy to the besieged city of Bethlehem, calling on Israel and Palestinian militants to reject violence and restart negotiations.

In 2002, the archbishop helped end a tense, 39-day standoff between Israeli troops and scores of Palestinian gunmen who had taken refuge in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The same year, he helped convince Israel to rescind permission for the construction of a mosque adjacent to the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

In more recent years, Archbishop Sambi has negotiated with Israel to reach an agreement on taxation and financial issues regarding church institutions in the Holy Land. To date, those talks have not born fruit.

Archbishop Sambi usually sought to downplay differences with Israel, accentuating instead the generally positive direction of Vatican-Israeli relations. He once said the high points and low points of Vatican-Israeli relations were as normal as the ups and downs on a cardiogram.

"It means the heartbeat is normal," he said.

In late 2004, Archbishop Sambi expressed disapproval of an international gay pride parade planned for Jerusalem in August 2005. The nuncio joined leaders of other faiths in saying it would offend the religious sensibilities of Christians, Muslims and Jews.

The event was canceled for political reasons and has been rescheduled for August 2006.


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